Medieval Livery Collars – Strictly Not for Dogs!

(Livery Collars of the 14th and 15thC) by Cathy T

‘Livery’ derives from the French liverée meaning dispensed or handed over and in medieval times it was a uniform worn by a servant denoting his lord’s colours and emblems. In turn, a lord could be awarded a livery collar by his king for good service or heroic deeds. And of course, the king would have his own livery collar, those huge metal necklaces you see hanging on the chest.

The oldest recorded collar existed in the 14thC. In 1378 Charles V of France granted his Chamberlain, Geoffrey de Belleville (and in Lions and Lilies, his friend and councillor, Gillet de Bellegarde) the collar of Cosse de Geneste or Broomcod. This collar was later accepted and worn by three English kings. Charles V’s son, Charles VI, sent one to King Richard II (the Black Prince’s son), and his three uncles, John of Gaunt, Thomas of Woodstock and Edmund of Langley.

Replica made by New Armour and Castings

Charles V granted his ‘genet’ badges more widely, but only about twenty collars were presented each year and it created a pseudo-chivalric order. Although no such order is formally recorded, it must have provided a bonding of Charles’ most privileged acquaintances.

The collar, Cosse de Geneste, is a chain of couples of broom cods which are the pods or husk of the broom plant known as ‘planta genisa’, linked by jewels. This plant was used by Count Geoffrey of Anjou who, by wearing a sprig of yellow broom blossom—planta genista— in his hat and helmet, became known as Geoffrey Plantagenet, ‘genêt’ being the French word for planta genista. Thus the name was formed for the Plantagenet dynasty.

The collar can been seen, worn around the neck of King Richard II in the Wilton Diptych – ‘diptych’ as an art term being a piece of artwork that consists of two pieces or panels, often hinged like a book, and ‘Wilton’ for the ‘Wilton House’ near Salisbury, where it was housed between 1705 and 1929. (It is now in the National Gallery, London.) The panels were Baltic oak set in frames of the same material. Richard can be seen wearing his collar, the pendant of which is a white hart (mature stag), Richard’s own device. The artist of the diptych remains unknown.

The angels accompanying the Virgin in the second panel also wear Richard’s livery badge. The same collar was worn by his cousin, Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke), on the way to his crowning.

During the sitting of the Parliament of England in 1394 the complaints of Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, against Richard II are recorded, one of his grievances being that the king had been wearing the livery collar of his uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and that people of the king’s following wore the same livery. To which the king answered that soon after the return from Spain (in 1389) of the duke, his uncle, he himself took the collar from his uncle’s neck, and put it on his own, which the king would wear and use for a sign of the good and whole-hearted love between them, even as he wore the liveries of his other uncles.

But the Cosse de Geneste was not the only livery collar of the time. Another famous design existed, even before the one Charles V of France used, and it belonged to John of Gaunt.

This was the collar know as ‘The Collar of Esses’  

This famous livery collar, which has never passed out of use, takes many forms, its Esses being sometimes linked together chain-wise, and sometimes, in early examples, as the ornamental bosses of a garter-shaped strap-collar. The oldest effigy bearing it is that in Spratton church of Sir John Swinford, who died in 1371. Swinford was a follower of John of Gaunt.

Sir John Swinford died on the Feast of St. Stephen (26th December) 1371. His memorial is the intricately carved alabaster tomb now in the chancel of St. Andrew’s Church. The whole tomb was originally brightly coloured with traces of paint still to be seen around the coat of arms.

He is believed to have fought together with the Black Prince and the Duke of Lancaster in the French wars and can be seen here as wearing the Lancaster Collar of Esses.

Many explanations are given as to the origin of these letters, but none has as yet been established for sure. I think the one I like most is that when the Duchess of Lancaster, Blanche Plantagenet, died on the twelfth of September 1368 at Tutbury Castle, her last words to her loving husband, John of Gaunt, were ‘Souveyne vous de moi’ (Remember me), the ‘S’ of the collar representing the ‘Souveyne.’

Livery collars of the king of France, of Queen Anne and of the dukes of York and Lancaster are recorded amongst the royal plate and jewels which in the first year of Henry IV’s reign had come into the king’s hands.

The inventory shows that Queen Anne’s collar was made up of sprigs of rosemary garnished with pearls. The York collar had falcons and fetterlocks, and the Lancaster collar was doubtless that collar of Esses. 

Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI of England

During the reigns of Henry IV, his son, Henry V, and grandson Henry VI, the collar of Esses was a royal badge of the Lancastrian house and party, the white swan, as in the Dunstable Swan Jewel, usually being its pendant.

The Dunstable Swan

The Dunstable Swan jewel/badge excavated in 1965 from the Dunstable Friary and now residing in the British Museum.

The jewel is formed as a standing or walking mute swan “gorged” with a gold collar in the form of a royal crown with six fleur-de-lys tines. There is a gold chain terminating in a ring attached to the crown, and the swan has a pin and catch on its right side for fastening the brooch to clothes or a hat.

In 1377, when the young Richard II’s highly unpopular uncle, John of Gaunt, was Regent, one of his more than 200 retainers, Sir John Swinton, unwisely rode through London wearing Gaunt’s badge on a livery collar (probably the Collar of Esses).The mob attacked him, pulling him off his horse and tore the badge off him. He had to be rescued by the mayor from suffering serious harm.

The awarded collars usually consisted of the necklace which bore the emblems of the giver and the pendant or drop would be the insignia of the receiver, thus many variations were made. A monumental brass at Mildenhall shows a knight whose badge of a dog or wolf circled by a crown hangs from a collar with edges suggesting a pruned bough or the ragged staff. (no picture located)

Ripon Cathedral

Thomas of Markenfield (d. 1398) Ripon Cathedral has an unusual collar of park palings with a badge of a hart in a park.

Chest tomb of Thomas de Berkeley ( 5th Baron of Berkeley d. 1417) and his wife. The tomb had a monumental brass on the lid. (Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Wotton-on-edge, UK)

Close up of the brass. Sir Thomas has a collar set with mermaids, the Berkeley family heraldic badge.

And of course, the Order of the Garter had its own collar. Below is a 14th or 15thC version still used today.

The Collar of the Most Noble Order of the Garter is a chain of pure gold. The chain is composed of enamel plaques depicting the famous blue garter with the Order’s motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense (“Shame on he who thinks ill of it”), surrounding a rose which is separated by gold knots. Different collars may have slightly varying forms of the plaques and knots.

