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
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. https://lionsandlilies.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/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 nerves, respiratory 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 Crete, Greece, 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
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.
By Catherine T Wilson
This year I have been doing some volunteer social media work for the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, and as part of it, I was invited to interview Australian author Robyn Cadwallader on her medieval novel ‘The Anchoress.’ For those unfamiliar with the term, an anchoress is a female anchorite – that is, a person who chooses to live in religious seclusion for the rest of thier life.
As the HNSA understandably has a word restriction, and I tend to write way past word restrictions, I thought it might be fun to post the full interview for our next blog.
When the word ‘medieval’ is mentioned, immediately the image of a horse-riding, armoured knight springs to mind. Next comes a collection of jousting, sword-fighting, armies, war, sieges, and castle images and these all paint a pretty good picture of medieval times, but there are some aspects to this life that are not so well known.
It was a patriarchal society so, for women, the choices were simple—marriage, to produce the much-needed heir; or they could devote their life to God and become a nun, maybe even an abbess one day. There was one other way a woman could devote herself to God and that was to become an anchoress. That meant withdrawing completely from everyday life forever and being sealed in a stone cell measuring just seven paces by nine.
I could not even begin to imagine what that would be like or, at least, I couldn’t until I read Robyn Cadwallader’s book ‘The Anchoress.’ Robyn is one of our guests this year on the panel ‘I am a camera: exploring the nuance of point of view,’ a topic on which I cannot wait to hear her speak after being taken on such an enriching journey through the eyes of her anchoress character, Sarah.
Robyn Cadwallader has published a poetry collection, I painted unafraid (Wakefield, 2010) and a non-fiction book about virginity and female agency in the Middle Ages. Her first novel, The Anchoress, (Harper Collins) was published in 2015 and her second novel, Book of Colours, in 2018. Robyn is the reviews editor for the online literary journal, Verity La.
Robyn, thank you very much for participating at this year’s HNSA and for this interview.
Thanks for your interest, Cathy.
What inspired you to write a book about an anchoress?
I first came across mention of anchoresses when I was working on my PhD. I was both fascinated and appalled at the idea of a woman choosing to lock herself away for life, there to ‘suffer with Christ’, praying, reading and counselling the village women. I was so intrigued: Why would a woman make such a choice? And what would it be like, day after day, in that small cell? They were the questions that wouldn’t leave me alone, and after living with them for some years, I put pen to paper
The Anchoress opens with Sarah’s enclosure service where burial rites were read over her, closing her off from the world of the living, much the same as lepers of the time. However, unlike lepers, an anchoress was allowed contact with the villagers through a small window in her cell. Did the villagers view an anchoress as someone they could go to with problems? Apart from her regular visit from a priest for confession, were only women allowed to visit an anchoress?
An anchoress was very important for a village or town, and the people considered themselves blessed to have such a holy women in their midst, praying for them each day. The anchoress was allowed only contact with women (and her confessor, as you mention) who came to her for counsel. Because the anchoress was ‘dead to the world’ she was forbidden to look out her window, which was covered with a curtain. However, the ‘Ancrene Wisse’ (Guide for Anchoresses) also warned that she was not to gossip, not to buy and sell, not to function as if her cell was the village post office — and the fact that those kinds of things were mentioned suggests that they did happen in some places. After all, her cell was attached to the church, which was the very centre of the village and its communal life, and the anchoress would always be there.
If she was allowed these visitors, how did she balance the concept of being shut off from the world against being allowed regular visitors and giving advice?
Well, I imagine it varied from woman to woman, and there is certainly a paradox in the rule that she shut off the world, but also engage with it by counselling the women who came to her. In my novel, Sarah initially doesn’t want visitors because she is determined to remain alone with Christ and her prayers. She also feels herself incapable of giving advice, because she is only seventeen. But as the women come with their daily concerns, their worries about crops and food, their exhaustion from working in the fields, as well as their joys and pleasures, Sarah is forced to rethink her role. And even more significantly, she discovers that the women have much to offer to her; she discovers that her prayers and her piety cannot be separated from the material world around her.
Some of your descriptions of Sarah in her cell, all alone, are compelling, and at times almost horrific as her imagination works overtime with the knowledge that the previous anchoress is also buried in there. It’s not only what Sarah feels, but what we know must really be happening. How did you prepare yourself for writing Sarah’s character? Did you do anything to experience her isolation?
When I was beginning to research the anchoritic life seriously, I travelled to England and visited some of the few cells that remain. It was very confronting to see how tiny some were — even smaller than seven paces by nine. At Kings Lynn I sat in a cell that has been renovated and is used as a chapel. There was a baptism service occurring at the time, and because the cell was so close to the front of the church, the priest told us (me, my partner and kids) we would have to stay in the cell for twenty minutes. He locked the door. The lights were on and I knew we would soon be leaving, but as I sat there, I wondered what it would be like never to leave, never to see another person. That was when Sarah began to come to life for me.
Ironically, my study has two walls of windows that look out onto the garden, so I went into the cell inside my mind. I imagined: every stone, the dirt floor, the thick curtains, every step and every touch. Writing each day, dwelling in Sarah’s head and heart, I felt the impact of claustrophobia and darkness. It was only when I had finished the novel that I realised how tough it had been to stay there in the narrow darkness. As for the scenes with the previous anchoress and Sarah’s experiences of the horror — I’ve discovered that I have a capacity for writing madness!
What was your research method for The Anchoress? Did you face any challenges?
Academics and archaeologists are currently doing some wonderful work on the anchoritic life, but the details of individual anchoresses are very limited. At first, I panicked that I didn’t know enough and couldn’t find out enough to write a novel. I read many academic articles in history and literary theory, that gave me ways to begin to think about a woman living within such patriarchy.
As I’ve mentioned, I visited anchorholds, read the various Rules of Life written for anchoresses and any available account of what their lives would have been like. Ultimately, I had to infer and imagine. For example, there are no details of what an anchoress used for a toilet (a question that interests lots of people, it seems!), or for lighting and heating, so I wrote what seemed to me to be most likely. After worrying a great deal about ‘getting it right’, eventually I realised that we will possibly never know all the details and accepted that my version, thoroughly researched and considered, was a valid one.
Beyond that, I researched village life: the cycle of the seasons and crops, customs, festivals, church and manor house. And the daily workings of a priory, something I had never imagined I would investigate.
Many authors can pinpoint where a character took over the telling of the story. Did your characters take control at any time?
Yes, there was a surprising and wonderful moment with Sarah. I don’t plan my novels more than having a general sense of the shape of the story. So, about two-thirds of the way into the story, Sarah needed to confess a sin to her confessor; this was more significant than most of her other sins, so she would have to admit her failure and accept his censure. However, as I wrote, it all changed. Her confessor was angry and made that clear to her, telling Sarah how badly she had failed. But Sarah became defensive and angry at his words, and he in turn reacted; the argument escalated until Sarah, in her fury, broke one of her most serious rules, pulled aside the curtain and faced her confessor.
I sat back, amazed. That wasn’t what I had imagined but it was absolutely how the scene needed to be written. It was so exciting! I discovered more about Sarah, and in turn the rest of the story was changed.
You have since written ‘Book of Colours,’ a story of the commissioning of a medieval manuscript, a book of Hours and the struggles threatening its completion. Of your two novels, which was more fun to write?
Oh, that’s a difficult question. I don’t think The Anchoress was fun. It was hard work, frustrating, enormously challenging, and I was full of doubt every day. But it was a story I really wanted to explore, and writing was the way to do it. So I think I’d use words like ‘satisfying’ and ‘fulfilling’ — and enormously surprising when I found an agent and a publisher.
Book of Colours was more fun but just as much hard work because I knew very little about illuminated manuscripts or medieval London and its politics. But, after writing about the interior of a stone cell, I wanted to spread my arms out, move through the streets, explore different characters — I wanted colour and movement. That was fun. And I especially enjoyed writing the gargoyle, who just turned his head to look at me, climbed down from the cathedral and was determined to have a part in the story. I love those quirky things that happen with writing.
I also had fun writing the excerpts from ’The Art of Illumination’, a guide to illumination that one of the characters is writing. I’ve been surprised and delighted that many people have asked me for details of the book I took those excerpts from so that they could buy it. And I can tell them, ‘Well, I made it all up!’ A writer’s dream.
I hear a third novel is in the works. What plans do you have for researching this one? Would you care to give us a hint of its subject?
I’m working on a third novel set in the late thirteenth century. It’s loosely linked, via a psalter that has been burned, with my first two novels. It’s about belonging, loss, faith and prejudice — the little questions!
I’m off to the UK on the day after the conference finishes to do some more research and fieldwork, along with a six-week residency at Gladstone’s Library, a residential library in northern Wales. Hooray!
What sort of books do you like to read? Can you name any favourite authors?
I like to read widely, and I don’t seek out historical fiction especially. I love writers who pay attention to language and sentence, and those who take risks in their writing. A few names: Eimear McBride, Barbara Kingsolver, Colm Toibin, Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, Lucy Treloar, Virginia Woolf. And poets: ee cummings, William Blake, Gerard Manly Hopkins. There are lots more, but usually when I’m asked, I can’t think of them!
From your own experience, if you were to offer one piece of advice on writing—from creativity to getting published—what would it be?
Back yourself. From my experience, letting self doubt control me stopped me taking my writing seriously for years. I think you need to be prepared to play, experiment, work hard, and then back yourself in whatever you’re writing. Doubt keeps us humble but it can also stop us in our tracks.
Robyn, you will appear on the panel ‘I am a camera – exploring the nuance of point of view.’ Apart from this, which session are you most looking forward to seeing in HNSA at this year’s conference?
I’m looking forward to ‘The Thing We Don’t Know: research across eras’ for obvious reasons; maybe I can pick up a few hints.
I’m also intrigued to hear what panellists say about parallel timelines in ‘Intertwining Lives Revealed: the mystery of parallel timelines’. Why use them? How do they help?
That’s wonderful advice! Thank you so much for your great answers, Robyn, and good luck with your research and residency! That sounds very exciting indeed.
Click on the books to buy The Anchoress or Book of Colours
Catherine T Wilson co-writes with Catherine A 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.
I was so moved when reading this book that in dedication, (and as our own beloved Cecile and Gillet had hit a rough patch in the forthcoming ‘Roar of the Lion’), I decided she should visit an anchoress.
