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The upside of virtual research

Just when Lockdown 1 began I’d started to think about the acknowledgements I would include at the front of my new book, The Dissolution of the Monasteries. A New History. Already I had a long list of names in mind.

Then the implications of a complete suspension of research life became clear. Campus and library were closed, and for long weeks there was no prospect of access to the office where I keep most of my academic books. Now I faced the task of completing the final edit of the book and finding 30+ illustrations with all of the usual resources – British Library and its imaging studio, National Archives, regional archives, Inter-library Loan – shut down for the foreseeable future.

I’ve lost count of the times over this past year that well-meaning people have said to me: ‘Of course, for the kind of research you do, I imagine it’s not so bad because pretty much everything you need is online!’. Er, pretty much not, in fact. Even the medievalist with an interest in Britain’s abbeys, cathedrals and other well-documented foundations will find that open-access sources are thin on the ground, despite the best efforts of Internet Archive to dig up long-forgotten nineteenth-century editions.

But what is free-to-access online is an extraordinary community: even via organisations’ official homepages and, of course, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, personal blog sites and good, old-fashioned email. As all the familiar avenues remained closed off my relationship with this virtual network was steadily transformed.

Now that the long disruption to research facilities is coming to an end, and a visit to the BL promises to be a little less like buying a ticket to the Glastonbury Festival, it is worth marking how the virtual world has helped research to carry on.

Rushen Abbey

I was able to reach archivists at city and county heritage centres – for example, London Metropolitan; Hereford – who were only too glad to lift the gloom of their reader-free search rooms for a moment to snatch a phone image of that one Dissolution deed I’d been counting on before research facilities were closed off.

The Manx mail plane lands at Ronaldsway

Contact through the homepage of the Isle of Man Natural History & Antiquarian Society connected me to the intrepid Dave, whose DM told me he would take advantage of the empty roads to catch the last mail plane of the day to be sure that hard-to-find monograph on Rushen Abbey (Mannishter Rushen) – the last Cistercian house of all to fall (in June 1540) – was in my hands by the next day. Parcelforce presented it to me the next morning at 10am.

Brass for Ann Boroeghe at All Saints, Dingley

The lively virtual noticeboard of the tiny village of Dingley, Northamptonshire (a population of 194) put me in touch with Tony, keyholder of All Saints parish church, who generously agreed to redirect his one permitted period of outdoor exercise, open up the building and capture in close-up the beautiful memorial brass of Ann Boroeghe, former nun of St Mary’s Priory, Clerkenwell. She settled there after the Dissolution, apparently attracted by traditional sympathies of the new proprietor of the old Hospitaller Preceptory nearby.

The Urswick family brass, SS Peter and Paul, Dagenham

Parish churches scarcely had a chance to consider even a partial reopening before Lockdown 3 but a post on the Vicar’s page of St Peter and St Paul, Dagenham, brought another against-the-odds plan from the verger, Steve, to follow the maintenance men into the building to take some fine IPhone images of the Urswick family brass, which, perhaps uniquely, shows the eldest daughter at the head of her sisters, in the habit of her nun’s profession. The patriarch, Sir Thomas Urswick (d. 1479), was Recorder of London and Chief Baron of the Exchequer and father of thirteen.

These ‘drop-everything’ responses and publication-standard photos were far more than I expected; and then I stepped into the middle of another network: Flickr. Of course, Flickr’s members are instinctive illustrators: they document their professional and personal lives in picture albums. They also like to show and share their talents. From across the community, they responded rapidly to my strange requests for very specific viewpoints of this gatehouse and that tomb effigy with wonderful images that spoiled me for choice. Very soon, the book’s illustration slots were all filled; and the quality was immeasurably raised. The last plate of all in the book is a Flickr close-up of the cadaver image of William Weston, Prior of the Hospitaller’s principal priory at Clerkenwell, the last leader of the medieval religious orders to be toppled by crown. It was said that he died on the very day that the congregation’s properties were seized by parliamentary statute.