Suspended from the Collar in the front is the Great George, a figurine depicting St. George slaying a dragon from atop his horse. Garter insignia also includes a ‘Lesser George,’ which is a badge worn at the hip on the famous blue sash. All ‘Great Georges’ are not the same; some are enamelled, others are bejewelled. The Queen usually wears the Marlborough Great George, which she wore for her coronation in 1953. It is covered in diamonds, enamel, and gold, and was made for George IV, copied from a Great George worn by the 1st Duke of Marlborough, hence the name.

Another famous livery collar still in existence today is the Order of the Golden Fleece, established on 10th January, 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (grandson to Lions and Lilies, Philip the Bold) to celebrate his marriage to Isabella of Portugal.

 It was restricted to a limited number of knights, initially 24 but increased to 30 in 1433, the first king of arms being Jean Le Fèvre de Saint-Remy. The order received further privileges unusual to any order of knighthood: the sovereign undertook to consult the order before going to war; all disputes between the knights were to be settled by the order; at each chapter the deeds of each knight were held in review, and punishments and admonitions were dealt out to offenders.

The ram as it appeared hanging on the tree.

The Duke’s choice of the Golden Fleece of Colchis as the symbol of a Christian order caused some controversy, not so much because of its pagan context but because the feats of Jason himself, was not without causes of reproach. In order for him to carry off the Fleece of Colchis, he was willing to commit perjury. Not really the look you want for a chivalric order!

Originating in Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece was from the golden-woolled, winged ram Chrysomallos, that rescued Phrixus and brought him to Colchis, where Phrixus then sacrificed it to Zeus! Phrixus gave the fleece to King Aeëtes who hung it on a tree in a sacred grove whence Jason and the Argonauts stole it with the help of Aeëtes’ daughter. The fleece is a symbol of authority and kingship. Is that why he chose it?

Philip the Good of Burgundy and Isabella of Portugal

The collar also had a B for Burgundy and the motto Pretium Laborum Non Vile (No Mean Reward for Labours) and Philip’s motto Non Aliud (“I will have no other”) on the back. In a wonderful series of books ‘Catherine’ by French author, Juliette Benzoni., (recently re-released along with a seventh book never before published in English, many thanks to a wonderful lady in Switzerland!)  Philip of Burgundy chooses the Golden Fleece as a tribute to his lost love—a mistress with golden hair— in the hope of her return and his motto was his message to her.

Philip and Isabella’s son, Charles the Bold, wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece

Hang on a minute!  Call me stare-crazy from all this research but doesn’t he remind you of someone? Another Charles?

Charles the Bold and Prince Charles

Charles the Bold had only one child, a girl, Mary of Burgundy who married Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. In turn, they had a son, Philip I of Castile also known as Philip the Handsome, and his son was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. This branch of Philip the Bold (younger brother to the Black Prince) were all inducted into the Order of the Golden Fleece. These paintings show excellent examples of the collar.

Maximilian I – Holy Roman Emperor  1459 – 1519 and his son, Philip I of Castile (the Handsome) 1478 – 1506
Charles V – Holy Roman Emperor 1500- 1558 inducted at a very early age!

The Golden Fleece, and particularly the Spanish branch of the order, has been referred to as the most prestigious and historic order of chivalry in the world. The necklaces are the property of the Order, to which they must be returned on the death of each knight.

Each collar is fully coated in gold and is estimated to be worth around €50,000 as of 2018. Current knights of the order include Queen Elizabeth II, Emperor Akihito of Japan, former Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. More recently, Princess Leonora of Spain became the fourth female to receive the order.

In 2018, on his 50th birthday His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain imposed the Necklace of the distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece on the Princess of Asturias Leonor at the royal palace of Madrid. It’s nice to know there are still some traditions that have lasted from the medieval times!

Small apology to readers:- I did indicate in our newsletter that I would be writing about the ‘Dog of Montargis’ and other hunting animals this blog but time ran out to research as we’ve been working on our Advent Calendar. It will appear in 2022.

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As there will be no blog in December, we would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

Pope Joan – Medieval Myth or Martyr?

Ioannes Anglicus, (Joan Angelicus or sometimes referred to as Agnes or Gilberta) was a legendary woman who supposedly dressed as a man to become pontiff in 855. There are multiple versions of Joan’s story, some demonising and rubbishing her existence and others, raising her up to the status of martyr. So, who was Joan, and did she exist?

Joan’s story was widely spread during the later 13th century, mostly by friars and primarily by means of interpolations made in many manuscripts of the Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum (Chronicle of the Popes and Emperors) by the 13th-century Polish Dominican, Martin of Troppau.

Martin of Troppau

Reportedly an Englishwoman, her birthplace is recorded as the city of Mainz, an apparent inconsistency that some sources quantify by stating that her parents had migrated to Germany.

Whilst still quite young (some suggest perhaps before her eleventh birthday) she met and fell in love with an English monk, with whom she travelled to Athens. Not wanting to attract undue attention, she dressed as a boy.

It is perhaps through her relationship with the unnamed monk, that she gained her education, learning to both read and write. The two then moved on to Rome, where Joan (now called John) became a scribe, then cardinal and eventually, Pope Joan (John VIII).

Statue (supposedly) of Pope Joan (John VIII). Some scholars argue that it is the Virgin Mary, even though ‘she’ is wearing a mitre, the traditional headdress of a Bishop, Cardinal or Pope.

And herein begins the numerous and bloody variations, or her demise.

The most infamous of the four versions I have located involve her attendance at a very untimely procession. Secretly heavily pregnant with her first child (to her lover/monk) she gave birth whilst on horseback. With her ruse revealed, Joan was pulled from her mount, dragged around the streets, and then stoned to death by the crowd.

Jean de Mailly, Chronica Universalis Mettensis wrote –

One day, while mounting a horse, she gave birth to a child. Immediately, by Roman justice she was bound by the feet to a horse’s tail and dragged and stoned by the people for half a league, and, where she died, there she was buried, and at the place is written: “Petre, Pater Patrum, Papisse Prodito Partum” [Oh Peter, Father of Fathers, Betray the childbearing of the woman Pope]. At the same time, the four-day fast called the “fast of the female Pope” was first established.

Joan’s untimely travail!

A variation of the above included the same description of the procession, but with the child surviving, and yet another states that both Joan and the child survived.

Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St. Peter’s to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the “shunned street” between the Colosseum and St Clement’s church. After her death, it is said she was buried in that same place. The Lord Pope always turns aside from the street, and it is believed by many that this is done because of abhorrence of the event. Nor is she placed on the list of the Holy Pontiffs, both because of her female sex and on account of the foulness of the matter.