So, here now, is the first glimpse at a scene from ‘Roar of the Lion.’
Church of Saint Maria, Montréal-du-Gers
Cécile trod softly down the aisle of the church, then stopped to glance warily behind her. She was comforted to see Armand still standing just outside the entrance, holding the reins to both Panache and Ruby as he chatted to the gardener. Their hour-long journey to the village of Montréal-du-Gers had not met with her cousin’s approval, but since she was determined to come, he had given in and accompanied her. Ever since learning the church of Saint Maria housed an anchoress, Cécile had been eager to make the journey. Now she stood only a few feet away from the chamber containing the holy woman’s curtained window, wondering if her decision had been the right one.
She was unsure why it mattered to gain the opinion of a woman who’d chosen to entomb herself in a small church cell for the rest of her life in order to dedicate herself to God through prayer—but it did. Perhaps it was closest she could ever get to God, or perhaps she just felt more comfortable telling her troubles to another woman. Cécile perched on the edge of a pew to contemplate this and her next move. Armand had disagreed. He’d also added that if the anchoress was a virtuous maiden then her knowledge of marriage would be extremely limited and Cécile would find no comfort in the answers she sought.
‘You could just raid your needle basket and stick pins in yourself,’ he’d argued, ‘save us both a lot of trouble and a journey.’ But Cécile had been adamant, and now, as she sat in the church’s gloom, she wondered if Armand was right.
‘Are you here to see the anchoress, Milady?’ The voice came from behind her. Cécile turned to see a young maid, holding a bucket. ‘If you just wait a moment,’ she held up the container, ‘I’ll be right back and will take you to her parlour.’ Straightening her shoulders with a determined air, Cécile nodded.
by Catherine T Wilson
As many writers will tell you, sometimes the characters of your story decide which direction your tale will take. I admit mine often do. I sometimes have to wait days to know what the next scene is and how it will take shape and, sometimes, the ending to a chapter can take me as much by surprise as hopefully it does the reader. I suppose I should be used to it by now but I’m not. So, when one of my characters (who was obviously peeking over my shoulder as I delved into research and came across a love story with a difference) began to recite the subject of this blog to another character in my chapter, I was frankly, a little miffed. My consolation though, is that I get to post my blog way before his version will be released!
As was the tradition in medieval times, marriage matches were diplomatic, that is, made for the good of the countries involved rather than the people, hence the additional flavour of mistresses for the husbands to ‘love,’ whereas wives had to be a little more careful, given they had the task of producing the next family heir!
The Wedding of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
It seems as though most marriages worked out fine, or at least they came to some agreeable arrangement between themselves but every now and again, a couple did actually fall in love with each other. Such was the case with King Edward I, otherwise known as ‘Longshanks’ so named for having long legs. When he married Eleanor of Castile at the Las Huelgas monastery in Castile, he was just fifteen years old and she was ten.
Las Huelgas Monastery, Burgos, Castile
They went their separate ways for a few years but once they began married life together, they became inseparable, Edward even taking his wife on a crusade to the Holy Land where she gave birth to a daughter – Joan of Acre.
** For more on this story click here
They were crowned as King and Queen on the same day, August 19, 1274 but it is November 28 in 1290 that this story takes us—that fateful day Eleanor was answering her husband’s call to be by his side as political discussions with Scotland were failing. She did not complete her journey and instead, Edward took a different journey – one from Lincoln Cathedral to London, to lay his wife’s body to rest.
(Pictured Above) – King Edward I with Eleanor and Baby Edward II – she gave birth while on campaign in Wales hence the first-born male heir’s title of Prince of Wales still in existence today. Upon conquering the Welsh, Edward wanted to give them a new prince.
In complete desolation, Edward ordered the construction of stone crosses to mark the journey, twelve in all, to be built at the main crossroads of each village where Eleanor stayed the night on her funeral tour.
Eleanor was in the village of Harby when she died and her body was taken to St Catherine’s priory, Lincoln, for embalming. Her viscera would remain in Lincoln but she had ordained that her heart be buried at Blackfriars monastery in London, while her body would be laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.
Eleanor’s tomb in Lincoln
The crosses would not be completed until 1294 and Edward commissioned his Master Mason with a basic design of three levels for each of the crosses, all to have a plinth of steps adorned with carved shields of Eleanor’s heraldic arms, that being England, Ponthieu, Castile and Leon. The second level would be ornamented with statues of his beloved wife with various themes – Eleanor the Maiden, Eleanor the Mother, Eleanor the Matron, and Eleanor Glorified. (Reminds me of George RR Martin’s ‘new Gods’ – Mother, Maiden, Crone.)
The top level of the column was the cross itself.
Edward ordered for the crosses to be made simultaneously, so each one had its own team of builders, resulting in twelve unique flavours. Some had statues of popes and saints and it is thought that this was the reason they were targeted and destroyed by puritans during Cromwell’s civil war.
Religious tradition dominated medieval lives and prayers for the dead was a serious business. By placing these memorials at crossroads, Edward ensured that many passers-by would stop and pray for Eleanor’s soul thus ensuring a swift and safe journey to Heaven.
The Funeral Procession
The solemn journey and task of delivering Eleanor’s body to London took the following path, staring at Lincoln.
The cross originally stood at the end of Hight Street but the surviving structure is now housed at Lincoln Castle. Edward led his funeral procession south from Lincoln on the old Roman road known as Ermine Street to Stamford.
The remaining piece of the Lincoln cross can be seen at Lincoln Castle.
The first night was spent at Grantham where the Angel and Royal Inn is still in existence today. Sadly, no part of this cross still exists.
Only a small fragment remains of the Stamford cross, a carved rose excavated by William Stukeley and recorded in his ‘Itinerarium’ along with a sketch of the cross.
One of the three remaining crosses still standing. From Stamford, Edward rode over the hills of Northamptonshire to the royal hunting lodge at Geddington where the cross was erected in the village market square. He and Eleanor often stayed at the hunting lodge but it is said that after Eleanor died, Edward never went there again. Eleanor’s body was received at St Mary Magdalene’s church.
The second of the three remaining crosses, it stands at the edge of Delapré Abbey. Edward stayed nearby at Northampton Castle. This cross is octagonal and has suffered the loss of the cross at the top. There is mention of a ‘headless cross’ from the writings of Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, whilst recording Margaret of Anjou’s flight during the Battle of Northampton.
Restoration continues, even in present day, as the council wait for the right weather to begin the work which is between April and September. Experts advised that covering the cross during the winter months would only cause further damage due to condensation.
This cross stood at the lower end of the town, towards the river Ouse on what was ‘Watling Street’ but is now ‘High Street.’ It is said to have been a tall, elegant design and was destroyed during Cromwell’s era. There is a commemorative plaque on the wall at 157 High Street which reads:
Near this spot stood the Cross erected by King Edward I to mark the place in Stony Stratford where the body of Queen Eleanor rested on its way from Harby in Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey in 1290.
Google maps – 157 High Street, Stony Stratford – Queen Eleanor’s Cross site
Work on this cross did not begin until 1292, much later than the other crosses. Sadly, no part remains today and the precise location is unknown.
The original cross stood at the crossroads in Dunstable, and Eleanor’s coffin was guarded by Canons from the Dunstable Priory. Today the shopping precinct in High Street North contains a modern cross statue in Eleanor’s honour. (I tried to locate this on Google Maps but did not have much luck. All I came up with was a white cross on the road!)
Erected in the marketplace at a cost of one hundred pounds, this cross stood for many years, eventually with a 15thC clock tower behind it. It was demolished in the early 18thC due to neglect and replaced by the town pump. A fountain was erected in its stead in 1874, which was subsequently relocated to Victoria Place. (Again, I could not locate this on any map.)
Waltham (now Waltham Cross)
This cross was the shared combination of architect and sculptor, Roger of Crundale, and senior royal mason, Alexander of Abingdon. It is still standing, although has been restored on several occasions. The original Eleanor statues have been replaced with replicas during the last restoration and the originals are now housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Westcheap (now Cheapside)
Fragments of the original cross are held by the Museum of London and even though a number of drawings survive they post-date an extensive renovation so there is no indication of how the original crossed actually looked. It is thought to be similar to the Waltham and Hardingstone crosses, but more ornate with marble facings.
The third incarnation of the cross was demolished in May 1643 under an ordinance from the Parliamentary Committee for the Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry!
Two fragments, displaying shields bearing the royal arms of England, Castile and Leon were recovered in 1883 during a reconstruction of a sewer. They are now housed in the Museum of London.
Charing (now Charing Cross)
The original cross at Charing was erected at the top of Whitehall on the south side of Trafalgar Square, supposedly then the Royal Mews. It was the most expensive, built of marble but was destroyed on the orders of Parliament in 1647 during the civil war and replaced with a statue of Charles I in 1675 following the Restoration.
The replacement cross for Eleanor now stands in the forecourt of the Charing Cross Railway Station.
A 100-metre-long mural was commissioned by London Transport in 1978 for the walls of Charing Cross underground station.
There have been many replica monuments built since and others said to be inspired by the Eleanor Crosses, but none of those had a love story which began years earlier with vows said before the chapel at Las Huelgas.
Armand-Amanieu d’Albret to Cécile d’Armagnac
‘At last it was time for them to share their lives and the prince took his princess everywhere with him, even on a crusade. In fact, one of their children was born on this campaign, so reluctant was she to leave her prince’s side. The story goes that one night whilst in the foreign land, the prince was stabbed by a dagger dipped in toxin and when the wound became infected, the princess sucked out the poison.’
‘Roar of the Lion’ Book 5 – Lions and Lilies (currently under construction)
By Cathy A
Medieval wills are considered to be one of the most important primary resources available to researchers around the world. The practice dates back to ancient Greece and according to Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, Solon, the Greek law maker “is much commended for his law concerning wills; for before his time no man was allowed to make any, but all the wealth of deceased persons belonged to their families; but he permitted them to bestow it on whom they pleased, esteeming friendship a stronger tie than kindred, and affection than necessity, and thus put every man’s estate in the disposal of the possessor; yet he allowed not all sorts of wills, but required the following conditions in all persons that made them.’