Cadaver effigy of Prior William Weston (d. 1540)

My research address book and browser bookmarks are a good deal more diverse than they were twelve months ago.  The book is about to appear (publication date, 12 October). The acknowledgements page has more than doubled in length. Research of this kind can continue under pandemic conditions, but like so much of life in Lockdown, it is a matter of people, not things.

James Clark

 

Study Abroad before Erasmus

As the present benefits of study abroad (and the Erasmus programme in particular) are in the spotlight, it is worth considering a past example: a beautiful manuscript book copied and annotated by an English student at Ferrara in 1460 where he was taking a break from his degree course at his home university to attend classes in Latin rhetoric taught there by the leading master of the day.

BL MS Harley 2485

The book (now, British Library MS Harley 2485) contained the texts of the Seneca the Younger’s Tragedies, works especially valued by readers and writers with an enthusiasm for classical culture, as a template for the dramatic art and a treasury of ancient myth. Complete copies were rarely seen in England and it is no surprise that finding an exemplar was a priority for this student visitor on arrival in Italy. He was John Gunthorpe, who had come to Ferrara directly after completing the arts course at Cambridge.

University of Ferrara

 

Guarino da Verona, depicted in profile on a contemporary medal

His formal purpose was to follow the lecture course of Guarino da Verona, Ferrara’s most acclaimed professor, an authority both on classical Latin auctores such as Persius, Seneca’s contemporary and fellow stoic, and on Greek: at this date such expertise was scarce in England.

It was another thirty years before the teaching of Greek was available to students within Cambridge or Oxford. Although Gunthorpe cannot have known it, this year was to be the last performance of Guarino’s lectures. He died in the city on 14 December 1460.

English students had pursued periods of study in the principal schools of mainland Europe from the first moment they had developed a settled pattern of teaching. Three quarters of a century before the Paris schools found formal recognition as a university (1215), John of Salisbury – then about the same age as Gunthorpe at Ferrara – had gone there to study theology under the celebrated master, Gilbert of Poitiers.

As university institutions grew, their faculties formed and their syllabuses formalised, it became increasingly common for the English to travel in the course of their student careers. Like John of Salisbury in the twelfth century, as much as John Gunthorpe in the fifteenth century, generally they turned to the mainland at the end of their initial training in arts, to lay the foundations for advanced study, as postgraduates.

The greater size, space and status of Paris in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries proved a powerful draw. For England’s student monks and regular canons there was also the compelling practical consideration that dedicated houses-of-study for members of their orders were established there long before they were set up at England’s universities. Even after they acquired their own college at Oxford, the student monks of Christ Church Priory, Canterbury continued to take periods of study at Paris. There were Canterbury students there in the shadow of the Dissolution itself.

English students also responded to the European universities’ disciplinary specialisation. If Paris was pre-eminent in theology, Bologna was the obvious destination for those intending to study in either of the laws, canon and civil. From the early fourteenth century English lawyers also spent time at Orléans, the status of which was raised by the patronage of two canonist popes, Boniface VIII and Clement V. While the English crown governed Gascony, students of the theology also passed through Toulouse, the city where the presiding genius of their syllabus, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, lay buried.

Aquinas’ tomb at Toulouse

By the middle years of the fifteenth century, the commitment of the northern Italian universities to a classicised curriculum attracted English students also to Ferrara, Florence, Padua, Pavia and Siena.

The typical periods of undergraduate and postgraduate study were lengthy, and, to fulfil the formal degree requirements might take as much as fifteen years. It followed then that the time spent in study abroad was rarely less than one academic year. By the fifteenth century English students stayed in the academic communities at Bologna long enough to be chosen to be rector of their constituency of scholars which were organised into national groups, called ‘nations’. Gunthorpe cut short his time at Ferrara only because of Guarino’s death; he remained at his studies in Italy for another five years.