— Martin of Opava, Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatoru

Via Sacre, Rome

The final account gives a far more palatable outcome –

Joan did not die immediately after her exposure, but instead was confined and deposed, after which she did many years of penance before reuniting with her lover. Her son from the affair eventually became Bishop of Ostia, and ordered her entombment in his cathedral when she died.

But what evidence do we have of such events? Could there be any truth to the story of a female Pope?

It certainly is recorded that medieval popes, from the 13th century onward, did indeed avoid the direct route between the Lateran and St Peter’s, as Martin of Opava claimed. However, there is no evidence that this practice dated back any earlier. The origin of the practice is uncertain, but it is quite likely that it was maintained because of widespread belief in the Joan legend, and it was thought genuinely to date back to that period.

And then there is the supposed sedia stercoraria or ‘dung chair’ containing a large, central hole where future popes were subjected to an examination to establish that they were, in fact male (the Catholic Church did not want to make that mistake again!)

Certainly, there are many images of such a chair and depictions of the examination, which was also featured in the series “The Borgias” (season 1, episode 1).

In 2018, Michael E. Habicht, an archaeologist at Flinders University, published new evidence in support of an historical Pope Joan. Habicht and grapho-analyst Marguerite Spycher analysed papal monograms on medieval coins and found that there were two significantly different monograms attributed to Pope John VIII. Habicht argues that the earlier monogram, which he dates from 856 to 858, belongs to Pope Joan, while the latter monogram, which he dates to after 875, belongs to Pope John VII.

(NOTE – The numbering of “popes John” does not occur in strict numerical order. Although there have been twenty-one legitimate popes named John, the numbering became confused and multiple errors occurred during the Middle Ages).

In the 16th century, Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs, however it was later removed.

The 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia elaborated on the historical timeline problem:

Between Leo IV and Benedict III, where Martinus Polonus places her, she cannot be inserted, because Leo IV died 17 July 855, and immediately after his death Benedict III was elected by the clergy and people of Rome; but, owing to the setting up of an Antipope, in the person of the deposed Cardinal Anastasius, he was not consecrated until 29 September. Coins exist which bear both the image of Benedict III and of Emperor Lothair, who died 28 September 855; therefore Benedict must have been recognized as pope before the last-mentioned date. On 7 October 855, Benedict III issued a charter for the Abbey of Corvey. Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, informed Nicholas I that a messenger whom he had sent to Leo IV learned on his way of the death of this Pope, and therefore handed his petition to Benedict III, who decided it (Hincmar, ep. xl in P.L., CXXXVI, 85). All these witnesses prove the correctness of the dates given in the lives of Leo IV and Benedict III, and there was no interregnum between these two Popes, so that at this place there is no room for the alleged Popess.

Most modern scholars dismiss the story of Joan, claiming it is absolute fantasy. In fact, one commentator, Thomas Noble, has described Pope Joan as ‘a woman who never lived but who nevertheless refuses to die’.

There are multiple works on the subject, notably ‘Pope Joan’ by Donna Woolfolk Cross, ‘The Legend of Pope Joan – In search of the Truth’ by Peter Stanford and ‘Pope Joan – the Indestructible Legend of the Catholic Churches First and Only Female Pope’ Charles River Editors.

Incidentally, Peter Stanford was the former editor of The Catholic Herald, and concluded that in  ‘Weighing all the evidence, I am convinced that Pope Joan was an historical figure, though perhaps not all the details about her that have been passed on down the centuries are true.’

There are also two notable movie versions.

Pope Joan (2009) staring Johanna Wokalek, David Wenham, John Goodman, Iain Glen

Pope Joan (1972) staring Liv Ullmann, Olivia de HavillandLesley-Anne DownFranco Nero and Maximilian Schell

I particularly found the story intriguing and given the length the Catholic Church has gone to in the past, to expunge, dilute and generally cover-up matters they find unsavoury, I would not be at all surprised if this was the case for Pope Joan, the martyr.

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

Tracking the Templars through Paris

By Cathy T Wilson

In late October/early November of 2019 Cathy A and I took a research trip together to Paris and London. On the afternoon of Nov 4th, we went for a stroll around Paris on a Templars tour. We were to meet our guide at the statue of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf bridge so took lunch at the Henry IV tavern opposite.

The table the waiter is setting up in this picture is exactly where we sat!

After lunch we ventured over to the statue, a huge bronze likeness of King Henry IV overlooking the small park below called the ‘Square du Vert-Galant’ named in his honour as he was nicknamed the ‘Green Gallant.’

   I felt a Lions and Lilies connection with this effigy as Henry was the ‘Albret blood’ that sat on the French throne. His mother was Jeanne d’Albret and yes, the line traces back to the (non-fictional) Albrets in Lions and Lilies.

   The statue you see today was built in 1818 by Francois-Frederic Lemot to replace an original statue built in 1614 by order of his widowed queen, Marie de Medici. The original King Henry IV statue was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution.

The Pont Neuf Bridge is also well worth a mention. It’s now the oldest bridge in Paris whilst ironically its name means ‘new bridge.’ Completed in 1607 under Henry IV’s reign, it was the first stone bridge to not support houses making it the ‘new kid on the block.’ Serving as a dedicated thoroughfare, it was the first to herald pavement. 

The bridge is decorated with 384 mascarons (grotesque faces meant to scare away evil spirits), representing the heads of forest and field divinities from mythology like satyrs etc. They display pointed ears, beards with grapes and sea-shell crowns.

But the reason we were shown to this area had a much darker past. We descended the stairs to find a plaque on the side of the bridge dedicated to Jacques de Molay. Translated, it read ‘At this location Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burned on 18 March 1314.’

Plaque dedicated to De Molay with close-up insert.

Behind us, the pretty Square du Vert-Galant, took on a whole new, sinister meaning.

We left the square and walked along the bank of the Seine, past the Palace of Justice and Saint Chapelle Cathedral to cross the Pont au Change.

In the 14th/15th centuries this bridge held the establishments and shops of the money changers, goldsmiths and jewellers. In those days shops, with living quarters above, were built right on the bridge. Originally called the ‘Grand Pont,’ it was given the name of Pont au Change by Louis VII around 1141 following an ordinance that money-lenders, jewellers and goldsmiths (changeurs) were to exercise their trade only on the bridge.

Crossing over to the right bank we stopped at the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques. The Saint Jacques tower is the only remaining part of an earlier church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, destroyed in one of the city’s worst fires during the French Revolution.

Then we rounded a corner to Rue du Cloitre Saint-Merri, and the Saint Merri Church. This church began as a Parisian sanctuary by the monk/priest Saint Merri in the 7th century.