Bust of Solon from the National Museum, Naples
The development of Roman law allowed for the ‘modernisation’ of wills, which, in turn, became the foundation of ‘inheritance’ law. This was further influenced by the Roman Catholic Church via Cannon Law. Early Roman wills were spoken aloud, by the legator (the person making the will) to seven witnesses. The witnesses were entrusted to recall the legators wishes after he had died. As you can imagine, this did not always work to plan and as a result, wills were ordered to be recorded in writing.
The Catholic Church played a vital role in the development of wills. Christians were encouraged to make a bequest or gift to the church and in doing so they absolved their souls of sins and bettered their chances of entering heaven. Money and property could be bequeathed to the church only if it did not originally belong to the church. Many wills were deposited within local churches and it was generally accepted that the will should be made in the presence of a priest and two witnesses.
History of Wills in England
Prior to the conquest of 1066, men (with the exception of women and children who had limited rights) could dispose or bequeath their property in any way that they saw fit. This changed markedly when William the Conqueror declared that, as King, all the land in England belonged to him. As a result, land could no longer be disposed of via a will. It is believed that the change came about to prevent ‘death bed’ gifts of large tracts of land to the church. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had acquired substantial estates and each church and religious order was recognised as a legal person, separate to say the abbot or the bishop. Therefore, the land could not or pass to another by inheritance, as the church and the religious orders didn’t actually die.
William the Conqueror
With the introduction of this law, the only way to ‘own’ land was to become a ‘feoffor’ whereby an individual was given land in exchange for a pledge of service. The ‘feoffor’ could only will his land to a competent living relative. This was subject to the rules of primogeniture (right of succession via the first born, legitimate son or the rightful next of kin). When a landholder died without any living relatives, his land would return to the Crown.
Copy of Thomas Kennardesle’s will dated 2 December 1391 – The National Archives, UK
In 1540 the Statue of Wills was passed (after a protracted disagreement between the parliament and King Henry VIII who wished to change the laws of inheritance in order to bolster his dwindling coffers).
The Statue of Wills made it possible for landholders to determine who would inherit their land upon their death by permitting devise (gift) by will. The statute was something of a political compromise between Henry VIII and English landowners, who were growing increasingly frustrated with the primogeniture ruling and the royal control of land.
The Act of 1660 allowed for land to be devisable (gifted) by a written will, with the exception of corporations (such as the church) married women, infants, idiots and lunatics.
The Statute of Frauds (1677) dealt with the formalities of execution of wills. Previously, simple notes, even in the handwriting of another person was considered to be sufficient as a will. This Statute required that all wills had to be in writing, signed by the testator or by a person for him in his presence and by his direction, and signed by three or four credible witnesses.
Copy of Jane Austen’s will dated 10 September 1817 – The National Archives, UK
Personal Property –
In accordance with common law, a man could only dispose of his whole personal property if he left no wife or children. If he left either wife or children, he could only dispose of one-half of his property and one-third if he left both wife and children.
These shares were called their pars rationabilis and they were expressly recognised in the Magna Carta, signed on 15th June 1215 at Runnymede. Over the next four centuries this law was gradually and widely superseded. At what period the right of disposition of an individual’s personalty (whole or complete personal property) changed is not known, but Acts passed in 1693 and 1726 included the ‘right of bequest’ be assimilated into the general rule of law.
King John Signs the Great Charter –
A will of personalty could be made by a male at fourteen and by a female at twelve, which is rather different to today’s requirement of 18 years of age.
The rules surrounding a will bequeathing personal property was not as stringent as a will of land/s. Up until 1838 an oral or verbal will was often accepted and witnesses to a written will did not need to be considered ‘credible’ nor did the will have to include the signature of the testator.
The National Archives Office (England) holds registered copies of wills made between 1384 and 12th January 1858. You can search and view their database at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/wills-1384-1858/
By Cathy T
Since 2013 Lions and Lilies have put together an advent calendar to post daily onto our Facebook page in the days leading up to Christmas. It usually reflects some facet of our books or medieval life in general, and this year we presented the popular ‘Elf on the Shelf’ to represent Christmas and posed them to imitate famous medieval paintings.
The process was more time-consuming than usual, but the results were a lot of fun! Mind you, it was not easy getting these elves to sit in a particular way or hold a weapon or musical instrument of some kind, or indeed, even getting them to stand was a challenge! So, with this in mind, please enjoy the following paintings and in some cases, the story behind the picture, or some facts on the artists. As always with our advent calendars, we take 12 pictures each, in this case all photos with odd numbers were taken by Cathy A, and the photos with even numbers were by me, Cathy T. So, please excuse where my lady looks a little ‘chubby’ – it’s not that she found the box of chocolates in my fridge, it was more what was under her gown to assist her to stand!
As February is the month that celebrates St Valentine’s Day – the month for lovers, it seemed the perfect time to post this.
1. Abelard and Heloise
As is tradition for Lions and Lilies, today is the first day of our Advent Calendar. We wanted to do something a little different (and fun) this year, so enlisted the help of some very naughty elves who will be recreating some of our favourite ‘medieval’ images. The original work is by Edmund Blair Leighton, titled ‘Abelard and his pupil, Heloise’.
Please note in this shot, the wind just happened to blow the candle flame in the correct direction!
2. The Lady of Shalott – John William Waterhouse
Artwork by John William Waterhouse based on the poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson.
The Lady of Shalott is a lyrical ballad based upon a 13thC Italian novel that recounts the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat.
Tennyson wrote two versions of his poem, one in 1833 with 20 stanza and the second in 1842,with only 19 stanzas. The ending to the poem was changed to cater to the Victorian morals, the first version having included a parchment written by the lady, herself, in what was regarded as a suicide note.
For any reading this not familiar with the poem, the story is as follows:
Trapped in a tower by the threat of a curse, Elaine can only view the outside world through a mirror. She is forbidden to ever look upon Camelot and spends her days endlessly weaving all that she sees in the mirror until one day, it’s a knight called Lancelot. Drawn by his handsome looks, he is like a shining star and she forgets herself and watches him ride down to Camelot. The mirror cracks, and knowing the curse has come upon her now, she leaves her tower-prison and takes a boat upon the river but alas, her hopes of seeing Lancelot again are not to be. By the time she arrives at Camelot, she is dead.
Here are the two different endings:-
They crossed themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
The well-fed wits at Camelot.
“The web was woven curiously
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not – this is I,
The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”
A wonderful visual representation – To celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Lincoln based WAG Screen made a film based on Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott. (Sung by Loreena McKennitt.)
3. La Belle Dame Sans Merci
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing!
Original ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by Frank Dicksee, based on the poem ‘The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy’ by John Keats
4. King Copetua and the Beggar Maid – Edmund Blair Leighton
Today’s picture the elves wanted to re-create is ‘King Copetua and the beggar maid,’ this painting by Edmund Blair Leighton.
According to legend, Copetua was an African king known for his lack of any sexual attraction to women. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar woman called Penelophon, suffering for lack of clothes. Struck by love at first sight, Cophetua decides that he will either have the beggar as his wife or commit suicide.
Walking out into the street, he scatters coins for the beggars to gather and when Penelophon comes forward, he tells her that she is to be his wife. She agrees and becomes queen, and soon loses all trace of her former poverty and low class. The couple lives a quiet life but are much loved by their people. Eventually they die and are buried in the same tomb.
5. Enid and Geraint
The romantic tale of Enid and Geraint, believed to be the oldest of the Arthurian tales, as depicted by Rowland Wheelwright and the Lions and Lilies elves.
6. My Fair Lady – Edmund Blair Leighton
Edmund Leighton was the son of the artist Charles Blair Leighton (1823–1855) and Caroline Leighton (née Boosey). He was educated at University College School, before becoming a student at the Royal Academy Schools. He married Katherine Nash in 1885 and they went on to have a son and daughter. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1920.
Leighton was a fastidious craftsman, producing highly finished, decorative pictures, displaying romanticized scenes with a popular appeal. It would appear that he left no diaries, and though he exhibited at the Royal Academy for over forty years, he was never an Academician or an Associate.
7. The Kiss
‘The Kiss’ is an 1859 painting by the Italian artist Francesco Hayez. It is possibly his best-known work. Francesco was a prolific painter who focused on depicting historic images either of a biblical nature or from classical literature.
8. The Shadow – Edmund Blair Leighton
The Shadow is based upon the Greek myth of Debutades, a Corinthian girl who drew the portrait of her beloved on the wall of her bed-chamber by tracing the outline of his shadow cast by the lamp-light on the night before he departed for war. Leighton changed the setting for the drama to the battlements of a medieval castle, below which the young crusader’s ships are waiting.
Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee KCVO, PRA was an English Victorian painter and illustrator, best known for his pictures of dramatic literary, historical, and legendary scenes.
Dicksee’s father, Thomas Dicksee, was a painter who taught Frank as well as his sister Margaret. Dicksee enrolled in the Royal Academy in 1870. He was elected to the Academy in 1891 and became its President in 1924. He was knighted in 1925, and named to the Royal Victorian Order by King George V in 1927.
10. God Speed – Edmund Blair Leighton
The woman ties a red sash around the knight’s arm, which he is meant to return, a medieval custom which assured both parties that they would be reunited, alive and well.
God Speed was the first of several paintings by Leighton in the 1900s on the subject of chivalry. Early in Edmund’s career his teacher had told him ‘in art, it is never too late to alter your work if it is wrong,’ and two hours before God Speed was to be delivered to Burlington House, a dissatisfied Edmund laid a sheet of glass over the canvas and rapidly painted in an alteration. Liking the changes, he took a razor and in moments, removed work that had taken him a full week to complete. Within two hours the required change was made and in a perilously wet condition, the painting was sent off to the Royal Academy.
11. Taming the Tarasque
As depicted within the Hours of Henry VIII by Jean Poyer
According to the Golden Legend “There was, at that time, on the banks of the Rhône, in a marsh between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half animal, half fish, thicker than an ox, longer than a horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns, he hid in the river where he took the life of all passers-by.
The Tarasque was said to have come from Galatia, which was the home of the legendary Onachus, a scaly, bison-like beast which burned everything it touched. The Tarasque was the offspring of the Onachus and the Leviathan of biblical account; disputably a giant sea serpent.
The king of Nerluc had attacked the Tarasque with knights and catapults to no avail. But Saint Martha found the beast and charmed it with hymns and prayers and led back the tamed Tarasque to the city. The people, terrified by the monster, attacked it when it drew nigh. The monster offered no resistance and died there. Martha then preached to the people and converted many of them to Christianity. Sorry for what they had done to the tamed monster, the newly Christianised townspeople changed the town’s name to Tarascon.
