Visit The Magna Carta Project website for more on Magna Carta and King John.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Magna Carta World Tour

Members of the team have been flying the Magna Carta Project flag across the globe this autumn, as part of a Foreign Office programme of events commemorating the Charter's 800th anniversary. You can view more pictures on the Magna Carta Project Facebook page.

David Carpenter took part in a public event at NYU Abu Dhabi on 4 October, introduced by the British Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Philip Parham. Also speaking was Thomas Cogswell (Professor of HistoryUniversity of California, Riverside) and the event was chaired by Lubna Qassim, Executive Vice President and Group General Counsel and Company Secretary of Emirates NBD. David also gave a talk about Magna Carta and money in Dubai.



David also took part in an event in St Petersburg on 13 October, held at the British Consulate General and introduced by HM Consul General Keith Allan. David spoke here about 'The Nature of Magna Carta 1215' and also gave a lecture on Magna Carta to students at St. Petersburg State University School of Law. 

Whilst he was there, he had an opportunity to visit the Winter Palace (above right), including Tsar Nicholas II's Library (below right). 

You can see more photographs from the conference here, and you can read a report on the event by David's fellow speaker, Sergei Golubok (Ph.D. International and European Law, Attorney-at-Law, St Petersburg Bar Association) as a guest post on Keith Allen's blog, here.




While David was talking in St Petersburg, Nicholas Vincent was speaking in Yerevan, Armenia, at a conference hosted by the Armenian Association of World History with the support of the British Embassy in Yerevan. The event was introduced by HM Ambassador Judith Farnworth (pictured on Nick's left in the photograph here), and also there representing the UK was Professor Theo Van Lindt (Professor of Armenian Studies, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford - picture to Nick's right). You can read more about the event, view photographs and download a pamphlet of the speakers' abstracts on the website of the Armenian Association of World History, and also here

Whilst he was there, Nick visited the ruined Cathedral of Zvartnots, which dates to the seventh century (left). 





Ten days later, on 23 October, David was in Sofia, Bulgaria. The event was held at Sofia University and was hosted by Emma Hopkins, British Ambassador to Bulgaria. In the photograph below right, David is holding 'Magna Carta 800 Years & Her Elder Daughter The American Constitution', a book which includes text in both English and Bulgarian, written by Valentin Braykov (to the right of David in the photograph), honorary legal adviser to the British Embassy. The booklet had a translation of the Charter into Bulgarian by Alexander Shurbanov, professor of English Studies at Sofia University. The Booklet was published by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. 


Currently (4 November), Nick is in the United States on more Magna Carta business - Colorado Springs, followed by New York, Princeton and Ohio - more to follow. 












Friday, 30 October 2015

Elves and Apparitions at the Angevin Court

Sir Galahad encounters Symen in a forest, BL Royal 14 E III, f.85
The men and women of the Angevin court were fascinated by the supernatural. They told stories of demons and spirits, whose shadowy realm loitered at the edge of their own. Such beings stalked the darkness, crossing into the land of men to warn, to plead and, occasionally, to love. Not only courtiers but kings, we might assume, listened to tales of these trespasses, especially when they concerned their own. What did Henry II think of the wanderings of Herla? This King of the Britons had been hosted by the ruler of the dwarfs in his cavern palace in the cliffs, only on emerging to be told of an ancient king sharing his name who had disappeared into the dwarfish realm, whose people had been swept away by Saxons two hundred years before. Herla, it was said, was condemned to rove forever with his retinue, although he had not been sighted since Henry took the throne.

Stories such as these were gathered by Walter Map, one of Henry’s court, in his De Nugis Curialium (Courtiers’ Trifles). Walter told another supernatural tale and this one, too, touched on a royal predecessor, for the ethereal being it described had been entertained by William the Conqueror himself – or William the Bastard, as Walter names him.