The current 16thC version sits upon the same ground as its worthy earlier counterpart. A section of the original church still looks out onto the Rue Saint Martin. The bell tower contains the oldest bell, cast in 1331, which thankfully, did survive the French Revolution.

Our next stop at 49 – 51 Rue de Montmorency  came as a wonderful surprise – ‘Maison du Nicolas Flamel,’ – the house of Nicolas Flamel, a well-known 14thC scribe. He ran two shops as a scribe and manuscript seller, beneath his living quarters. He is a character in Lions and Lilies book two, ‘The Order of the Lily.’

The façade is covered in wonderful pictures, letters, script and rune-style symbols.

Today it houses a restaurant (2019). Sadly, it was not open during our visit.

Nicolas Flamel lived into his 70s, and in 1410 designed his own tombstone which was carved with the images of Christ, St. Peter, and St. Paul. He was buried in the Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie church (mentioned above) but Flamel’s tombstone survived and is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.

Our route took us past the 12th Century founded Gothic Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, in former times part of the ancient and powerful Abbey of Saint Martin des Champs. The Abbey was founded as a daughter house of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, the most powerful centre of monastic life in the Middle Ages.

These monks were skilled in drying out the surrounding marshes and turning it into arable land. The Templars emulated this at their own headquarters.

We headed on to the Eglise Sainte-Elisabeth de Hongrie  (St. Elisabeth of Hungary Church)

and although built in 1646, it became home to the ‘Order of the Knights of Malta,’ originating from the Order of Saint John, more commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller.

This monastic order of knights dates back to 1048, when merchants from the Republic of Amalfi were granted permission to build a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of any race or faith. Military defence was added to their duties during the reign of the leprosy-plagued, Christian King Baldwin. After the siege of Acre, the order moved to Cyprus but by 1310, regrouped in Rhodes. In 1523, this now powerful force was laid to siege by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. After six months the knights were compelled to surrender and departed Rhodes. By 1530, they had been granted their own territory in Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, his mother, Queen of Castile with the approval of Pope Clement VII.

Inside the church was a model of the Knights Templar headquarters in Paris.

Leaving the Knights Hospitaller’s church, we made our way to the Square du Temple, the sacred ground where the Knights Templar headquarters once stood.

In 1099 when Christian armies captured Jerusalem from the Muslims, European pilgrims began flooding to the Holy Land. Because such pious travellers made easy pickings, many were robbed and killed along the way. A military order was created, the ‘Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon,’ to protect them on their journey. They became known as the Knights Templar and set up their headquarters on Temple Mount.

Pope Innocent II issued a Papal Bull granting the Templars exemptions from taxes and tithes, and permissions to keep all gifts bestowed upon and in the same year, King Louis VII donated land in Paris for their headquarters. To the north-east of the Templar Towers lay stretches of  marshland which they set about drying out and turning into market gardens. Today this Arrondissment is known as the ‘Marais’ district, meaning the ‘marsh.’

The huge oak doors on the main entrance of the enclosure still exist today and may be seen at the Château des Vincennes. We visited this chateau on Nov 1 (see our website for this trip) and suitably impressed by these huge doors, had taken photos not knowing then, they were once hinged to the walls of the Templar Tower!

All that is left of the mighty Templar structure are the odd foundation stone or two, this one forming the side to a tranquil pool with a waterfall in the park, but there are other remnants if you know where to look.

On that side of the park, the path and road are marked with silver plates showing where the walls once stood.

On the adjacent Rue de Picardie, there now sits a restaurant-bar called ‘Les Chouettes,’ where it is believed the remnants of a corner tower can be seen in the basement. This inspired the deeply-curved shape of the bar in the restaurant, supposedly following the outline of where one of the towers once stood.

In 1307 King Phillip IV and Pope Clement V, deeply resenting the Templars for their money and power, conceived a plan to bring them down. On 13th October scores of Knights Templars were arrested on charges of heresy, blasphemy, sodomy and devil worship. Severely tortured, they were forced to make false confessions with many burned at the stake whilst others were subjected to perpetual imprisonment.

As  the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was tied to the stake, he invoked a curse calling to Christ to prove the Order’s innocence.

‘Let evil swiftly befall those who have wrongly condemned us – God will avenge.’

Within a year of Molay’s death, both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V died.

Here stood the keep of the Temple where Louis XVI and the royal family were imprisoned from August 13, 1792

The property of the Templars passed to the Knights Hospitaller but during the French Revolution the enclosure was seized. The royal family was locked in the keep in August 1792 until their execution. The church was razed to the ground. The Tower of the Temple was later demolished by Napoleon.

Bordering the Square du Temple today there is still an enclosed market called the Carreau du Temple

and while the structure was undergoing renovations in 2007, remains of the Templar existence  were unearthed

including a cemetery with skeletons of the knights.

Almourol Castle in Portugal

Though the Order of the Knights Templar was disbanded after King Philip’s persecution, it is thought many brothers did escape to the Iberian Peninsula, some hiding in Spain, others to Portugal where the ‘Order of Christ’ was created by King Dinis in 1319 – Templars by another name?

The Templars had numerous vessels and many members were never apprehended by the French authorities. Their fate is still a subject of debate to this day. Jean de Châlon, a brother of the Order, testified that eighteen galleys set sail under the command of Templar officers, laden with a ‘whole treasury.’ Worth noting is that no documents or records were found in the Templars’ strongholds indicating they did have some prior notice and instruction.

Today they are still a subject of much speculation, and whether or not they appear as villainous or valiant, one must remember the times in which they lived, good or bad may have come down to the individual but overall, the Order of the Knights Templar still inspires and invokes admiration.

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

The Iconography of Medieval Apothecaries and Barbers

Medicine, as we know it today, was once separated into two very different categories, or trades – Apothecaries and Barbers.

Medieval apothecaries, forefathers of the modern day ‘doctor’, can be dated as far back as 2600 BC in ancient Babylon, where clay tablets were located with medical texts recording symptoms, the prescriptions, and directions for producing potions and lotions for the sick.  Barbers, on the other hand, were the surgeons of their day, performing intricate and often ghastly operations on their victims (and I do mean victims!)

Apothecaries and barbers happily co-existed, side-by-side, both occupying central village locations across Europe. But how were they identified from each other and does their iconology still exist today?

Next time you visit your local pharmacy (or chemist as they are often call in Australia) take a close look at the logo or sign above the door. You might be surprised to see a snake wrapped around a staff.  Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, carried a rod with a single snake which became the symbol for ‘medicine; from the fifth century BC.