12. The Accolade – Edmund Blair Leighton
Edmund painted The Accolade in 1901, after God Speed. There are many stories considering the origin and inspiration for the painting, although none of them are confirmed.
The painting depicts an ‘accolade’ – the ceremony to award knighthood. It is usually shown as the tapping of the flat side of a sword on the shoulders of a candidate. In Blair’s example, the ‘knight-elect’ kneels in front of the monarch on a cushion. The monarch lays the side of the sword’s blade onto the knight’s right shoulder, then raises the sword gently over the knight’s head and places it on his left shoulder but an early form of the accolade (between men) would have been a hefty strike about the neck and then an embrace. Whichever form was used, the reasoning is the same— that the participant should never forget they have been granted the gift of knighthood and henceforth must behave in accordance with the laws of chivalry. The newly appointed knight rises, and is presented with a belt about his waist, a new set of spurs and the insignia of his order.
13. End of Song
– Edmund Blair Leighton
Painted in 1902, the painting was sold by auction in June 2000 for more than two hundred and fifty thousand pounds and remains in the possession of a private collector.
14. Britomart and Amoret – Mary F Raphael
Britomart (the knight) and Amoret (the lady) are characters in Edmund Spenser’s knightly epic, The Faerie Queene.
Amoret – the long-suffering Amoret, is subject to some of the most horrific tortures in the Faerie Queene. Her life is a series of near rapes, imprisonments, and trials against her will. She’s almost raped and eaten alive by the savage, tied to a pillar, her chest pierced by a long, spear-like pen while her heart is removed, and her blood used as ink in the house of the evil magician, Busirane. The use of her blood and her body as a physical source of ink for writing suggests that Amoret might be emblematic of the larger exploitation of female bodies and female suffering in poetry, particularly love poetry. Her name, which means “love,” and her many trials also point to the general idea that love necessarily involves a certain amount of pain and suffering.
Britomart – The Knight of Chastity – Ssssh, don’t tell my boy-elf! He has no idea he was playing a woman!
Britomart’s armour keeps her gender hidden from the rest of the world. She has amazing fighting skills with dazzling beauty and a romantic heart but her biggest fault is her over-reliance on sight and images; looking instead of thinking. We often see her charging knights first and asking questions later, which leads her to attack her very own beloved, Arthegall, before realizing who he is. Britomart has to learn how to distinguish between being dazzled by an image and contemplating the inner person. This is most explicitly challenged in the house of Busirane where Britomart is overly captivated by the murals of rape that cover his walls. When Britomart ought to be acting, she’s obsessed with looking. But, the house of Busirane is also the place where she overcomes this fault by eventually finding Amoret and saving her from Busirane’s illusions and sorcery.
15. The Lady of Shallot
– Jeff Barson
Jeff’s bio reads – For years I was an artist living in Manhattan. I spent my time painting for clients that included the New York City Opera, Ballentine, Coca-Cola, yada-yada-yada times 30. And since, through numerous misadventures, I garnered myself at least a little of a reputation, I was commissioned to paint portraits of Princess Diana as well as Vivien Leigh for the 60th anniversary of the release of Gone With The Wind. Now, I live in Park City, Utah with my wife Shelly and our little girl Maddy.
16. Lamia and the Soldier – John William Waterhouse
In Greek mythology Lamia was a beautiful woman beloved of Zeus, but after Zeus’s jealous wife Hera destroyed all Lamia’s children, (or caused Lamia herself to kill her own offspring), Lamia became disfigured from the torment, transforming into a terrifying being who hunted and killed the children of others.
In later classical periods, Lamia shifted to that of a sultry seductress who enticed young men and devoured them. She was in the habit of targeting young men for food ‘because their blood was fresh and pure.’
The picture is inspired by Keats’ poem, Lamia, ‘about a bridegroom who discovers on his wedding night that his bride is a monstrous half-serpent who preys on young men.’ It is made clear she bears the guise of a snake, which she wants to relinquish in return for human appearance.
By the Early Middle Ages, lamia (pl. lamiai or lamiae) was glossed as a general term referring to a class of monsters. Isidore of Seville defined them as beings that snatched babies and ripped them apart. Christian writers also warned against the seductive potential of lamiae. In his 9th-century treatise on divorce, Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, listed lamiae among the supernatural dangers that threatened marriages.
17. The Dedication
– Edmund Blair Leighton
Painted in 1908 and currently held by a private collector.
18. An Arrival – Edmund Blair Leighton
Having decided upon his arrangement, Edmund Blair Leighton’s next care was to choose some incident or theme which would demonstrate it. He painted many romantic medieval scenes, sometimes using a crowd to place a ‘brilliantly lighted group’ against the sombre gloom of grey masonry, or as in the case of An Arrival, a single subject whose attention takes us beyond the stone wall. He first makes some sketches in black and white, followed by more in colour. When once it was suggested that perhaps his arrangement might be improved with a change in the layout, his reply was that then he would not be the painting the same picture, but a different one! He advised that the original design should be finished, and the new one painted later, if necessary.
19. Helleili and Hilldabrand
– Frederick William Burton
The subject is taken from a medieval Danish ballad translated by Burton’s friend Whitley Stokes in 1855, which tells the story of Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland. Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince. Burton chose to imagine a romantic moment from the story before the terrible end: the final meeting of the two lovers. The painting is currently displayed at the National Gallery of Ireland.
20. Stitching the Standard – Edmund Blair Leighton
Stitching the Standard depicts a damsel on the battlements of a medieval castle making the finishing touches to a standard or pennant again using the cream/grey masonry background. In a peaceful scene, away from the bustle of the castle, the woman completes her needlework in quiet recluse, finishing the banner her loved one will carry into war. The gentle setting is in stark contrast to the banner’s destination and one of the ways in which Edmund Blair Leighton could invoke the nature of his story into his work. In 1928 the painting was sold at Christie’s under the title of ‘Preparing the Flag,’ and again in 1977 as ‘Awaiting his Return.’ One year later it was resold at Sotheby’s to a private collector in Belgravia.
21. Heraldic Chivalry
– Alphonse Maria Mucha.
Alfonse Maria Mucha was a Czech painter, illustrator and graphic artist, living in Paris during the Art Nouveau period, best known for his distinctly stylized and decorative theatrical posters of Sarah Bernhardt. He produced illustrations, advertisements, decorative panels and designs which became among the best-known images of the period.
In the second part of his career, at the age of 43, he returned to his homeland and devoted himself to painting a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic, depicting the history of all the Slavic peoples of the world, which he painted between 1912 and 1926. In 1928, on the 10th anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia, he presented the series to the Czech nation. He considered it his most important work. It is now on display in the National Gallery in Prague.
22. Aucassin and Nicolette – Maryanne Stokes
Who will deign to hear the song, solace of a captive’s wrong;
Telling how two children met, Aucassin and Nicolette …
Aucassin and Nicolette (12th or 13th century) is an anonymous medieval French chantefable, or combination of prose and verse.
The story begins with a song which serves as prologue; and then prose takes up the narrative. It recounts the tale of Aucassin, son of Count Garin of Beaucaire, who so loved Nicolette, a Saracen maiden turned Christian, who had been sold to the Viscount of Beaucaire. The lovers are imprisoned but manage to escape and, after many vicissitudes (including flight, capture, and shipwreck), are able to marry. The story ends by saying that now the two have found (lasting) happiness the narrator has nothing left to say.
Aucassin et Nicolette is preserved in a single manuscript, kept in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale.
23. Tristan and Isolde – John William Waterhouse
Born in Rome to English parents who were both painters, Waterhouse later moved to London, where he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art. He soon began exhibiting at their annual summer exhibitions, focusing on the creation of large canvas works depicting scenes from the daily life and mythology of ancient Greece.
24. The Vigil – John Pettie
The ‘Vigil of Arms’ was one of the religious exercises which, in the Middle Ages, preceded the conferment of knighthood. The process of inauguration was commenced in the evening by the placing of the candidate under the care of two `esquires of honour, grave and well-seen in courtship’, who were to be `governors in all things relating to him’. By them he was conducted to his appointed chamber, where a bath was prepared, hung within and without with linen, and covered with rich cloths, into which, after they had undressed him, he bathed. While he was in the bath two `ancient and grave knights’ attended him to inform, instruct, and counsel him on the order and feats of chivalry, and when they had fulfilled their mission they poured some of the water of the bath over his shoulders, signing the left shoulder with the cross. He was then taken from the bath and put into a plain bed without hangings, until his body was dry, when the two esquires put on him a white shirt and over that `a robe of russet with long sleeves having a hood thereto like unto that of a hermit’. Then the two ancient and grave knights returned and led him to a chapel, the esquires going before them `sporting and dancing’, with `the minstrels making melody’. And when they had been served with spiced wine they went away, leaving only the candidate, the esquires, `the priest, the chandler, and the watch’, who kept the vigil of arms until sunrise, the candidate passing the night `bestowing himself in visions and prayer’.
That is the moment chosen in the present picture. Dawn steals through the dim aisles, but the kneeling candidate does not notice it, and his beautiful haggard face remains turned towards the altar, with eyes full of mystic devotion. Helmet and armour are on the raised step before him, and he holds patiently the cross hilt of his sword. Soon he will receive the Holy Sacrament and be invested with the full honour of knighthood.
This picture gains in dramatic force from the cool bareness of the Norman nave, and there is a strong popular appeal in the fine sentiment of the subject. This description of the scene depicted is borrowed from Mr E. T. Cook’s “Handbook to the Tate Gallery”:
We hope you enjoyed this.
Happy Valentine’s Day from Lions and Lilies
Just a quick note from us on this day dedicated to romance which is a key element in Lions and Lilies. Instead of an actual blog, this year we bring you a poem by Cathy T which she wrote on Courtly Love in her medieval re-enactment days.
To explain Courtly Love, here is an excerpt of one of our earlier blogs:-
‘In an age where marriage existed as a contract between two families rather than just a contract between two people, often to join lands, wealth and titles, the feeling of the two individuals were not heeded nor expected. In this society the feelings of one’s heart did not enter into marriage. Often the wife and husband did quite successfully ‘love’ one another but it was built upon a basis of respect and duty. There lay open the door for a new code of conduct – that of Courtly Love – a love from the heart filled with passion and romance that was neither expected nor yielded from a marriage partner. Such popularity did this new found ‘Courtly Love’ enjoy that it set the founding for a whole new behaviour code with its own rules and restrictions, both welcomed and rejected by the Church and society.