A ‘story is told about Edric Wilde, a so-called “man of the woods” ... One night when he was returning late from hunting, accompanied only by a boy, he lost his way. About midnight, wandering in search of the path, he came upon a great house on the edge of a wood ... he looked in and saw a band of many noble women. They were most beautiful in appearance and were elegantly clad in robes of the finest linen. They were taller and more stately than our women. They moved about with an airy motion, with pleasing gestures and hushed voices. The sound they made was melodious but faint, and he could not understand their speech. The knight noticed one among them whose beauty far exceeded the others ... [he] received a wound in his heart. He found it hard to endure the pain of Cupid’s dart...
Eadric paid no heed to the danger of the ghostly company. He went around the house and, finding the entrance, rushed in and seized the lady whom he desired ... He took his pleasure with her for three days and nights, but in all that time, he was unable to get a word from her, although she passively submitted to his love. Finally, on the fourth day, she said: “My dear one, you shall be safe and joyful ... until the time when you reproach me because of my sisters ... [then] your happiness will disappear ..."
Eadric promised to be firm and faithful in his love ... [and] solemnly married the lady. William the Bastard, recently crowned King of England, was then reigning; and the monarch, hearing of this marvel, and wishing to test its truth, summoned both the man and wife to his court in London. They brought with them many witnesses, and also the evidence of others who could not be present. But the woman herself, who was of a beauty which had never been seen or heard of until that time, was the chief proof of her fairy nature. Amidst general astonishment, Edric and his wife were sent back to their home.’

Things did not end well for Edric who one day, in fleeting irritation, reproved his wife with mention of her sisters. The lady disappeared, leaving only ‘empty air’, and ‘for all his crying and lamenting, he could not win her back.’

What Henry II took from this account we can only guess. Perhaps he gleaned its warning of the dangers of submitting to one's lust. This was an apt lesson, one might think, for almost any Norman or Angevin king – and especially the likes of Henry II, his grandfather, and his youngest son – whose appetites were seemingly boundless. Or, perhaps, the king simply marvelled at the image of his conquering ancestor, with England at his feet, entertaining elves at the royal court. 

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Magna Carta Project at Peking University

In September 2015, members of the Magna Carta Project visited Peking University, as part of a delegation led by the Institute of Historical Research. A conference on Magna Carta was hosted by PKU, involving Chinese and British scholars. 
L-R: David Carpenter, Nicholas Vincent, Harry Dickinson, Sophie Ambler, Rachel Foxley, Lawrence Goldman, Alex Lock, Jane Carpenter, George Garnett

Friday, 14 August 2015

Festival of Freedoms


This September, members of the Magna Carta Project will be taking part in Parliament’s Festival of Freedoms. The Festival is part of Parliament in the Making, a year-long cultural and education programme that commemorates a series of major anniversaries including 750 years since Simon de Montfort’s parliament and 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta.


Westminster Hall, site of the
1265 parliament 
On 15 September, Sophie Ambler will be talking at Portcullis House on ‘What Happened at Simon de Montfort’s Parliament?’. De Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is celebrated as a pivotal episode in the history of politics. But why was the parliament summoned and what actually took place? Sophie will describe the tumultuous context of the parliament, with England’s king imprisoned and the kingdom ruled by a council of his subjects, and examine new evidence to reconstruct the events, personnel and atmosphere of the meeting, in order to reveal the dramatic course of the parliament and its theatrical climax. 

Statue of
Llewelyn the Great,
Conwy
On 17 September, David Carpenter will be speaking at The National Assembly for Wales on ‘Wales and Magna Carta in 1215’. Magna Carta, one of the most famous documents in world history, was sealed 800 years ago in 1215. Here, David will explore the crucial role played by the Welsh rulers in the creation of the Great Charter. Focussing on the rebellion against King John by Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales (later known as Llewelyn the Great) and his allies, he will examine the chapters in Magna Carta dealing with their grievances - revealing that Magna Carta is a very much a British document, with important chapters about both Wales and Scotland.