Despite their continuing institutional development, and the rise within them of self-governing college foundations, the late medieval universities remained receptive to such international student traffic. There can be no doubt that the opportunity was dependent on the means of the individual: after Ferrara Gunthorpe continued his studies in Italy because he found employment in the papacy and, ultimately, secured the valuable preferment of a papal chaplaincy. Those Englishmen known to have stayed at European universities long enough to have held rectorships were from well-funded gentry families: Reynold Chichele, Ferrara’s rector of Ultramontane scholars in 1448-9, was no less than the great-nephew of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Still, it may be that it was gainful employment rather than the advantages of birth that was the passport to study abroad. It was possible for the least well-connected clerks, those at the opposite end of the career track to Rector Reynold, to aspire to be a visiting student. As the incumbent of a parish benefice, they might apply for a licence to absent themselves for a period of years to study at a university or another studium supported by the income of their own living. Ralph Hyckys, rector of Calstock (Cornwall), received licence in 1435 for a two-year leave of absence to pursue his studies in canon law at Rome.

St Andrew’s Church, Calstock

The return on such investment in study abroad was both intellectual – as Gunthorpe’s book bears witness – and professional. After his years of study in Italy he soon picked up royal patronage; in 1466 he was appointed chaplain to Edward IV; he then served as his almoner and under his brother, Richard III, he was Keeper of the Privy Seal. He was not displaced at the Tudor succession and in 1485 he was appointed dean of Wells Cathedral. Ralph Hyckys also found his own reward for his perseverance at canon law, securing a second parish church living at Phillack in the far west of the county.

 

James Clark

New Year’s Gifts

Five hundred years ago, Henry Courtenay, earl of Devon (d. 1539), marked the coming of the New Year with a rare and costly gift for his king, Henry VIII: oranges (Earl Henry’s accounts do not record how many). Oranges were not unknown at the royal table – indeed Henry is known for his fondness for marmalade, then a rare Portguese treat which the king secured from an importer in Exeter – but they were an undoubted luxury, shipped from Iberia.

Still life with citrus fruit by the Fleming Jacob van Hulsdonck

The Courtenay accounts do not tell how much the earl paid for them but he was clearly anxious over his investment as they do show the chain of paid assistants who saw to it that the precious cargo was carried down river to Greenwich Palace without mishap. Earl Henry, who was in the early stages of his rise to the status of royal favourite (which would culminate in his creation as Marquess of Exeter in 1525) was evidently determined to make this the most memorable of New Years. So solicitous was he of the twenty nine year old Henry’s enjoyment, he even paid a passerby to give up his cap, so that the royal head might be spared during a bout of snow-balling.

Greenwich Palace

 

The giving of gifts at the new year was a well-established custom among the social elite in England long before the coming of the Tudors. Jocelin of Brakelond, monk of Bury St Edmunds, recalled at the turn of the thirteenth century that gift-giving at the Feast of the Circumcision (calculated in the Julian calendar as 1 January) was a ‘custom among the English’. In an account which to modern readers might carry a much later seasonal echo, Jocelin thought of his own abbot, Samson of Tottington (1180-1212), and asked himself ‘What can I give him?’. His choice was characteristic of a medieval Benedictine: he compiled an inventory of the churches held by the abbey showing their rentable value. Samson, Jocelin reported, was ‘very gratified’.

Jocelin’s abbey of St Edmund at Bury

By the mid-thirteenth century the presentation of New Year’s gifts was conspicuous in royal circles. On one occasion, Henry III purchased 307 rings for distribution on 1 January. In 1242 he presented Beatrice of Savoy (c.1198-c.1267) with the figure of an eagle set with precious stones at a cost of £100, perhaps the equivalent of upwards of £70000 by today’s values. Although by no means routinely recorded, magnates and prelates in pursuit of royal favour adopted the custom, conscious of its currency. In mainland European courts it had become an established part not only of ceremonial practice but also of its political power-play. In the French court of the Valois monarchs the custom was refined as the étrennes, the giving of gifts to start the year with an element of surprise. This seems to have passed into the English royal court with the coming of the Tudors, perhaps another of the French and Burgundian tools of royal authority absorbed during his exile by the first Henry Tudor.