The new concept of a non-sexual spiritual love between a nobleman and a noble woman excluded one’s own spouse, since marriage did not require love but it also had the effect of minimising feminine sexuality and transforming women into honourable and esteemed objects. This new perception of women contrasted starkly with views of early Christian writers, yet the courtly idea that love is not sensuality suitably agreed with the Church’s ideal of love as sexless passion. After all, sex was only for the begetting of heirs within the confines of marriage!
Courtly Love is best described as ‘the sophisticated and elaborate code devised by the 12th Century troubadours which made a virtue of love outside the bonds of marriage and raised the service of lover to beloved to an almost religious ritual.’
To read the full blog on Courtly Love or one on St Valentine – click on the links below, meanwhile, please enjoy the poem!
Copyright Catherine T Wilson
The Lily and the Lion won Chanticleer’s ‘Chatelaine’ award for the Best Romance in 2013
The Order of the Lily won Chanticleer’s ‘Chatelaine’ award for the Best Romance in 2014
By Cathy A
I have a confession to make. I absolutely love the sound of the bagpipes. Nothing stirs my soul quite like the haunting melody of weeping pipes or rouses my fighting spirit like a Highland marching band. But contrary to popular belief, the bagpipes did not originate in Scotland. Nor are they just a ‘folk’ instrument associated with kilts and wailing laments!
The bagpipes are an ancient musical instrument which are believed to have originated in Egypt, with the Oxford History of Western Music noting the documented use of the instrument on a 5th century Hittite slab at Eyuk, Turkey. It has also been suggested that the Romans introduced the instrument to their armies – ‘the cavalry heralded by trumpet and the infantry by bagpipe.’
Hittite slab from Eyuk, Turkey
The medieval Italian bagpipe known as the Zampogna, is etymologically related to the Greek ‘sumfonia’ meaning ‘concord or unison of sound’. The Greek bagpipe, the Tsampouna or Tsabouna, is itself a reborrowing of the word ‘zampogna’ and its Roman counterpart, ‘cimpoi’ which means ‘symphony – of many sounds together’.
The Tsabouna, as played in this clip, consists of a bag derived from an animal skin and one chanter, or pipe.
The bag is an airtight reservoir that holds air and regulates its flow via arm pressure, allowing the player to maintain continuous even sound. The player keeps the bag inflated by blowing air into it through a blowpipe or pumping air into it with bellows. Materials used for bags vary widely, but the most common are the skins of local animals such as goats, dogs, sheep, and cows.
The chanter is the pipe played with two hands. Almost all bagpipes have at least one chanter; though others, such as pipes from southern Europe and Asia have two chanters.
The chanter is usually open-ended, so there is no easy way for the player to stop the pipe from making constant sound or ‘legato’. The ability to add accents and provide movement within the legato takes many years to master.
The note from the chanter is produced by a reed, which maybe single (a reed with one vibrating tongue) or double (two pieces that vibrate against each other). In general, double-reed chanters are found in pipes of Western Europe while single-reed chanters appear in most other regions.
Most bagpipes have at least one drone – a pipe which is generally not fingered but rather produces a constant harmonizing note. The drone is generally designed in two or more parts with a sliding joint so that the pitch of the drone can be adjusted.
Depending on the type of pipes, the drones may lie over the shoulder, across the arm opposite the bag, or may run parallel to the chanter. Some drones have a tuning screw, which effectively alters the length of the drone by opening a hole, allowing the drone to be tuned to two or more distinct pitches.
Variations of the bagpipes can be found all around the world, through Europe and Asia, Northern Africa and the America’s – the Volynka (Russia), the Zukra (North Africa), Gaita (Portugal and Spain), Zampogna (Italy and Greece) Cornemuse (France), Moshug (India) and the Zumarah (Egypt). Though the construction of the instrument may differ slightly, the sound is hauntingly similar.
Bulgarian Kaba Gaida
The history of the Scottish bagpipe is shrouded in myth and mystery. A great many scholars believe the woodwind instrument first appeared in the highlands around the late 14th century, but did not reach its peak in popularity until the mid 1500’s.
Iain Odhar of Clan MacCrimmon is said to have reinvented traditional bagpipes tunes into melancholy pieces referred to as ‘piobaireachd’ (pronounced piobroch) which consist of extended compositions with masterful melody’s and elaborate variations in pitch and tone. William Manson, in his book The Highland Bagpipe suggest that Iain was the son of Donald who originated in Cremona, Italy and brought with him both a new style of bagpipe and soulful playing method.
Farewell to the Laird of Islay Bagpipes (Piobaireachd)
And the bagpipe remains just as popular today, right? Well, far more popular than you may realise. Did you know that the bagpipe features in 3 of Australia’s most iconic, top selling singles? Well here they are for your enjoyment …
Long Way To The Top – ACDC (my personal favourite).
You’re The Voice – John Farnham and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Under the Milky Way – The Church (Synclavier – synthesised bagpipes).
And finally – Cathy T’s favourite … Mull of Kintyre – Paul McCartney and Wings.
 Oxford History of Western Music – Richard Taruskin (Oxford University Press 2005)
 The Highland Bagpipe – Its History, Literature, and Music, With Some Account of the Traditions, Superstitions, and Anecdotes Relating to the Instrument and Its Tunes – William, Laird Manson – 1901
By Cathy T
It’s October and that means by the end of the month, Halloween or All Hallows Eve will be upon us again, that special time of year when we pay homage to the dead, and for one night only, their souls may cross over, some in the hope of snatching another soul. This is how the tradition of dressing up began—to hide from the soul-snatchers. * And since these dear departed souls are going to be leaving their graves for one night, I thought it was an excellent time to write about tombs, exhumed corpses, and other decaying delights.
*For more information on the original customs of Halloween, an earlier blog may be viewed here… Samhain – All Hallow’s Eve
Many medieval kings fought hard to stay on their thrones during their lifetime but how many thought it would be just as difficult to stay in their graves? ‘Rest in peace’ was a luxury denied to some, their eternal slumber interrupted as future reigning monarchs decided where their predecessors should be permanently interred. A few would be disturbed during restoration work, some because of morbid curiosity and, in one instance, to receive the homage that was denied during life.
Let’s begin with: – (the years given are for the king’s length of reign)
Edward the Confessor, 1042 to 1066 – the last Anglo-Saxon king.
Edward the Confessor commissioned Westminster Abbey to be built as a royal burial church. He met his death after a series of strokes and was laid to rest in the then uncompleted church. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), this church was demolished to make way for Henry III’s wonderful new abbey which still stands today.
His tomb was first disturbed in 1102 by King Henry I and his wife, Matilda of Scotland, and Edward’s body was found to be incorrupt, (a sign of a saint) his beard still long and white, a gold-embroidered mitre on his head and purple shoes on his feet.
His coffin was opened again in 1163 by Henry II, only this time his cloth-of-gold wrappings were removed, and the remains swathed in a silk cloth. Edward’s pilgrim’s ring was appropriated by Henry II as a relic and the cloth-of-gold was turned into “three splendid copes.” Edward was transferred to a new tomb in a ceremony presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.
He was disturbed once more in 1685, when the removal of scaffolding after a coronation ceremony for James II caused a rafter to crash into Edward’s coffin. This time a gold chain and ornamented crucifix were discovered under the king’s shoulder bones and given to James II.
King John, 1199 to 1216 – Magna Carta John
The infamous king responsible for losing the duchy of Normandy as well as other holdings in France and thus, when he died he was unable to be buried in the Abbey de Fontevraud, alongside his father, Henry II; mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine; brother, Richard the Lionheart and his second wife, Isabella d’Angouleme.
John contracted dysentery whilst on campaign in 1216 in East Anglia. He died at Newark Castle on October 18, 1216 and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. A new sarcophagus and effigy were made for him in 1232, and he was further disturbed in 1797 when this tomb was opened for “antiquarian study.” He was originally covered in a robe of crimson damask, but the embroidery had deteriorated. The remains of a sword and a scabbard were by his side.
Effigy on John’s tomb
King Edward I, 1272 to 1307 – Longshanks and ‘Hammer of the Scots’
Edward I (Longshanks) was on his way north to deal with Robert the Bruce when he developed dysentery, certainly a favourite way of dying for these medieval kings. On July 6, he camped at the village of Burgh by the Sands and when the servants came the next morning, he died in their arms as they raised him to give him food. His embalmed body was buried in Westminster Abbey.
In 1774 Edward’s tomb was opened by the Society of Antiquaries, permission having been given by the Dean of Westminster. The body was wrapped in a linen cloth which was waxed on the inside. The king’s head and face were covered with a cloth of crimson sarcenet, (a thin, soft silk with a slight sheen) and he was richly dressed in a red silk damask tunic with a stole of thick white tissue across his chest, set with filigree gilt and semi-precious stones. He wore a royal mantle of crimson satin (medieval version of satin – a twilled silk with a glossy, smooth surface with a dull back) and cloth-of-gold lay from the waist down. In his right hand there was a sceptre with a cross of copper gilt, and in his left, a 5 ft rod with a white enamel dove. He wore a gilt metal crown, but his skull was bare. His hands and feet were intact.
Sketch illustration of the remains of Edward I when his tomb was opened in 1774
Memorial at ‘Burgh by the Sands’ at the spot Edward died in his servants’ arms
Richard II, 1377 to 1399 – Second son of the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock
One of the most tyrannical of the Plantagenet kings, Richard of Bordeaux was only ten years old when he came to the throne. Guided by his uncles, he threw off their advice when he became of age to rule. He went on to make many enemies, not the least of which was his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, who eventually usurped his throne. Richard was imprisoned at Pontefract castle, West Yorkshire, and perished from hunger—self-inflicted or deliberate? Most think deliberate after a plot to reinstate him was foiled, and that Henry was clever enough to not leave evidence of a struggle or wounds that would implicate him.
Richard was displayed at the ‘old’ Saint Paul’s church before being buried at King’s Langley Priory, Hertfordshire, adjacent to the palace, residence of the Plantagenet kings, even though Richard had a tomb prepared for himself at Westminster Abbey, next to his wife.