These events are free and all are welcome but booking is required. To find out more about the Festival of Freedoms, to see the full events listings and to book your place, please visit the 2015 anniversary events page on Parliament’s website. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Robert fitz Walter on Trial

Recently a mock trial was held in Westminster Hall, in which the Robert fitz Walter and his army faced accusations of treason for their rebellion against King John. David Carpenter played the part of fitz Walter, defended by Nathalie Lieven QC, against Clive Anderson’s King John.

Before a large gathering in Westminster Hall and judges Dame Sian Elias (Chief Justice of New Zealand), Lord Neuberger (President of the Supreme Court)  and Justice Stephen Breyer (of the US Supreme Court), David successfully made the case for ‘not guilty’.

It is hoped that a video of the trial will be available in due course – watch this space!



David Carpenter as Robert fitz Walter defends the rebellion against King John
Nathalie Lieven QC defends Robert fitz Walter
Clive Anderson playing the part of King John

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Magna Carta Conference

The Magna Carta Conference took place 17-19 June, at King's College London and the British Library. It was a great success, with 30 speakers from across Europe and the USA presenting new research on the Charter and its world, and an audience of around 450 across the three days. 

Left to right: Gesine Oppitz-Trotman, Sophie Ambler and Janet Burton; Nicholas Vincent; Lindy Grant, Jinty Nelson and Levi Roach

The conference included, on the first evening, a reception at the Maughan Library in which the J.C. Holt Undergraduate Essay Prize was presented by Melvyn Bragg to joint winners Daniel Armstrong and Ian McDonald (who was unable to attend the prize-giving and received his award subsequently). The reception also saw the launch of the third addition of Holt's Magna Carta, edited by George Garnett and John Hudson. 

Top left: Daniel Power delivering a eulogy for J.C. Holt. Top right Daniel Power, Sophie Ambler, John Hudson, Claire Breay, Nicholas Vincent, Jean-Philippe Genet, David Carpenter, Hugh Doherty and George Garnett.
Bottom row (left to right), Daniel Armstrong; Sophie Ambler, Melvyn Bragg and Daniel Armstrong; Ian McDonald.

On the evening of 18, delegates were treated to a private viewing of the British Library's Magna Carta, Law, Liberty, Legacy, introduced by the exhibition's co-curator, and Magna Carta Project member, Claire Breay. 

Left to right: Bj├Ârn Weiler, John Sabapathy and Martin Aurell; Claire Breay introducing the British Library exhibition, and Louise Wilkinson.
The third day of the conference was held at the British Library and was rounded off with an evening session exploring the European parallels to Magna Carta. 

Left to right: William Chester Jordan, Julie Barrau and John Maddicott; Alice Taylor, Julian Harrison and Peter Crooks
You can view the full album from the conference on the Magna Carta Project Facebook page




Monday, 29 June 2015

Magna Carta Exhibition at the Weston Library

Dr Hugh Doherty, who curated the Weston Library's Magna Carta exhibition
Visitors to Oxford’s Weston Library during the past month will have seen engrossments of two different versions of Magna Carta, together with a collection of other documents from the period, on display in an exhibition curated by the Magna Carta Project’s Dr Hugh Doherty.

One engrossment is that of the issue of 1217, marking the end of the civil war that followed King John’s rejection of the Runnymede Charter of 1214. The other dates from 1225, when what became the definitive version of the Charter---the Charter subsequently copied into the Statute Book---was issued by Henry III.

Alongside these Charters is a selection of other contemporary and near-contemporary documents and manuscripts from the Bodleian's rich collection relevant to the history of Magna Carta. These include a late twelfth-century manuscript copy of Henry I's coronation edict of 1100, a contemporary copy of King Stephen’s charter of liberties for the English church, and a very interesting, non-chancery copy of the 1215 Magna Carta, possibly transcribed by a clerk in the service of the papal legate Guala and subsequently taken to Italy. Also on display is one of the three surviving manuscripts of Roger of Wendover’s chronicle, which is an essential (if partisan) narrative for events in 1215--17. 