The messengers of the gods, Hermes (the Roman God, Mercury), acquired an extra snake on his staff, known as caduceus. Its no coincidence that the element mercury was a major chemical agent in the history of medicine and alchemy. Evaporated mercury, combined with snake venom was injected through the scalp as an antidote to snake bite and as a cure for epilepsy!

Another animal symbol commonly seen in pharmaceutical branding is the unicorn. It was first mentioned by the ancient Greeks as a symbol of purity and grace, whose spiraling horn had the power to heal, especially as an antidote to poisons. Along with the lion, the unicorn is the symbol of the British monarchy, and it was King James I who granted the Society of Apothecaries their charter in 1617, with the coat of arms that includes two unicorns.

The mortar and pestle were common medieval symbols used to identify the local apothecary, that have, over time morphed into what is known as the Bowl of Hygieia. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of health, hygiene, and the associate, wife, or daughter of Asclepius. Hygieia’s symbol is a cup or chalice with a snake entwined around its stem.

The medieval mortar and pestle, with the letters Rx is widely used in the UK. Rx is an abbreviation of the word prescription, from the Latin ‘recipe’. It means ‘recipe take thou’ or ‘take it in the name of God’. It also symbolizes the prayer to the God of medicine, Jupiter.

But what of the barber and his striped pole?

The barber surgeon, one of the most common European medical practitioners of the Middle Ages, was generally charged with caring for soldiers during and after battle. Possessing razors and numerous sharp tools, barbers were called upon for numerous tasks ranging from cutting hair to amputating limbs. When situated within a village setting, barbers were expected to be able to remove teeth, lance boils, pierce swellings, induce bloodletting and remove ingrown toenails (this often meant cutting off the offending toe!)

The trade sign of the barber is, by tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, a staff or pole with a helix of coloured stripes (often red and white in many countries, but usually red, white and blue in the United States).

The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during a procedure to encourage blood flow.

Interestingly, at the Papal Council of Tours in 1163, the clergy was banned from the practice of surgery as contact with blood was felt to be contaminating to men of the church. It is from this date that surgeons and barbers were clearly separated from physicians. 

In Renaissance-er Amsterdam, the surgeons used the coloured stripes to indicate that they were prepared to bleed their patients (red), set bones or pull teeth (white), or give a shave if nothing more urgent was needed (blue).

After the formation of the United Barber Surgeon’s Company in England, a statute required the barber to use a red and white pole and the surgeon to use a singular red pole. In France, surgeons used a red pole with a basin attached to identify their offices. Blue often appears on poles in the United States, possibly as a homage to its national colours. Another, more fanciful interpretation of these barber pole colours is that red represents arterial blood, blue is symbolic of venous blood, and white depicts the bandage.

Barbers’ poles are slowly disappearing from the city and village landscape and are rarely seen outside what we understand a barbering shop to be today. So, next time you do see one, take note of its colourful appearance and meaning for they will soon be relegated to the great vaults of the past.

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

Sight-seeing the French Revolution in Paris

By Cathy T

In late October 2019, Cathy A and I took a research trip together to Paris and London. Whilst in Paris we embarked upon a few ‘guided walks’ and although a couple were 18thC related, over the course of the week we fell upon some great 14thC finds!

First day: –   Best of French Revolution Walking Tour

In the late 18th century, Paris was the stage where the bloody events of the French Revolution played out, forever altering the course of European history. Layered beneath the bustle and romance of modern-day Paris, traces of the tumultuous events can still be found.

On our first sight-seeing day in Paris, we met our guide outside Le Café de L’Esplanade after warming ourselves with a nice hot cuppa. The tour began with a short walk to what I perceive must be the back or a side entrance to Les Invalides, the war museum (where Napoleon is buried). It’s a huge complex with a domed church.

It was here in 1789 that 30,000 weapons were stolen by protesters at the start of the Revolution but the gunpowder had been moved to a few days beforehand to the Bastille for safe-keeping. This was the reason for the storming of the Bastille – to get the gunpowder needed for their weapons. Releasing the few prisoners left there at the same time was a bonus!

Then onto the Assemblée Nationale building (Lower house of French Parliament) as our guide explained the reasons behind the revolution and what sort of government emerged from the debris.

We crossed over the Pont de la Concorde bridge which we learned is made from the stone of the Bastille after it was pulled down in the revolution.

We walked past the Place de la Concorde where stands eight monumental statues of seated ladies, each representing France’s biggest cities, and a Luxor obelisk- a gift from Egypt. This marks   the spot where Louis XVI was beheaded although, the guillotine was moved around the Place de la Revolution (as it was known then) several times because of all the blood. It is thought that where the Lady of Brest sits is where Marie Antionette was beheaded.

Then we hightailed it down the side of the Tulleries gardens, madly snapping shots of the massive bronze statues of a lion and lioness competing for a boar, and a rhinoceros attacking a tiger sculptured by Auguste Nicolas Cain in 1882. A ‘Tulleries’ palace once stood in these gardens, the revolutionaries using the royal chambers as headquarters for their fledgling new government.

We emerged onto the Rue de Rivoli at the St James & Albany Hotel. Once the home of the Dukes of Noailles, its primary historic claim is that it once played host to Marie Antoinette, (from memory up to the night before she was imprisoned).

Scooting past the Louvre, we headed to the intersection of Rue Saint-Honouré and Rue de L’Arbre Sec, in the 1st Arrondissment, where we see a plaque in Latin, dedicated to Louis XVI for his restoration of this fountain which gave free public access to drinking water. Known as ‘Croix-du-Trahoir’ (Cross of Trahoir), the fountain is said to have witnessed public executions and other atrocities committed from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. The fountain owes its name to the fabrics that were pulled out on its steps hence the French word ‘tiroir’ (drawer) which became ‘trahoir.’ An ancient calvary cross used to stand next to the fountain for the condemned to make their final prayers.

We set off again, passing the impressively tall Tower of Saint-Jacques until we came to what is called the Place de Hotel de Ville (City Hall Plaza) but in former times (before 1802) it was called the Place de Grève, the word ‘grève referring to a flat area covered with sand, situated on the shores or banks of a body of water.

Place de Greve where the guillotine once stood

We are now standing on the Right Bank and opposite us, across the Seine is Notre Dame. (You can see the two towers side-on in the background of the photo on the left, but alas no spire.)  The word ‘grève’ also came to mean ‘strike’ as a place where unemployed people gathered to seek work but one wonders if the ‘strike’ didn’t originally come from the guillotine itself! The day we were there the square held large white tents as though preparing for some event for the coming weekend.