Anne of Cleves

In the reign of his son, Henry VIII, the politics of New Year’s gifts reached a new intensity. The king’s accounts of his purchases and presentations are a precise index of who was present in – and conspicuously absent from – his favour. In their turn, those courtiers, magnates and churchmen aiming to turn the increasingly factional climate to their advantage gave New Year’s gifts a permanent place in their armoury. Never more so than after 1534, in the struggles to profit, and not to lose, from the King’s Reformation. At the decade’s end, after the deaths of two queens, the dissolution of most monasteries, and popular rebellion, the anxieties at the turn of the year were feverish. Henry Courtenay himself fell foul of the court politics at the year’s end in 1538 and was executed in the first week of January 1539. As it happened, Bishop John Vesey (1519-54) had been among the king’s company during that New Year and royal largesse extended to the bishop’s cohort of servants. One of the last monastic superiors still standing at this time, Thomas Goldwell, prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, sent £20 of gold as his New Year’s gift to the king on 15 January 1540 just eight weeks before he was compelled to surrender his ancient monastery into the king’s hands. Thomas Cromwell’s final and most fateful gift to his king on what turned out to be the last New Year’s Day he would see was his first meeting with Anne of Cleves (c.1515-57). Sadly for Cromwell, the king found he ‘liked her nothing so well as she was spoken of’. On 30 June 1540, writing from the Tower of London as the king’s ‘most miserable prisoner and poor slave’, he tried to persuade his master to remember the encounter differently. To no avail. Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill days later.

James Clark

 

Starting an Inquisition Database Project

Mdina, Malta. Why wouldn’t you want to do research here…?

I’m at the beginning of a new project on ‘Popular Healing: Christian and Islamic Practices and the Roman Inquisition in Early Modern Malta’ (not medieval, but you can’t have everything), funded by a British Academy Small Grant.  It’s a joint project, conducted by me and Dionisius Agius, in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter, as co-investigators. It also builds on Dionisius’s earlier ‘Magic in Malta, 1605’ project, on which I was co-investigator. I’ve written about ‘Magic in Malta’ on the blog before here and here but to sum up that earlier project examined in depth one unusual, and interesting, trial held by the Roman Inquisition in Malta. In this trial a Muslim slave, Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur, was tried for several counts of doing magic and divination for Christians.  The project book should be out next year.

This time round, we’re hoping to answer some of the questions which the ‘Magic in Malta’ project raised for us by looking at a wider range of inquisitorial cases.  In particular, it became clear that Sellem’s case was part of a much wider world of interactions taking place on Malta between the Christian majority and the substantial minority of Muslim slaves living on the islands.  Many of these interactions seemed to be related to illness and healing. In particular, some Muslim slaves, like Sellem, were being accused of offering what the inquisitors deemed ‘superstitious’ or ‘magical’ ‘remedies’ to Christians – practices designed to cure illnesses, diagnose and counter witchcraft, and create or strengthen sexual relationships through love magic. Often this was a way for the slaves to earn some extra income.  It was not only Muslim slaves who offered these services, however. Christian healers, both men and women, were also being accused of using magical or superstitious practices.

Our plan for the project is to compile a simple database of cases, in order to investigate this world of popular remedies in more detail. How many cases do we see, and what are the patterns of change over time?  Are there differences in the services that were said to have been offered by these different healers – Christian or Muslim, male or female? How were these different healers perceived by clients, and how did the Inquisition treat them?  Did clients seek out ‘magical’ remedies for particular types of illness or problem?  Why did they seek out particular healers?  Inquisition records are not unproblematic windows onto these questions, of course. Witnesses rarely came forward spontaneously (often they were sent by their parish priests after mentioning superstitious practices in confession), and they were often keen to present their actions in the least incriminating light. Moreover, as many scholars have shown, witness testimonies in inquisitorial records were shaped in numerous ways by what witnesses believed the inquisitors were expecting to hear, as well as by the (sometimes leading) questions asked of them.   Nonetheless, the wealth of circumstantial detail in the records allows us to explore perceptions of superstitious remedies and the interactions between healers and their clients.