Hugh Doherty explains the thinking behind the exhibition: 'The exhibition highlights two essential themes in the construction and drafting of Magna Carta. The first---much overlooked in popular narratives on the subject---is the tradition of royal edicts confirming and declaring established (as well as imagined) custom and law. Magna Carta thus stands in a long tradition, and this tradition is illustrated by such examples as Henry I's coronation charter and King Stephen's charter of liberties for the English church. The second theme is the flawed and failed nature of John's kingship and personality. There are thus a number of documents in the exhibition relating to the king himself. Magna Carta was a direct and detailed rejection of his kingship'.

The exhibition has now closed, but you’ll be able to read more about these documents in Nicholas Vincent’s forthcoming book on Magna Carta for Bodleian Publishing


Barnet pupils learn about Magna Carta

Last week, on 22 June, David Carpenter spoke to school students from Barnet about Magna Carta, as part of the borough's programme of commemorations for the Charter's 800th anniversary. Some 85 students from were present, from Henrietta Barnett School, Harsmonean Boys, Harsmonean Girls, Christ’s College Finchley, St James’ Barnet, St Andrew The Apostle and St Mary’s and St John’s CE School. David discussed the origins, nature, meaning and consequences of Magna Carta, and fielded many very acute questions from the pupils. 

Pictured here with David are students and teachers from St Mary’s and St John’s CE School

Monday, 15 June 2015

English Historical Review: Magna Carta special issue

In celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, English Historical Review has published a special issue showcasing key research on the Charter presented in the journal.

The collection was brought together by the Magna Carta Project’s Nicholas Vincent, who contributes an introductory essay surveying over one hundred years of Magna Carta scholarship.

The special issue includes articles from the early twentieth century by J.H. Round and John C. Fox, as well as two articles by the great Magna Carta scholar Sir James Holt, who died in May 2014 (a third edition of Holt’s Magna Carta will be launched this week at the Magna Carta Conference). An article on Stephen Langton by John Baldwin, who died in February 2015, also features – as does David Carpenter’s 2011 discussion of Langton and the Charter. Ifor Rowlands’ article on the publication of Magna Carta, published posthumously in 2009, is also included.


The articles from the Magna Carta issue, including Nicholas Vincent’s introductory survey, can be downloaded free of charge from the EHR website

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Magna Carta podcasts and videos

Burlington House, home of the Society of Antiquaries
Over the past three years, and in the last few months more than ever, members of the Magna Carta Project have been busy bringing Magna Carta to a diverse range of interest groups and audiences.  

Recently, Nicholas Vincent took part in a discussion on ‘Magna Carta: Our Legal Right to a Healthy Environment’, as part of the Castle Debates series. Chaired by Jonathon Porritt, the debate examined whether the Charter might be a precedent for a long-lasting agreement about environmental stewardship. Here, Nicholas spoke about the concept of natural justice in Magna Carta. You can listed to a podcast of the recording on the Castle Debates website.

Meanwhile, on 2 June, David Carpenter gave a public lecture at Burlington House, home to the Society of Antiquaries, on the definitive issue of Magna Carta given by Henry III in 1225. You can view a video of the talk here. This was part of a public lecture series held as part of the Charter’s anniversary celebrations, in which Stephen Church also spoke, here about the context of Magna Carta. The Society is also holding an exhibition on the Charter, which runs until the end of July.


You can hear David, Nicholas and Stephen at the Magna Carta Conference, coming up on 17-19 June at King's College London and the British Library.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

EconTalk podcast: Nicholas Vincent on Magna Carta

The British Library's Unburnt Magna Carta
The Magna Carta Project's Nicholas Vincent recorded a podcast on Magna Carta recently for EconTalk, part of the Library of Economics and Liberty in the USA. Nick spoke to Russ Roberts, of Stanford University, in depth about the political and economic background to Magna Carta, the events at Runnymede in June 1215 and the Charter's content, as well how Magna Carta took on a totemic significance through the course of the thirteenth century.