During the French Revolution, the Place de Grève saw the first use of the guillotine. The sandy ground was good for soaking up the blood but eventually there was just too much and the guillotine had to be moved, not only around the ‘Place’ but to entirely new locations. Before it saw the beheading of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antionette in the Place de la Concorde (aka Place de la Revolution), the guillotine had dispensed its justice in the Place de la Nation and the Place de la Bastille as well. This period in history was known as the ‘Reign of Terror.’

On my research trip in 2006, my husband and I visited Saint Denis Basilica and down in the crypt, in the dark, (flash photography used here), we found the royal tombs – no decoration just black with gold engraving.

Next we jumped on the metro at Hotel de Ville, disembarking at the Bastille metro station. Here our guide shows us some more of the original blocks belonging to the erstwhile prison and an emblem of the City of Paris.

The image of a sailing vessel (known as La Nef Parisienne ) has been on the city’s coat of arms since about 1260 when Louis IX, AKA Saint Louis, appointed the Guild of the Watermen to help run the city.

Of course, during the French Revolution all emblems were abolished. But the coat of arms soon resurfaced. Beneath the vessel you usually find the words, “fluctuat nec merigitur” — “tossed by the waves but never sinking” — the motto of Paris. The motto first appeared in the 16th century but was made official by none other than Baron Haussmann in 1853 (French administrator under Napoleon III who transformed Paris from its ancient character to the one you see today, large boulevards connecting to grand boulevards.)

Our guide leaves us here and we climb the stairs to street level and cross the road to see the monument that now resides where the Bastille once stood.

So much blood shed, so many lives lost yet it wasn’t the first revolution that started out with good intentions but ended up turning radical and violent. After the king’s execution, tension in the National Convention resulted in an internal power struggle – the Jacobins against the Girondins. Control passed to the Committee of Public Safety of which Robespierre, a major player in the monarchy’s downfall, became a dominant, dictating force, until finally he, in his turn, was overthrown and executed –  on the guillotine no less!

And so ended out first walking tour around Paris. With much to mull over, we chose a cafe across the road from the monument, and for a short time, did what Paris is famous for – sat with refreshment and ‘people watched’!

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

An Unforgettable Day at The Louvre

In November 2019, Cathy T and I were able to undertake an amazing adventure – a research trip to France and England. At the time we had no idea that COVID19 had already reared its ugly head in China, nor could we have possibly known that the world, as we knew it, was about to change so dramatically.

We often reminisce, as we look back through our photos, of the wonderful places we visited and the many magical moments we experienced.

One of our most unforgettable days was spent at the Louvre in Paris. The largest art museum in the world, the Louvre holds over 38,000 objects, housed within the Louvre Palace originally built in the late 12th to13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the Medieval Louvre fortress are visible in the basement of the museum and Cathy T and I headed straight down the stairs to explore the area.

The fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the primary residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The ‘skip the line ticket tour’ is highly recommended and negates the need to join the extensive queue that form outside the museum. Our tour guide was fabulous and was able to move our group effortlessly through the crowds. Cathy T and I took hundreds of photos that day, of artwork, sculptures, medieval tapestries, and so much more. The following are just a few of my favorites.

The Great Sphinx of Tanis c. 2600BC
Salle des Caryatides (1550–51) by Jean Goujon
The Winged Victory of Samothrace c. 200 to 190 BC

The renaissance art was captivating and I was taken aback by the sheer size of many of the pieces. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the gallery, it was difficult to stand back and appreciate the art and then photograph many of the works (so please excuse the angle of some of my shots).

The Coronation of Napoleon is a painting completed in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David, depicting the coronation of Napoleon I at Notre-Dame de Paris. I have always loved the period of the French Revolution and it was thrill to see the original. The size of the painting is mind blowing, as you can see in the second image, obtained from web.

Odalisque, also known as Une Odalisque or La Grande Odalisque, is an oil painting of 1814 by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres depicting an odalisque, or concubine. Ingres’ contemporaries considered the work to signify Ingres’ break from Neoclassicism, indicating a shift toward exotic Romanticism. Ingres went so far as to elongate her back and stomach by an extra five vertebrae, apparently because he thought it increased her sensuality! I am not sure I agree!

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix is the unofficial national painting of France and features the famously bare-breasted female personification of Liberty as she leads fighters during the “July Revolution” of 1830. The popularity of the work when it was first painted turned the female character, Marianne, into a symbol of the French Republic and its general antagonism towards monarchies. The broken bodies beneath the triumphant Marianne allude to the 40 years of civil war and political and social upheavals that had rocked the country.

But the painting I really wanted to see was Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, another famous work by Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres. Ingres made many preparatory drawings using a nude model. He then drafted an image on which he added the clothes and armour. The final composition shows Joan in Reims Cathedral, victorious and looking up to the heavens. To her right are three pages; the monk, Jean Paquerel; and a servant. The servant is a self-portrait of the artist.

There are just so many beautiful objects at the Louvre … and so many that we photographed. The following are the stand-outs for me as they had the most effect on me during our walk around the enormous building.

Offering of the Heart is an early 15th century tapestry thought to originate in Arras. The artist is unknown but this world-famous tapestry is one of the finest representations of the notion of elevating the sublime romantic love which formed part of the chivalric ideals of the Middle Ages. This wall tapestry is perhaps the loveliest creation of late medieval French art; its serene beauty and enchanting details exquisitely set forth the chivalric picture of earthly love in the courts of France and Burgundy of that day.

The medieval vellum manuscript of Denis the Areopagite is exquisite. The cover is made of silver and ornamented with small ivory figures and enriched with precious stones. To see it up close you can truly appreciate the workmanship – the figures are quite remarkable.

On the left is the crown of Louis XV, the only surviving crown from the destruction’s of 1590 and 1793. The king had the Regent Diamond set in the lower part of the fleur-de-lis in the front of his crown, while eight of the famous Marzin diamonds that the cardinal had bequeathed to the French Crown, are set in the other seven fleur-de-lis and in the circlet of the crown.

On the right is the Crown of Napoleon, manufactured for Napoleon and used at his coronation as Emperor of the French on December 2, 1804. Napoleon called this crown the ‘Crown of Charlemagne’, which was the name of the ancient royal coronation crown of France that had been destroyed during the French Revolution.

The Thouzon altarpiece (artist unknown) comprises two panels (the central part of the triptych has disappeared).

The painting on the left evokes the episode in which Saint Andrew had a fire put out by his disciple. The tall figure is believed to represent either Saint Claire or Saint Catherine.

The right panel depicts the episode where Saint Andrew drives out the demons from a church.

Of course we also managed a peak at the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Sleeping Hermaphroditus and many other magnificent artifacts.