In 1413 Richard II’s body was moved to his own tomb at Westminster Abbey by order of Henry V in atonement for his father’s misdeed.
In 1871 the tomb was opened during restoration work. The skulls of Richard and Anne were visible with some teeth preserved and the skeletons were nearly perfect. There were no marks of violence upon Richard. A staff, sceptre, part of the ball, two pairs of gloves and fragments of their peaked shoes remained. There were no copper-gilt crowns although it had been thought they had been buried with one each. Possibly taken from an earlier opening. Some relics were taken from this opening and later found in a cigarette box (a cigarette box? Please. We are talking of kings here!) in the basement of the National Portrait Gallery. The contents included some fabric, a piece of leather and fragments of wood, possibly for the coffin itself. Cross-referencing confirmed the leather corresponds to a sketch by Scharf made of a glove on the day the tomb was opened.
*King Richard II will appear in upcoming books in the Lions and Lilies series. In our current work-in-progress, book 5, he has just been born. 😊 Although Richard was dedicated to his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, he did marry again—a child bride, Isabella of France, older sister to Catherine of Valois (featured next). Isabella was Queen of England from 1396 to 1399, when she was 7 – 10 years old.
Catherine of Valois, 1420 to 1422 – Queen Consort of England, wife to Henry V
Catherine of Valois was the daughter of French king Charles VI * and was married to Henry V in 1420. She was crowned Queen in February 1421, and by June that year Henry left a pregnant wife in England to continue his military campaigns in France. Catherine gave birth to a son, and when Henry V died 31st August 1422 from dysentery (another one!), he had never even seen his son. The 9-month-old baby became King Henry VI of England.
*Charles VI was the son of Charles V, who was the ‘Dauphin’ in our books 1- 4 of Lions and Lilies, now king in the current work-in-progress, book 5. Charles VI will also appear in upcoming books in the series.
Catherine went on to live in the king’s household to care for her son but eventually married Owen Tudor, who had been in the service of Sir Walter Hungerford, steward to Henry V. Though no evidence was found to support the marriage took place, neither was the legitimacy of her children ever questioned, either by secular or cannon law and their grandson would claim England’s throne as Henry VII – the start of the Tudor dynasty.
Catherine died January 3, 1347, shortly after childbirth, but an equal number of records state it was not as a result of giving birth as first thought. She was interred in January 1357, in the Chapel of Our Lady, at the east end of Westminster Abbey but when that building was pulled down by her grandson, Henry VII, her coffin was found to be decayed, so her body was taken up, and placed in a chest within the railings near her first husband’s tomb.
“There,” says Dart, “it hath ever since continued to be seen, the bones being firmly united, and thinly clothed with flesh, like scrapings of tanned leather.”
In 1667 Catherine’s corpse was shown to visitors on payment to the staff at the abbey. Samuel Pepys who was made famous for the detailed diary he kept from 1660 to 1669 (published 19thC) recorded the day he took his wife and daughters to Westminster Abbey and was permitted to embrace the corpse.
‘I now took them to Westminster Abbey, and there did show them all the tombs very finely, having one with us alone, there being other company this day to see the tombs, it being Shrove Tuesday; and here we did see, by particular favour, the body of Queen Catherine of Valois; and I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birthday, thirty-six years old, that I did first kiss a Queen.’
This awful spectacle of frail mortality was at length removed from the public gaze into St. Nicholas’s chapel, and placed under the monument of Sir George Villiers, where a vault had been made for the remains of Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, in December 1776.
Poor Catherine was finally laid to rest with her first husband, Henry V, a century later when Dean Stanley removed her remains for a permanent burial under the alter he erected in Henry V’s chantry. The inscription for her on the altar is translated thus:
Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1437.
The wooden funeral effigy carried at her funeral still survives there.
The Chantry of Henry V Catherine’s funeral effigy still on display
At last, at peace.
During research for this project, I came across this tiny gem. The tomb of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, younger brother to Henry V, was rediscovered in 1703 when a grave was being prepared for a former mayor of St Albans.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
Workmen uncovered a flight of stone steps leading down to an underground vault where the Duke’s leaden coffin was found. His body was reported to be in a remarkable state of preservation. However, the skeleton is now incomplete, after over a century of being open to tourists, several of the bones having been taken. His tomb ‘was regularly visited by women who believed the embalming fluid used had ‘magical’ properties to cure wrinkles. The sexton made a small fortune selling thimbles of the potion and physicians even took away samples for experimentation. Eventually the liquid ran out and visitors took Humphrey’s nails and hair until only a few small bones remained.’ Eeeew!
But now for the pièce de résistance—and the award goes to Portugal!
I first heard this story on my ‘research’ holiday two years ago when our guide told us whilst in Portugal. Then again recently when I was researching online in Spain for book 5 (Roar of the Lion).
It’s a 14thC love story of a Castilian lady-in-waiting whose eyes were as blue as the sky and her skin was so white, you could see the wine flowing through her throat when she drank. Her name was Ines de Castro and she and Pedro, heir to the throne, fell deeply in love.
But King Alfonso IV was massively opposed to the relationship. For one thing, Pedro was married to Ines’s cousin, Constanza of Castile. When Constanza died in 1345, Pedro refused all other offers of marriage and fearing the Castilian influence over his son, King Alfonso banished Ines from his court. Pedro declared Ines his true love and after several attempts to keep the lovers apart, Alfonso ordered her death.
Innes de Castro at the feet of King Alfonso
Three of Alfonso’s henchmen went to Coimbra where Ines was detained and decapitated her in front of her own child.
When Pedro heard, he hunted and caught two of her killers in 1361. He executed them publicly, ripping out their hearts stating they didn’t have one after pulverising his own heart.
Pedro became king in 1357 and he announced that he and Ines had been secretly married since 1346. The story goes that he had Ines’ body exhumed, adorned in royal robes, and sat on the throne beside him. Then he forced his court to pay homage by kissing her hand in death as she had been denied in life.
Tomb of Pedro and Ines
There are many more examples that I could add to this list: – Edward IV, Edward V, Anne Boleyn, Edward VI, and Charles I, but I decided to keep it within the scope of Lions and Lilies era, from the ancestors to Henry V and Catherine of Valois.
Worth mentioning though are some oddities to which the dead themselves, may have objected had they but known!
Henry VII (Catherine of Valois’ grandson), and his wife, Elizabeth of York, lie in a vault beneath his magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey. They were the first monarchs to be buried in a vault under the floor rather than a tomb chest above ground. However, would Henry have been happy to know that in years to come he and his wife would be sharing their eternal resting place with their great, great, grandson, James I? Cosy or creepy?
Above ground – Westminster Abbey Below ground – James I (largest body) with Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York
(Photo exits in the Westminster Abbey Library)
And would Queen Elizabeth I have been smiling to learn she would be finally laid to rest, her coffin placed on top of that of her half-sister, Mary, whose reign saw the persecution and burning of hundreds of protestants? Opposing views in life but together in death.
A quick word on the medieval practice of the extraction of inner organs and the separate burial of the heart and body, and for the French, another for the entrails.
It was a practice of the English and French aristocracy from the 12thC onwards and arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors died in ‘heathen’ lands. This wasn’t accepted as a suitable burial location, so corpses were stripped of the flesh and carried back to Europe as skeletons. The inner organs were buried where the Crusader had died.
Here are some of the notable cases in the middle medieval era.
Robert the Bruce
His body lies in Dunfermline Abbey, but heart is at Melrose Abbey in Roxburghshire. He wished his heart to rest at Jerusalem in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and on his deathbed entrusted the fulfilment of his wish to Sir James Douglas. The latter broke his journey to join the Spaniards in their war with the Moorish kings of Granada and was killed in battle. He had kept the heart of Bruce enclosed in a silver casket hanging round his neck. The heart was subsequently recovered and buried in the Abbey.
His heart, preserved in a casket, was placed in the Cathedral in Rouen, Normandy. His body is buried at Fontevraud Abbey.
His body was buried in Reading Abbey, but his heart, along with his bowels, brains, eyes & tongue, are interred at the Cathedral in Rouen, Normandy.
Rouen Cathedral – home to both hearts of Richard I and Henry I
Eleanor of Castile – Queen of Edward I
Her body is interred in Westminster Abbey, but her heart is buried at Blackfriars and her other viscera in Lincoln Cathedral.
Joan of Arc
And worthy of note, though a little-known fact, is that Joan of Arc’s body was burned three times. She died at the stake of smoke inhalation on May 30, 1431 but the Cardinal of Winchester is recorded as having ordered her burned a second time to be sure. Her organs still survived this fire and terrified, Winchester ordered a third burning.
Her cinders and debris were to be thrown into the Seine however, it is believed that they were found in an apothecary’s loft in Paris. The find was transferred to a museum in Chinon. French scientists who have been studying the ashes confirmed a piece of cloth among the remains may be a fragment of Joan’s gown. Some bones and tissue were also found among the ashes and DNA tests expect to confirm they belong to a female. Carbon-dating of the piece of cloth found it to be ‘linen of high quality and we can confirm that it dates from the 15th century.’
Rouen, France Orleans, France
And lastly, a very quick word on those cross-legged effigies of knights. What did the crossed-legs really mean?
Opinions still vary, and it was first thought to mean that the knight had been on crusade; legs crossed at the ankles meant he’d been once; legs crossed at the knees, twice; and legs crossed at the thighs meant three times. Sounds plausible but scholars have negated the idea saying it was a romantic notion applied by the studies of the 16th and 17th centuries. Current theory is, it was simply the style of the times and not forgetting that while some went to the Holy Land, they were on pilgrimages, not crusades. It is stated by historian Matthew Holbeche Bloxam in 1834 that these depictions continued for more than half a century after the crusades ended. Not having read the afore-mentioned gentleman, I cannot say whether there was proof in his findings that it was just the trend during the 12th/13th centuries, so pose this question. What if the designers of effigies after the Crusades liked what they saw and used it anyway? I’m not sure I agree that it was just the style of the times for most things held meaning in medieval times. They weren’t just random. I suppose without solid evidence, we’ll never really know. Perhaps I like the romantic notion better!