It’s early days yet. Our first research trip to the Cathedral Archives in Mdina is a couple of weeks away. We’re currently setting up our database, with the advice of Exeter’s Digital Humanities team, which is a bit of a learning curve for two academics without much prior experience of Microsoft Access.  It’s a smallish project, with a more restricted focus than, say, the Dissident Networks Project recently begun at the Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, which also makes use of databases for Inquisition records, among other things – but we think the results will be interesting.

More at a later date on how it goes.

Catherine Rider, Associate Professor in Medieval History

The Routledge History of Medieval Magic: Reflections on a Big Editing Project

I’m very pleased to announce that the Routledge History of Medieval Magic, edited by Sophie Page (UCL) and me, has been published.

As editors we’re very happy with it and we hope others will be too.  Seeing it in print has prompted me to reflect back on the process of editing such a large volume over several years. We started the planning back in 2013, when the publishers Ashgate approached Sophie about editing a volume on magic for their Research Companions series. (As some of you may know Ashgate was later taken over by Routledge, so it’s now a Routledge Histories volume.)  Sophie asked me if I was interested in sharing the editing and, thinking that this would be an interesting way to get up to speed on the field, I said yes.

Planning the volume, we were clear that we didn’t want to produce a survey of the history of medieval magic. We knew of several other history of magic surveys which had substantial medieval sections and were either recently published or in the pipeline. Instead we wanted to produce a guide to researching in the field. The study of medieval magic has grown very rapidly since the 1990s and we felt there was a need for a volume that outlined the new developments and highlighted possible future directions that research could take. We also wanted some methodological reflections: how can (or should) medievalists define magic? Sophie’s idea here was to get several short pieces from scholars with very different approaches, and ask them to comment on one another.

Together we drew up a rather long wish-list of possible contributors. Here it was good to have a co-editor since we were able to pool our expertise and lists of contacts. Sophie works on magical texts and knew exactly who was doing interesting work in this area, while I had a better knowledge of scholarship on the Church, condemnations of magic, and the rise of witchcraft stereotypes. We also thought about our own contributions: I remember sitting in the British Library café with Sophie saying ‘We should have a chapter on gender and it should cover this, and this, and this…’ so that became mine.

Once the publisher had accepted our proposal we wrote to our entire wish-list. Gratifyingly, many of them said yes – more, in fact, than I had expected. This made it a very large volume, with a total of 35 chapters, and that brought some logistical challenges. Our authors worked very hard and were exceedingly patient, but it took considerable time to liaise with that many people, comment on drafts, sort out images, etc, and we needed to be a bit flexible about deadlines, since the contributors were also busy with many other projects.  All this meant that the volume took rather longer than planned, especially when we had to factor in my and Sophie’s other commitments to funded projects, other publications, and a period of maternity leave.  Routledge were very patient, and so too were the authors who submitted chapters early on in the project – and we are very grateful for that.  My advice to anyone considering a large editing project like this would be not to underestimate the time involved, or the need for a long (and, to a degree, flexible) timescale!

Nonetheless I am very glad we did it. We have managed to be very comprehensive in terms of the people working in the field, ranging from recent PhDs to senior scholars, and taking in contributors from the UK, continental Europe, and North America. I am also pleased about the range of angles we have managed to cover – thinking about concepts and definitions of magic, magical texts, authors, themes, and condemnations of magic. The book has certainly inspired me to think about where I want to go next!

Catherine Rider, Associate Professor in Medieval History

Ex Historia – Call for Papers

This week, we’re advertising a call for papers for Exeter’s postgraduate history journal, Ex Historia.  Over the years quite a few of our medieval PhD students have been involved with Ex Historia and it’s published several medieval articles and reviews, so if there are medieval postgraduates out there (at Exeter or elsewhere) who want to submit something, then please get in touch with the journal team!