If you have never visited Paris or the Louvre, you must add it to your bucket list. It really is a once in a lifetime experience.

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

A Book of Hours

By Catherine T Wilson

Last week I gave myself the task of cleaning/clearing out my bookshelf. It runs down one wall of my studio and turns a corner for another metre. There are three shelves and they are all full. Needless to say that I did not finish my task in one day. In truth, I managed only one shelf before becoming completely distracted with the wonderful creations I was handling.

By now I had found a little book, so tiny it fit into the palm of my hand—probably the smallest in my collection—and I sat thumbing through the wonderful decorations on pages that concertinaed out to a long strand, each section brightly coloured. I immediately recognised two knights who were striking a priest at the altar and decided that must be the unfortunate Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

Other pictures were of saints, some mystical beasts, but mostly all had religious overtones.

Not surprising, since I was looking at  a Book of Hours from the Clifford Collection but imagine my surprise when I discovered the original version dating back to medieval times, actually lives right here in Australia! So, what is the ‘Clifford Collection’ and more perplexing, what exactly is a Book of Hours?

From ‘Little Treasures Book of Hours’ :-

‘Created more than 500 years ago, Books of Hours like this one were religious books with devotional text, illuminated illustrations and decorative initial letters and borders, for the purpose of providing a comforting daily cycle of prayers, hymns and inspirational stories. They were designed to help their owners navigate the stony road from birth to death so as to live a good Christian life.

Books of Hours were written on vellum (fine calfskin) and were fashionable accessories for the pious well-to-do, but more than that, they were cherished daily companions, as the well-thumbed pages of many remaining exhibits show. The Latin text is accompanied by exquisite miniatures, illuminated with gold-leaf which was painstakingly applied by hand to halos, borders and details in the decorative backgrounds.

The term ‘illumination’ gradually came to refer to the entire image and not just the gold (or silver) highlights. The colourful and animated pictures deal with subjects such as the life of Christ and the saints. In this example, the unnamed artist has depicted well-known religious ‘events’  such as Christ being nailed to the cross, the murder of St Thomas of Canterbury (ah, I thought so! – CT) and St George slaying the dragon.

Each picture is thus more than just a visual treat. It has strong story-telling elements which captivate the eye and draw the reader into the tale being told. Each sumptuous illumination, and the decorated initial letter which accompanies it, still retains the vibrancy of the original artwork. While we may smile at the artist’s naïve depiction of the oversized king in the castle in the picture of St George, there is no doubt that the beautifully composted illustrations, symbolic details and bold colours capture the imagination of the reader as much now and they did all those years ago.’

I also have to think that the pictures would assist the folk who could not read, so people  less educated could also own and enjoy one of these treasures which were known to be best sellers.


There are many and varied versions, and here are two stunning examples. The first belonged to Jeanne d’Evreaux, Queen of France 1324 – 1328.

Without a trace of gold, it is still a work of exceptional artistry. The figures are rendered in delicate grisaille (shades of grey), giving them an amazingly sculptural quality. They are accented with rich touches of lilac and turquoise. There are twenty-five full-page paintings with paired images from the Infancy and Passion of Christ. In the margins, close to 700 illustrations depict the bishops, beggars, street dancers, maidens and musicians that people the streets of medieval Paris, as well as apes, rabbits, dogs and creatures of sheer fantasy.

Jeanne d’Evreux left this prayer book to King Charles V ( a character in the forthcoming Lions and Lilies book) and upon his death, the book entered the famous collection of his brother, Duc Jean de Berry.


This illuminated prayer book was crafted in Bruges, Belgium in the 15th century and is thought to have been commissioned by the court of Philippe the Good, Duc of Burgundy. (Grandson to Philippe the Bold in Lions and Lilies).

Each of the 121 pages were created by dyeing vellum parchment with iron gall ink, resulting in dark blue and black tones that are very unusual for prayer books. Unfortunately, due to the nature of iron gall ink, most of the book pages have corroded. Only the ones made with very thick parchment survive to the present day and they are preserved by the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

But the elaborate dyeing process in only part of the wonder of the ‘Black Hours.’ Much of its value lies in the outstanding Late Gothic manuscript illumination, featuring gold and silver lettering and rare ultramarine pigment, which at the time, was worth more than the gold.

The book contains the illuminated text of the Hours of the Holy Spirit, the Hours of the Cross, the Mass of the Virgin, the Office of the Dead and the Penitential Psalms. Words of each prayer are spelled out according to the Roman version of hours and divided in rows of fourteen lines.

Miniatures found on the left of each page represent episodes from the life of Jesus and the Virgin.

There is no indication as to the artist in the ‘Black Book’ but art historians think it may be the work of renowned illuminator Wellem Yrelant who was famous for crafting angular and linear figures similar to the ones found within the Hours pages.


The Clifford family of Chudleigh, Devon, were a cadet branch of the great medieval family of Clifford, who came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest. Throughout the decades, they have held high offices  from parliamentarian and advisor to King Charles II to Lord High Treasurer until the 1772 Test Act which made the holding of public office conditional on taking Anglican communion. Since the Cliffords had always been Roman Catholics, they were now debarred from holding public office or sitting in the House of Lords until the Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1829. It was during their banishment that they managed and developed their estate, wrote histories and other scholarly works, collected artworks, manuscripts, books and pamphlets.

The collection, assembled over three centuries, contains over 10,000 volumes and 1500 pamphlets (about 6,430 titles) written in English, Latin, French, Italian, German and Spanish. Covering every topic imaginable, some of the better-known names of the writers are Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin, Samuel Johnson, Isaac Newton, John Milton, Jonathon Swift, Dante Alighieri, Molière, and Voltaire.

It contains medieval manuscripts, seven of which are illuminated. They are devotional works – Bibles, books of hours including the one featured above, a prayer book, a breviary, and a psalter (a book of psalms – sacred songs or hymns). The items came from England, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands between the 13th and 15th centuries and is the largest family collection to be acquired by the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

When the time is right for travel again, I shall most certainly be paying Canberra a visit!

Cathy T

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

The Medieval Origins of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day always reminds me of the many happy times I spent with my Mum enjoying picnics, BBQs and trips to the beach or one of many national parks in and around Sydney. It was always a day set aside for my Mum to relax. So, no cooking, washing, cleaning etc, even though she was up early making sandwiches and packing the hamper! But what are the origins of this special event?

Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday always falls on the 4th Sunday in Lent and is referred to as Mid-Lent Sunday or Refreshment Sunday, referring to its sense of respite halfway through this season of fasting and penitence. It was also referred to as ‘Laetare Sunday’ where the first words of the mass referenced to Mothers and mothering.