What I did find were some very interesting facts or concepts. Firstly, the animals lying at the feet of many of the effigies. The Basilica St Denis, Paris, states ‘the 12th century, animal statues were placed at the feet of the recumbent statues. They were the protector of the deceased in the afterlife. Some even considered that they were placed there to prevent the deceased from coming back thus protecting the living. This tradition came from the statues tailored on the portals of churches on which the characters were associated with the representation of a real or mythical animal that represented a quality or a vice.
The dog is often found at the feet of the recumbent statues of women and symbolises loyalty to the soverain and to the kingdom but especially of faith.’ (Other sources say it means fidelity.)
‘It is quite natural that the lion be associated with the king. The “king of beasts” is a symbol of strength, power, and justice.’ But it was not just for the king. Many male effigies use lions.
Edward of Woodstock – the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral. Both head and feet
lying on a lion. (That’s a lion? From the top view, it almost looks like a lion and a lamb!)
A dragon was the symbol of evil but placed under the feet, it would mean victory over evil.
Bishop Fleming (d. 1431) Lincoln Cathedral
And sometimes a male effigy would have their favourite hunting dog.
Next is the pose of the effigy. It can be horizontal or vertical, and this is not necessarily known by the placement of the figure i.e. a ‘vertical’ effigy can be lying down. What denotes it, is the fall of the cloth or gown worn by the figure. Take this example below: –
Even though both figures are lying flat on the floor, from the fall of the cloth, it suggests that the far knight (top-side) is a horizontal figure; his robes are falling ‘down’ and away but the near knight’s clothes (bottom-side) are straight as they would hang if he was standing upright so he’s a ‘vertical’ figure. Whether this had any particular meaning or was simply the work of a more creative designer, I could not find out. Inscriptions and heraldry would identify the deceased as the carving itself, was not always a ‘lifelike’ depiction.
And third is the liminal ‘state’ in which they lie which means ‘on the threshold.’ This was an era where increasing significance was placed on the concept of purgatory and the prayers of the living could decrease the time spent in purgatory and assist the departed to their final state in Heaven. It became popular that the hands of the effigies were shown in a praying position, a reminder to those living and looking on, to pray for them and help them on their way.
In the 15th century, ‘transi’ tombs became the fashion among the elite to show the contrast between the idealised figure of the deceased lying atop the monument with a sculpture of their decaying corpse enclosed within the tomb chest. This one was opened in 1857 to reveal the actual skeleton was missing one leg.
Arundel Chapel – John FitzAlan (d.1435)
And our Bishop Fleming from before (with the dragon at his feet), also had a cadaver tomb.
Although the idea of decomposition was not avoided in the 14th century. The Will of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, included the striking stipulation that his body was to remain unburied for forty days after his death:
‘And wherever I die I will and devise that after my passing my body remain above ground uninterred for forty days, and I charge my executors that within those forty days no interment [Lincoln MS: embalming] of my body shall be done nor feigned, privately nor publicly.’
So Gaunt wanted his corpse to be in an advanced state of decomposition by the time it reached the choir of Old St Paul’s.
A similar emphasis on bodily decay is found in the verses inscribed on the tomb of the Duke’s older brother, Edward the Black Prince, at Canterbury Cathedral, in which his rotting corpse addresses the viewer:
”Such as thou art, sometime was I.
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
I thought little on th’our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
But now a wretched captive am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone.”
In his will Gaunt urged his executors to invite his friends and relatives to the obsequies in order that they might pray for his soul.
When Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, returned to claim Richard II’s throne, his exile by Richard having prevented him from attending his father’s funeral, he visited the tomb. Chronicler, Jean Creton, wrote ‘Henry approached the high altar to pray and afterwards passed by the monument to his parents, Gaunt and Blanche. The sight of the tomb, (which Creton terms ‘une très riche sépulture’—a very rich monument), provoked an emotional response from the soon-to-be King: ‘there he wept very much, for he had never seen it’ in all of the nineteen years of its creation.
And the finale to this macabre blog? A poem, of course! A fifteenth-century poem called
‘A Disputation Between the Body and the Worms.’
In true medieval fashion, a poem in the dream-vison framework in which a narrator falls asleep or into a trance and overhears a discussion between the disputing parties. In this case, an unidentified person, who has departed on a pilgrimage in order to flee the plague, stops at a church to pray but is distracted by the newly built tomb of a lady.
As he looks at the epitaph, he falls into a dreamlike vision in which he hears a debate between the recently buried body and the worms that are eating it.
This carefully constructed conversation leads the body from a disgust at the worms, a resistance to their ministrations, and a futile attempt at calling living knights to her defence to a realization that worldly beauty is vain, a reliance on God’s grace, and a reconciliation with the worms as she waits for Judgment Day and resurrection.
The dream-vision framework resumes with the waking of the dreamer, who explains that the holy man to whom he related his experience told him to write it down for the edification of others, and the poem ends with an exhortation for all to trust in God.
Yes, the poem looks long, as was a lot of medieval writings, but this one is truly enjoyable and worth a read!
(Note from the translator)
In translating the poem, I have tried to stick closely to the literal meaning of the text, while maintaining the rhyme scheme and reflecting the distinct voices of the Body and of the Worms. Often I have been able to use the same vocabulary—sometimes even the same rimes—as the Middle English original. Occasionally I have switched the order of two lines or slightly altered the sense of a half-line for poetic purposes, but only when such a change does not affect the meaning of the stanza as a whole.
Department of English Arizona State University
P. O. Box 870302 Tempe, AZ 85287-0302
A Disputation Between the Body and the Worms
During a season of great mortality,
With pestilence reigning, and other disease,
I felt a great urge to change my locality—
To go as a pilgrim, my conscience to ease—
And left for the country as quick as you please.
I saw there a church on a holy day
And, having made ready, I went there to pray.
The church stood in a field alone.
To hear a mass was my full intent.
‘Ere I came the mass was said and done,
But the church-door was open, and in I went.
I knelt to pray and humbly bent
My knees, making deep obeisance
Before an image, with great reverence.
Beside me I saw a tomb or sepulchre
That seemed to be freshly adorned and raised—
Just newly made, by my conjecture—
With sundry arms thereon emblazed.
Upon the epitaph I boldly gazed.
Gilt gold on copper gleamed each line,
With a woman’s figure, fresh and fine.
She was well attired in the newest array.
Her long locks had a golden gleam.
As I slept I was taken in such a way
I was rapt from myself into a dream.
I heard, strange to say, all manner of jawing
Between this fair corpse and the worms on her gnawing.
In the manner of a dialogue it went.
Take heed, therefore, from this event:
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“Worms, O worms,” this body mourned.
“Why do you thus? What makes you eat?
By you my flesh is foully adorned,
Which once was a figure fresh and sweet,
Right amiable, fragrant, and always neat.
Of all creatures I was loved the best,
Called lady and sovereign, I do attest.
As to beauty, I was a lady of worth,
From gentle blood descending in right line
From Eve, and of true noble birth.
All hearts were glad my presence to divine;
Men of honour and worship to me did incline;
And now here in earth death has come to me.
Among worms I lie naked—behold and see!
Most unnatural neighbours that ever were known!
You have me for lunch and for supper at night,
Now gnawing and eating me right to the bone
With a greedy, insatiable appetite.
There’s no rest, for always you suck and bite.
You won’t abstain for a single hour
But are always ready to cruelly devour!
When first you worms my body found
It seems you’d been fed but meagerly.
Now you’ve grown fat and ugly and round.
Leave me alone, out of courtesy,
And dwell with someone else besides me,
Who may reward you with better pay,
For I’m almost gone—almost eaten away!”
The Worms speak to the Body:
“No, no, we won’t depart from you
While one of your bones with another’s connected,
Till we have scoured and polished ‘em, too,
Made ‘em clean as can be, not a joint neglected.
And for our work, there’s no pay expected.
For gold, silver, or riches we have no need.
We only ask your flesh on which to feed.
For we have no way of tasting or smelling
Your horrible, rotting, stinking waste.
All creatures find you extremely repelling
Except for us worms; we’re already disgraced.
If we, as beasts, could smell or taste,
Do you think that we your corpse would touch?
Nope, we’d surely avoid it, thank you very much!”
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“My word, you are discourteous to me
To threaten me so, and my body deface,
And thus leave me only bare bones to see.
Now where are my knights? Come forth to this place!
And you worshipful squires, both high and base—
Who once offered me your whole devotion
And life-long service, with heart-felt emotion,
Committing your lives into my charge—
To do me service, now come and defend me
From these nasty worms, so ugly and large,
That are gnawing my flesh with such cruelty,
Devouring and eating now as you see.
You who once said you loved me dear
Now save and succour my body here!”
The Worms answer the Body:
“What should they do? We want to hear.
We dread them not, nor fear their moans,
For we’ve to the uttermost made good cheer
With all that were mighty, who’ve left their thrones
Before this time, having received their bones.
All of them: conquerors, emperors, kings,
Lords both over temporal and spiritual things.
All the nine worthy: Alexander the Great,
Judas Maccabeus, and David of old,
Caesar and Hector and Guinevere’s mate,
Godfrey and Joshua and Charlemagne bold,
With all Trojan knights, each with honour untold,
And beautiful Helen, so fair of visage,
Polyxena, Lucrece, and Dido of Carthage.
These—and more—were your equals in looks
Yet dared they not to stir or move
Once we possession of them took.
For all venomous worms it does behoove
To do this labour, as soon they’ll prove.
With us to stay they’re fully set:
They’ll waste and devour you utterly yet.
The cockatrice, the basilisk, and the dragon,
The toad and the tortoise with his shell on his back,
The newt, the mole, and the scorpion,
The crab and the ants, both red and black,
The viper, the adder, all prepped to attack,
The maggots, the leeches, the spiders (all kinds),
And the lizard—and others are not far behind.”
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“Of cure or of remedy I can find none,
Release or succour can’t be found,
I must do their bidding,
when all’s said and done,
With chewed-up flesh, here underground,
For towards all the living their hate does abound.
What shall I do but let them enjoy me?
My fate awaits, although they destroy me!”
The Worms answer the Body:
“The day you were born our heralds we sent,
And charged them straitly not to fail.
We gave them a strict commandment
Not to leave you till death made you pale,
Intending them to fret and gnaw and ail,
And then to come to this region with you
To have your flesh here as their due.
They have obeyed and done as we said—
To this you certainly cannot say nay.