Please refer to MRHA Style Guide for style requirements and use British spellings in all cases except for direct quotations which use alternative spellings.

Please email all submissions as Word attachments to exhistoria@exeter.ac.uk, ensuring that your name is not written anywhere on your document in order to ensure that the refereeing process is blind. If you have any questions about the process or the journal, please do not hesitate to email the address above.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 14 December 2018 for original articles and review articles and Monday 28 January 2019 for book reviews, but we would certainly appreciate any early submissions.

 

Welcome to a new academic year of Medieval Studies!

Well, term has started and campus is suddenly full of students again.  Here in the Centre for Medieval Studies we’re catching up with existing colleagues and students, as well as welcoming some new ones. We have several new PhD students starting in History and Archaeology and would like to welcome them to our community of postgraduates, along with new students on the MA History with medieval interests.  It’s also a good time to celebrate some successes from the last year. In particular, congratulations to Tom Chadwick, who got his PhD last year. Tom has posted several times on the blog (for example, here) about his research on the Normans.

This term we have an exciting seminar programme, running every other Wednesday – details here. All staff and students with medieval interests are welcome!  One highlight is at the end of term, when Roger Collins (University of Edinburgh) will be giving our first Simon Barton Memorial Lecture, on ‘Faith, Culture and Identity in Medieval Spain’. This was a topic close to Simon’s own research and we hope to make it an annual event.

We’ll also be hearing from staff and students on the blog – next week, PhD student Ed Mills.

Wishing everyone the best for the new term.

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

K’zoo and Leeds Forgery Sessions

As part of my ongoing project on medieval forgery, I am pleased to anounce the following Call for Papers on ‘Forging Memory: False Documents and Historical Consciousness in the Middle Ages’ for both the Kalamazoo and Leeds medieval congresses next year (May 9-12; July 1-4), organised under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval Studies here at Exeter:

D Arn 163 (Munich, BayHStA, HU Passau 11), forged by Pilgrim of Passau

Over the last two decades, scholars have shown great interest in how group and institutional identities were constructed and contested within (and beyond) the Middle Ages. Much attention has been given to the role of narrative histories of peoples, regions and religious houses in this context. Only relatively recently, however, has the contribution of more ‘documentary’ sources come to be appreciated. In recent years, we have learned that cartularies and cartulary-chronicles are not merely repositories of texts, but powerful statements about local and institutional identity. These sessions seek to develop these lines of investigation further by examining the contribution of forgery to these processes. They aim to bridge the gap between the study of historical memory (which until recently has taken written narratives as its starting point) and documentary forgery (which tends to focus on the legal implications of such texts), offering new vantage points on old problems regarding uses of the past in the Middle Ages.

 

Papers on any of these themes considering on any region or period within the Middle Ages are welcome. Proposals of up to 300 words should be sent by email to me () by 15 September, with an indication as to whether you wish to be considered for the Kalamazoo or Leeds sessions. Two sessions are already confirmed at the former, while I am looking to organise anywhere between one and three at the latter (depending upon demand).

Levi Roach, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History

 

Sharing Medieval Research with the Community

A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday 17th March, a few staff in the Centre had a stall at the University’s Community Day to showcase some of the research we do relating to Exeter Cathedral.  We had interest from people of all ages, asking questions about our projects, the pictures and maps we were showing, and about life in medieval Exeter more generally.  Here is a short taster of the research by Sarah Hamilton, Oliver Creighton and me that was on display. We’re also in the early stages of planning a larger scale project which looks at the history, archaeology and manuscripts of Exeter Cathedral, and if you’d be interested in hearing more please feel free to get in touch with me.

Exeter Cathedral and its World: Sarah Hamilton focused on Cathedral MS 3518, a liturgical manuscript which lists, among other things, the saints commemorated by the Cathedral community each day. This includes the major Christian saints as one would expect but it also includes a number of more local saints from the South West of England, such as Nectan of Hartland and Petroc of Bodmin. Looking at these saints is one way to understand how the medieval clergy of Exeter Cathedral thought about their local history, and people had fun trying to spot the saints’ names in the images of the manuscript (surprisingly tricky: I never did find Rumon of Tavistock…).