You can download the interview as a podcast, and read a transcript, on the EconTalk website - it's a great resource for learning about Magna Carta and its world. 

And you can hear Nick - along with a host of other Magna Carta experts - at the Magna Carta Conference, at King's College London and the British Library, 17-19 June 2015.

Mortimer History Society Spring Conference

The Magna Carta Project’s David Carpenter spoke recently at Mortimer History Society Spring Conference, which took place at Hereford on 16 May. The subject of the conference was ‘Law and Order in Early Medieval England’.



Here’s David with the conference’s other speakers and members of the Society: (l-r) ‘The Royal Executioner’, Elizabeth Chadwick, Matthew Stevens, Paul Dryburgh, Daniel Power, Ian Mortimer, Jason O’Keefe and David Carpenter.


Both David and Dan Power will be speaking at The Magna Carta Conference, 17-19 June 2015: you can see the full programme and access booking through the Conference page

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Surrey in the Age of Magna Carta

Professors Nigel Saul (left) and David Carpenter (right)
at the Surrey History Centre
Magna Carta Project Co-Investigator David Carpenter spoke on Saturday 9th May about 'Magna Carta in the Reign of Henry III', at a Magna Carta study day at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. Here he is with Nigel Saul, of RHUL and the Magna Carta Trust, who spoke about 'Magna Carta in English History'.
You can hear both David and Nigel at the Magna Carta Conference, which will take place at King's College London and the British Library 17-19 June 2015. For more information and to book tickets visit the Magna Carta Project website

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Cheshire Magna Carta

The Cheshire Magna Carta
‘Both by royal permission and the virtues of its earls’, wrote the monk of Chester abbey, Lucian, about 1195, Cheshire ‘is accustomed to answer in its assemblies more to the sword of its prince than the crown of the king’.[i] There has been much debate over how far the earl of Chester - described here as a ‘prince’ - enjoyed exceptional, autonomous, authority in Cheshire in the decades prior to its takeover by the crown in 1237 and the development thereafter of a ‘palatinate’ tradition by a county community keen to assert claims to special privileges. The first formal record that we have of Cheshire as a ‘county palatine’ does not come until the 1290s.[ii]

Be that as it may, Lucian’s statement is testimony to a perception of Cheshire, during the earldom of Ranulf III (1181-1232, though a minor until 1187) as separate from the rest of the kingdom. The issue by Earl Ranulf of a ‘Magna Carta’ for the county, almost certainly in 1215, as a local counterpart to the Runnymede Magna Carta granted by King John, is an example of that separatism in practice. It is fitting, therefore, that Cheshire Local History Association has chosen to mark the 800th anniversary by publishing The Magna Carta of Cheshire, a booklet of just over 100 pages which includes a new translation of Earl Ranulf’s charter, accompanied by a detailed commentary on its context and content. Some of the key features of the charter are also highlighted in the Feature of the Month for May.

In terms of number of words, Earl Ranulf’s charter was about one-third the length of King John’s Magna Carta. There were far fewer chapters or clauses, but among them were some which addressed issues familiar from Runnymede: safeguarding the interests of widows and minors, relaxing restrictions within the earl’s forests and limiting obligations to castle-guard. There was also a promise that concessions should extend beyond the immediate beneficiaries, the Cheshire barons, to their own knights and free tenants - seemingly a deliberate echo of Magna Carta cap. 60 and, if so, good evidence that those who framed the Cheshire charter intended that it would stand within the county in place of the king’s. Alongside these were concessions which had no parallel with those made at Runnymede, including two dealing with claims over ‘avowers’ - fugitives settling in the county - and a remarkable chapter in which the earl itemised those baronial petitions he had turned down. Among these, if the phraseology has been interpreted correctly, was a bid to have hare-coursing laid on whenever the barons were summoned to Chester! Even some of the chapters for which there were precedents at Runnymede incorporated distinctive Cheshire concerns. There was protection of the right to plead ‘thwertnic’ (‘I deny it all’) in the earl’s court, which appears to have had the effect of frustrating prosecutions, and a guarantee that military service would not be enforced beyond the Lyme, the sharply-defined area of wooded upland which delineated Cheshire’s eastern and south-eastern frontier with the rest of England.