You’ve had worms in your hands and fleas in your bed
Or lice or nits in your hair each day,
Also stomach-worms to plague you in every way,
And venomous creatures, night and morning,
To make you ready and give you warning.
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“Now to you I can those vermin impute,
Which with me in life kept residence.
I will no longer keep up this dispute
Nor debate but suffer your violence.
Do your will with me at your benevolence.
But yet David’s Psalter says that all
Shall be obedient unto Man’s call.”
The Worms answer the Body:
“That power lasts only while Man is alive;
Here in the grave, we have the last say.
Since your life is gone, you may no longer strive
Against us worms, for you’re nothing but clay,
As you’ll recall from that holy day
When the priest, to mark the start of Lent,
Makes a cross of ash on each penitent.
And with ash blesses you to have in mind
What you are, and to what you’ll turn again,
For ashes you were before this time,
And ashes you’ll be hereafter for certain.
Be you lord, lady, or high sovereign,
To powder and dust in time you will come,
Of your worldly sojourn such is the sum.”
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“Alas, alas, now I know full well,
That all my life I was a fool.
With a reigning pride too much to tell,
I thought of myself as a beautiful jewel
And was wanton and frivolous, as a rule,
Having great delight in worldly pleasure,
Thinking none to be my equal measure.
As for these worms who now address me,
I bore their messengers each day—
Those fleas and lice that sore oppressed me—
Not knowing how they came my way.
More truly than this I cannot say,
But I must myself with patience provide,
In all circumstances God’s will to abide.”
The Worms answer the Body:
“You get no thanks from us for this admission:
If you had your will, to life you’d hold.
But if you by your heart’s volition
Look in holy scripture, you may behold
That the fairness of women, as therein told,
Is but a vain thing, and transitory.
But God-fearing women shall be praised as holy.”
The Body speaks to the Worms:
“Yes, now it’s far too late to call
At this point in time, but put me there—
Which to do is truly the best of all—
In the mercy of our Lord’s constant care.
And that those in life may have space to prepare,
To consider in the same wise also,
They should think, in the time before they go,
Of their future states and their origins.
Whether man or woman, no matter how fair,
Beware of pride and his fellow sins
Which often bring mortals into care,
As scripture makes mention, the truth to declare.
It is good to shun temptations of flesh,
By the fiend our foe made to enmesh.
For all that I’ve said, and you worms reviled,
Be not displeased, I humbly implore.
Let us be friends for a little while
And love each other as we did before.
Let us dwell together forevermore—
Till I rise again at God’s command
On Judgment Day, and before him stand.
With this body to be glorified.
And of that number may I be one
With heaven’s bliss to be supplied
Through the mercy and mediation
Of our blessed Lord, our very patron,
There to dwell forever for his delight:
Amen, Amen, for his love and might.”
Now speaks he who saw the vision:
With this I from my dream awoke—
Or from my slumbering meditation.
Of this dream, this vision, then I spoke
To a holy man of high reputation.
To write it down was his exhortation,
As nearly as I could remember it,
In fair language, according to my wit,
To be to the reader a great delight,
And an admonition to all who believe—
Both men and women—to live upright
Before God and all their lusts to leave
For worldly things which their spirits grieve,
And rather the more to call to mind
Our Savior and to him us bind.
By Catherine T Wilson, co-author of Lions and Lilies
(By Cathy A)
A great deal of information is known about life in the middle medieval period and extensive research has been undertaken on the subject of education and yet many people assume that literacy rates were low, particularly for women.
The premise of the epistolary novel The Lily and the Lion, Book 1 in the Lions and Lilies series, supports the idea that the main characters, Catherine, a nun at Denny Abbey Cambridgeshire and Cécile, the daughter of a French aristocrat, were not only literate but also had the means to source the accoutrements required to write to each other. But was this possible? Would they have had the skills to do so and how difficult was it to obtain quills, pounce, ink and parchment?
The strongest quills derive from the primary flight feathers of birds such as geese, crows and eagles. Goose feathers were the most commonly used, however, the feather from a swan was best for larger lettering. Generally, the feather from the left wing was chosen it curves away from the hand providing better sight of the parchment. The tip of the feather was cut to form a nib and users each had their own individual or preferred angle.
Forming/cutting the nib
Theophilus Presbyter, the pseudonymous author of the 12th century work, Schedula Diversarum Atrium, which describes various medieval arts, recorded the following recipe –
To make ink, cut for yourself some wood of the hawthorn – in April or May before they produce blossom or leaves – collect them together in small bundles and allow them to lie in the shade for two, three or four weeks until they are fairly well dried out.
Then have some wooden mallets, and with them pound these thorns on a hard piece of wood until you completely peel off the bark, which you immediately put in a barrel full of water. When you have filled two, three, four or five barrels with bark and water, allow them to stand like this for eight days until the water has drawn off all the sap of the bark. Then put this water into a very clean pot or into a cauldron, place it on the fire and heat it. From time to time, put some of this bark into the pot so that, if there is any sap left in it, it can be boiled out, and, when you have heated it for a little, take it out and put in some more.
This done, boil down what remains of the water, to a third of the original quantity, pour it from this pot into a smaller one and continue to heat it until it becomes black and begins to thicken, taking particular care that you do not add any water except that which was mixed with the sap. When you see it become thick, add a third part of pure wine, put it in two or three new pots and continue to heat it until you see that it develops a kind of skin at the top.
Then lift these pots off the fire and put them in the sun until the black ink resolves itself from the red dregs. Afterwards, take some small, carefully sewn, parchment bags like bladders, pour the pure ink into them and hang them up in the sun until it is completely dried. When it is dried, take from it as much as you want, mix it with wine over a fire, add a little iron vitriol and write. If, as a result of carelessness, the ink is not black enough, take a piece of iron, an inch thick, put it on the fire until it is red hot and then throw it into the ink.
Translated by J.G. Hawthorne, and C.S. Smith.
Pounce was a fine powder most often made from powdered cuttlefish bone. Controversy surrounds the use of pounce as it is described as either a medium to dry ink and/or to sprinkle on a rough writing surface to make it smooth. Pounce certainly was required to enable better contact with the parchment if it was “unsized” (did not have sufficient gelatinous material to make the surface smooth) and there is little evidence that pounce did anything to help dry wet ink.
Medieval pounce shaker – London Science Museum
The process of transforming animal skin into parchment was undertaken by a percamenarius or parchmenter. These artisans were common in the middle ages and could be located in every town and city. The preparation of parchment or vellum is a slow and complicated process and begins with the flaying of the animal, be it cow, goat or sheep.
The colour of the parchment is indicative of its origins – the colour of the wool or coat was reflected in the final colour of the parchment, be it white, tan or brown. The skin was washed at length, in cold clean water, sometimes for several days and then laid out in the sun. As it began to rot, the hair would fall out. This process was later refined by soaking the skin in vats with a mixture of water and lime, which dramatically hastened the action. The remaining hair was then scraped off with a long curved knife.
Once the skin was hair free it washed once more, placed onto a frame and stretched. The frame itself had adjustable pegs and strings to hold the skin. Smooth stones were used to press against the skin, which was looped over the frame and secured with a cord or string. The other end of the cord was anchored into a slot held by a peg. This process continued right round the edge of the frame, with the whole thing resembling something like a trampoline.
Hot water was used to keep the parchment wet and then a curved knife, or lunellum, used to scrape both sides of the material. The skin was then stretched again, as before, with the cord and strings adjusted one by one. The hair or coat side of the skin, known as the grain, required additional scrapping to ensure it became a satisfactory writing surface. When the pegs were removed the parchment was dried and rolled for storage. It is believed that sheets of parchment were sold by the dozen.
Quills and ink were relatively cheap and easy to source, whereas the labour intensive parchment would have been much more expensive to procure. But it was readily available and affordable for the aristocracy and members of the clergy. Many merchants were also utilising the product to record transactions and maintain ledgers. Ian Mortimer states that in the fourteenth century ‘the proceedings of every manor court are recorded in detail, and so are the extent and customs of almost every manor. Every Bishop keeps a register. Every great estate and major landowner employs a series of clerks. Every judge has his clerical staff, and so does every sheriff, escheator and coroner. Most wealthy merchants keep accounts of some sort. All the professional men in a city – physicians, lawyers, scriveners, surgeons, and schoolmasters can read and write and maybe as many as twenty percent of other tradesmen are also literate.’
But what about women? How many women were literate in the same period?
Ian Mortimer suggest that, ‘A surprising number of townswomen are literate. Nunneries might be poor in their endowments but they are keen on their schools, and they educate as many girls as boys.’
Martyn Whittock writes, ‘As literacy increased it was reflected in a growing number of women who could read. Even the religiously conservative Thomas More ensured his daughters received a humanist education. Such attitudes were most likely to be found amongst a small group of the elite families and this had, to some extent, been true throughout the Middle Ages. Diane Watt has recently argued that women in the period 1100 to 1500 contributed (as patrons, readers, audiences and subjects) both to the production of texts and their meanings, whether these were written by men or by women.’
Christine de Pizan, an influential Italian author (b. 1364) argued that it was extremely important for mothers to arrange for their daughters to be taught how to read and write. Several other famous female writers in this period include Marie de France (b. 1160) a French medieval poet and Margery Kemps with her autobiographical work, The Book of Margery Kemps, thought to be the first of its kind.
Christine de Pizan
Many women in the middle to late medieval period could read and write, had been provided with education and had the ability to correspond with others, compose poems and stories and then record them.
In order for a medieval epistolary novel such as The Lily and the Lion to work, Catherine T Wilson and I deliberately placed our main characters, Catherine and Cécile into circumstances that would allow for such a premise to function successfully. As a member of the French aristocracy, Cécile has received an education and has access to parchment, quill, pounce and ink. Catherine received her education whilst in residence at Denny Abbey. Once removed from that situation, she was supplied with the equipment to correspond with Cecile by her wealthy protector.
Very little has changed in 650 odd years. Just like Catherine and Cécile, their modern-day counterparts, Cathy T and Cathy A, love to share news of their families, their joys and sadness, the triumphs and frustrations with added lashings of gossip. It just took a little longer for Catherine and Cécile’s letters to arrive.
 Mortimer, Ian – The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England, Vintage, 2009
 Watt, Diane – Medieval Women’s Writing: Works by and for Women in England, 100-1500, Polity, 2007.
 Whittock, Martyn – Life in the Middle Ages, Robinson, 2009