Medieval Medicine in Exeter Manuscripts: I was looking at Cathedral MS 3519, a collection of medical treatises and recipes from the early fifteenth century, particularly some of the ones relating to pregnancy and fertility. Recipes like these are often striking for their weirdness (at least to modern eyes) – eating animals’ reproductive organs to stimulate men’s and women’s fertility, for example – but they are also a fascinating way to think about medieval people’s health concerns.

What Lies Beneath? A Geophysical Survey of Cathedral Green, Exeter: Oliver Creighton contributed some images from a geophysical survey of the Cathedral Green that he undertook last year with other staff and students from Archaeology. This was probably the most popular part of our stall, as people tried to interpret the black and white images and work out if there was a Roman road underneath the cloisters.

And if anyone wants to hear more about one of Exeter Cathedral’s most famous manuscripts, the Cathedral is holding an afternoon event celebrating the Exon Domesday on 17th April: see their website here for more details and to book.

 

Catherine Rider

Senior Lecturer in History

In Memory of Simon Barton, 1962-2017

As many of you will know by now, our former colleague Simon Barton died suddenly just before Christmas. Simon had been at Exeter for many years, first in Modern Languages and then in History, before leaving in December 2016 to take up a chair at the University of Central Florida.  Simon will probably need no introduction to many of you: if you didn’t know him in person, you have probably come across some of his work on medieval Spain.  He was – among many other things – always a great supporter of the Centre for Medieval Studies, and was also one of the founders of our MA Medieval Studies.  For more on his work at Exeter see the lovely tribute that Alun Williams wrote for the blog just over a year ago, when Simon left us for Florida.

 

Since news of Simon’s death began to circulate, there have been many tributes posted online, especially on Twitter, from his friends, colleagues and students, in the UK and overseas. A colleague at UCF has also set up an online tribute wall here. Instead of repeating these comments this blog post seeks to record the memories we have in Exeter of Simon as a friend, colleague, teacher and PhD supervisor.  When I put out a call to the Exeter medievalists for their thoughts, the response was – predictably – huge.  I have tried to include as many contributions as possible but in order to keep the size of this blog post manageable I have edited some of them down.

 

‘I sought out Simon as a PhD supervisor because of his expertise in Spanish medieval history but I had no idea I would be so lucky to find someone so kind, enthusiastic and encouraging who has supported me all the way – and I had a long way to come! He had a wonderfully light touch way of delivering what you realised later was searing criticism, e.g. “you’ll look back on this and want to change it – a lot”:  an incredible skill in mentoring that not only made you want to do better, but affirmed to you that you could do it. I am already missing him terribly as I complete my thesis, he always said how much he was looking forward to “the next instalment” and it is sad that he won’t see the finished article, though of course I will dedicate it to him. He finished his last e-mail to me, just a couple of days before he died, with the words “YOU WILL PREVAIL” and I have taken these to heart as I continue without him.’ Teresa Tinsley

‘Many of those who have written about Simon have drawn attention to his humanity, personal kindness, his civilising influence, courtesy and his scholastic achievements and generosity. These were qualities he had in abundance but to these I would add integrity and gentle persuasiveness. It was he who became my supervisor and mentor back in 2006/7 and who was to be a much valued colleague, friend and inspiration. As well as having similar academic interests (many of which I owe to him), we both served on the board of The Society of the Medieval Mediterranean. Simon became its president in 2013. He once told me that he did not think he made his most important contribution when at the helm but preferred to work away from the limelight. He considerably underestimated himself. As president of the society he was dynamic, innovative and inclusive: he was a popular and auspicious choice who succeeded in widening the society’s appeal and encouraging young and new academics by instituting a prize acknowledging the work of the society’s founder,  Dionisius  Agius, and awarded biennially to the best first work by an aspiring academic in the field of medieval Mediterranean studies.’  Alun Williams