The ‘mother’ of the church—the Virgin Mary—is venerated at numerous feasts during the course of the year, but her presence is widely referred to on Mothering Sunday as the ‘protector of the child, the Mother of Jesus.’

(Mary, holding back the devil as an angel holds the baby Jesus (Taymouth Hours c.1325–40)

Simnel Cake, a fruitcake distinguished by layers of almond paste or marzipan, typically one in the middle and one on top, and a set of eleven balls made of the same paste, was traditionally associated with Mothering Sunday. The word ‘simnel’ is derived from Anglo-Norman simenel, ‘fine wheat flour’, itself apparently derived from the Classical Latin simila, a wheat flour.

The eleven marzipan balls used to decorate the cake, symbolise the twelve apostles minus Judas Iscariot or occasionally twelve are used, representing Jesus and the eleven apostles.

Additional customs appeared during the medieval period that included joining a procession attached to the individual’s ‘mother church’ (where you had been baptised) or the local cathedral. The bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253) in his letters advised – ‘‘In each and every church you should strictly prohibit one parish from fighting with another over whose banners should come first in processions at the time of the annual visitation and veneration of the mother church. Those who dishonour their spiritual mother should not at all escape punishment, when those who dishonour their fleshly mothers are, in accordance with God’s law, cursed and punished with death’ (Letters of Robert Grosseteste, transcribed by Manello and Goering, p. 107).

Obviously, one’s position in the procession had a competitive edge!

Mother’s Day, as we know it, rose in popularity in the 1950’s, following the revival by  Constance Penswick Smith who created the Mothering Sunday Movement.

To all our wonderful readers, we wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

Cathy A

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and in 2019, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017

The Demon Countess of Anjou

The House of Anjou, or Angevins, were a family of Frankish origin descended from a ninth-century noble name Ingelger, who were Counts of Anjou since 870. The Angevin monarchs also never shied away from their supposedly supernatural origins, said to have been descended from a demon. Continue reading

Leprosy and Tuberculosis in Medieval Europe

By Catherine A Wilson

Life during the medieval period was fraught with danger. There was no such thing as ‘Occupational Health and Safety’ and no firm understanding on the workings of the human body. Should you be fortunate enough to survive childhood, childbirth, an injury as a result of a skirmish or the general violent manner in which justice, fair or unfairly, was dished out, then there was still the matter of disease.

The top three most prevalent and deadly diseases during the medieval period were the plague (or Black Death), leprosy and tuberculosis.

Cathy T has previously written a detailed account of the Plague in her excellent blog – The Black Plague – A Medieval Monster.

But what of leprosy and tuberculosis?


Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, was THE most terrifying disease known to medieval man, prior to the arrival of the plague. Any disfiguring skin aliment or swelling might be considered an indicator of leprosy. This included eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo and lupus. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 (an ecumenical group brought together to heal the division within the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the conflict between Alexander III and Emperor Frederick I) had decreed that any poor soul who even looked like they might have leprosy was to be shunned, forced to wear a cover over their body and place a bell around their neck so as the healthy members of the community could avoid any contact with them. Even the breath of a leper was to be feared.

Leprosy was often called ‘the living death’, and for good reason. It is a long-term bacterial infection which leads to the damage of the nervesrespiratory tract, skin, and eyes. This nerve damage results in  the lack of ability to feel pain, which can lead to the loss of fingers and toes (and often the penis in men) as a result of unnoticed injuries or infections.  An infected person may also experience muscle weakness and poor eyesight. A common associated condition, Saddle Nose, is a result of the collapse of the nasal bone, which results in the constant flow of fluid onto the face. The decaying tissue produces a putrid smell and both flat and raised skin lesions appear all over the body. Basically, you look terrifying, you smell bad, are probably blind and people are repulsed by you. And to top it off, you are sent away from your family and friends, to live in a leper colony, or Lazar House, with other poor, afflicted creatures.

By the late 1300’s, numerous leper hospitals had been built. In London, at least four leper hospitals were in operation by 1400 and Europe was moving towards the same practice, closing many of the leper colonies. Colonies of this type still exist today, in India, Thailand and China. Spinalonga on CreteGreece, was one of the last leprosy colonies in Europe. It closed in 1957.


Tuberculosis (also known as consumption and phthisis) can affect you in vastly different ways. In fact, you can have the disease and not show any signs nor suffer in any way, or you can be incredibly unlucky and be struck down by the hideous ‘scrofula’, also known as the ‘King’s Evil!’

The most common sign of scrofula is the appearance of chronic, painless masses in the neck. The condition also causes fever, chills, malaise and weight loss. As the lumps get ever larger, the skin adhered to the swellings can rupture, forming a horrible open wound that constantly weeps.

Tuberculosis is incredibly infectious. Unlike many other forms of bacterial infection, the bacillus found in droplets expelled from the lungs, by coughing or singing etc, can remain infectious for up to eight weeks, on doorknobs, church pews, drinking vessels, even the dust found about the house! This efficient killer then remains dormant in your body until your resistance is low. Perhaps you consumed a portion of under cooked meat and suffer a case of gastroenteritis or catch a cold from the merchant in the high street! But now you are weak, tuberculosis strikes. When you first start coughing, you make think it is simply a result of the original bug you caught, but it will not be long before that cough becomes violent and unrelenting, with your sputum flecked with blood. Its at that point you will know your fate.

So what are your options? Well, it seems the reigning monarch of the time had a seemingly miraculous power to cure scrofula, hence the reference to the King’s Evil. Thousands of inflicted individuals were presented to Edward I, who would press a coin against the open sores. It is unknown how many, if any, victims recovered as a result of this treatment!

Other than lining up for hours in the hope of seeing the King, several other options, or supposed cures, were available for you to try. Some of these included;

  • Drinking the breast milk of a lactating mother.
  • Drinking warmed butter and honey.
  • Blood letting
  • Cupping

The most outrageous treatment I have discovered is retold in Ian Mortimer’s novel, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, and is as follows –

‘the physician’s assistant should take blind puppies, remove viscera and cut off extremities, then boil them in water, and bathe the patient in this water, four hours after he has eaten. Whilst he is in this bath, he needs to keep his head entirely covered and his chest completely wrapped in the skin of a small goat, as a preservation against sudden chill.’

A note to readers, I would not recommend the above!

Catherine A Wilson co-writes with Catherine T Wilson (no relation). Their first book, The Lily and the Lion, was based upon their true-life accidental meeting and resulting friendship. All four books in their ‘Lions and Lilies’ series have won first place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and last year, The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award.

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017