Category Archives: Medieval Culture

Rarer than an eclipse – the funeral and burial of a king

Today, the coffin of King Richard III left the University of Leicester for Leicester Cathedral where it will lie until it is buried on Thursday. Since the bones were discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012 they have been the subject of a good deal of controversy. In 1485 Richard lost the Battle of Bosworth to the man who would become Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. At the same time he also lost his reputation as writers of the Tudor period (including Shakespeare) presented him as a wicked, hunch-backed king, a monarch who deserved to lose his throne.

The bones of English monarchs have been reinterred in the past, often to make a political point (they could be reburied in a more or less prestigious place); however, there’s usually not a 500 year gap between burials. Richard’s first burial was an obscure and irreverent one but this time around everyone wanted him and the cities of Leicester (near the battlefield at Bosworth) and York (the home of the king’s family) claimed him. Another quirk of the half-millenium gap is that the bones are being interred in an Anglican cathedral whereas the king had, of necessity, been a Roman Catholic, and perhaps a fairly pious one. Wisely, the Christian churches avoided squabbling over Richard’s remains and ministers of both denominations will have input into the final ceremonies. In the meantime, any internet search will provide you with video footage of one of the most unusual royal funerals in British history (Queen Elizabeth will not be attending, although she has sent a message to be read out), one in which even the mounted, armoured knights accompanying the hearse do not seem out-of-place: Richard’s fate was to live as much in story as in fact.

BBC coverage

Syllabus link: Shakespeare’s Richard III is part of the MA course ‘The Others: Outsiders and Malcontents in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature’.

Richard III
Richard III

Saints & Sinners

BBC4 (TV) has started a series of 3 programmes on medieval monasteries called ‘Saints and Sinners’.  The first episode, focusing on Anglo-Saxon culture, was broadcast last Thursday and began in Ireland with the monks’ cells on Skellig Michael, a rock 10 miles off the coast where the monks lived on a diet of fish and seabirds.  The fact that its use as a set for Star Wars wasn’t mentioned is an index of the programme’s tone and we are spared the shots of local people dressed in recreation costumes that often blights TV history. Episode two will look at the monasteries of Oxford.

Rievaulx, Yorkshire
Rievaulx, Yorkshire

A Glimpse of Heaven

This lecture will be given in Groningen by Dr Kees van der Ploeg and should be of interest to any English students who like medieval drama.

Monday, February 2nd, 16:00, Faculty of Theology, Oude Boteringestraat 38, room 130

In recent years attention has been paid to the church space as a stage for the performing of (para)-liturgical acts of a more or less theatrical character (Hans-Joachim Krause, Johannes Tripps). Though it might appear from these publications that such performances were first and foremost popular in the German speaking world, new evidence has come to light which indicates that the use was equally wide-spread in the Netherlands, and moreover at a relatively early point in time. My paper will pay particular attention to two rather spectacular examples: the para-liturgical performances around Easter and Pentecost in Utrecht Cathedral from the early thirteenth to the late fifteenth centuries (including a farting devil preceding live doves and burning torches as the re-enactment of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost) and the performance on Ascension Day in the collegiate church of St Lebuinus in Deventer around 1500.

Dr Kees van der Ploeg works on the history of architecture for the faculty of arts of the University of Groningen. His research focuses on the history of the restoration and preservation of monuments.

Utrecht Cathedral
Utrecht Cathedral

Man finds £1,000,000 of Anglo-Saxon coins

Metal detector enthusiasts in Buckinghamshire have uncovered what is thought to be one of biggest hoards of ancient coins ever found in Britain.

Paul Coleman from the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club discovered more than 5,000 coins buried inside a lead bucket two feet under a field near Aylesbury.

Mr Coleman, from Southampton, was taking part in a dig in the Padbury area on 21 December when he found the 5,251 coins depicting the heads of kings Ethelred the Unready and Canute.

See report and photos at BBC site.

Click the embedded links to learn why King Ethelred was ‘unready’ and the legend of Canute (also known as Cnut) and the waves.