‘For me, when I started my MA in 2013 Simon was most helpful and generous with his time. Having been at university in the 1970s, with no background in Humanities and having spent my professional life in commerce, I was a raw recruit and needed some guidance. I well remember my first effort at an Humanities essay which he marked; it had ugly paragraphing and dire referencing. Simon patiently helped me through it and I was most grateful thereafter.’ Conrad Donaldson

‘I am far away here in Gaza, Palestine but I felt sad and depressed because of the big loss. I had the privilege to meet Prof Simon in Exeter between 2006 till 2009 where I gave him and a group of students some classes in Arabic and the Holy Quran. He was an example of kindness, tolerance and real friendship. I could never forget his smiley face.  Please convey my heartfelt greetings to his beloved ones whom I used to see walking with him in Exeter High Street.  Please tell them that they have lovers and friends in Palestine.’  Mahmoud nayef Baroud

‘Simon has been my supervisor for five years now and during that time he has been so kind, supportive, and encouraging to me. He was always so generous with his time and resources and so loyal and dedicated to his students. Even when he moved to Florida last year there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that he was going to see all his current students in Exeter through to the end of their PhDs. He was also so understanding and empathetic as a supervisor. No question was ever too silly and no worry was ever unimportant to him. He had such unwavering faith in other people that he was always the one to believe in me and my work, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Despite being a hugely successful academic, he always had time to support those further down the career ladder. I remember one time when he asked me for some ideas and references for a lecture he was giving to undergraduates on the same area as my thesis. The idea that a leading professor would ask for help from a lowly PhD student shows just how much respect he afforded his fellow academics whatever stage of their career they were at. So whilst his academic achievements and publications speak for themselves, it is his kindness and compassion as a person that I will always remember him for.’ Rowena Cockett

‘Simon was an excellent scholar and had a lovely personality – sociable, warm, courteous – a verray parfit gentil knyght as Chaucer would say.’ Nicholas Orme

‘He seemed especially adept at engaging with the research and activities of others, regardless of whether it was related to his own work, which was a great thing for those of us just starting out!’ Zoe Cunningham

‘I’ll always cherish his advice and patience.’ Mike Whelan

‘Simon was one of the most impressive scholars that I have met. He was also warm, self-effacing and wonderfully good humoured. He seemed always to carry with him a feeling compounded of calm, authority and gentleness.’ Elliot Kendall

‘What a mean, muddy thunder to kill the noblest tree.’ Istvàn Kristo-Nagy

‘We bonded over our shared appreciation of the significance of Ladybird history books to our formation as historians (in particular that for Richard the Lionheart).   Indeed, at his leaving do, he told me that they were some of the books he couldn’t bear to part with when he was preparing to move to Florida. Shortly after he joined History, I had a tap on my office door one dark autumnal evening, and Simon appeared, looking shaken and saying “I’ve just discovered I’ve got a three-year Leverhulme fellowship!”   His modesty, and awe were typical.   The Fellowship led to the research which became Conquerors, Brides and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia (2015).’ Sarah Hamilton

‘Simon was my supervisor, and I feel extremely lucky to have worked with him for the last three years. He was a giant among medieval Hispanicists, and his scholarship has had a huge impact on our field. He was also an incredibly kind, humble, generous, and wise supervisor who cared deeply about his students and who inspired many of us to follow him into the archives of medieval Spain. He will be sorely missed.’ Teresa Witcombe

And finally, Oliver Creighton offers a lighter anecdote: ‘I remember spending a couple of fantastic hours walking the Floridian beaches near Sarasota with Simon while on a trip to the University of South Florida, and us both forgetting to put on any suncream and getting sunburned while talking through the future of medieval studies at Exeter.’

Not everyone was able to comment here, but I think these tributes speak for many of us in the Centre, even those who haven’t commented separately. Simon will be sorely missed!

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

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