It is fair to say that the Magna Carta of Cheshire, though twice published in scholarly editions during the twentieth century[iii] and duly mentioned in passing in several books on Magna Carta, has not until now received the attention it deserves. It offers us an insight into the hopes and fears of the landholding class in an under-populated frontier shire, away from the main centres of royal power in early thirteenth-century England.



[i] Liber Luciani de Laude Cestrie, ed. M.V. Taylor (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire,  LXIV, 1912), p. 65.
[ii] See  e.g. G. Barraclough, ‘The Earldom and County Palatine of Chester’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CIII (1951), pp. 23-57; J.W. Alexander,  ‘New Evidence on the Palatinate of Chester’, English Historical Review, LXXXV (1970), pp. 715-29 and Ranulf of Chester, a Relic of the Conquest (Athens, Georgia, 1983), esp. pp. 60-68; Victoria County History: Cheshire, II, pp. 1-8; D. Crouch, ‘The Administration of the Norman Earldom’ in A.T. Thacker, ed., The Earldom of Chester and its Charters (Journal of Chester Archaeological Society, LXXI, 1991), pp. 69-95.
[iii] Chartulary or Register of St Werburgh, Chester, ed. J. Tait (Chetham Society, new series, LXXIX, LXXXII, 1920, 1923), I, no. 60; Charters of the Anglo-Norman Earls of Chester, c.1071-1237, ed. G. Barraclough (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CXXVI, 1988), no. 394.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Pageants and the People: Bury St Edmunds and Magna Carta

Throughout 2014-15, local communities across the UK are marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with a host of varied festivities – from Odiham's specially commissioned Magna Carta Anthem to Runnymede's parade of picnicking giants. But did you know that Britain has a rich history of commemorating history through such theatrical events? For instance, In 1907, 1959 and 1970 the people of Bury St Edmunds commemorated the Charter by re-enacting events from their town’s past, in three big historical pageants.
The Bury pageant of 1959
Bury’s pageants are being investigated as part of a major AHRC project, The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain. The project looks at the part of pageants in community life and how communities expressed their identity through theatrical re-creations of their past. Members of the project team (from King’s College London, the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow and the Institute of Education) have been looking at twentieth-century pageants from across the UK. You can see some of the weird and wonderful photographs of these events and read commentary by the team in the Pageant of the Month feature – and you can even upload your own pageant photographs and memorabilia.

The Bury pageant of 1907
The project is helping to commemorate the Bury St Edmunds pageants in a special exhibition in Moyse’s Hall, Bury, which will run from 4th May 2015. On display will be rare film footage of the pageants as well as souvenirs produced for the events – visitors will also be able to have their photo taken with life-size figures of pageant characters. Meanwhile, the Redress of the Past website will host an online version of the exhibition, including behind-the-scenes stories and features. Do take a look! 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Cry 'God for Simon, England, and St George'? The First Sighting of England's Patron Saint

Saint George Killing the Dragon
by Bernat Martorell (1434/5)
You might have noticed a theme in recent Features and blogs: banners, battle-flags and heraldry. Continuing along these lines, this post looks at a remarkable event in the story of England's arms: the first appearance of St George's banner on an English battlefield - the standard-bearer being no less than the saint himself. 

The Dover Chronicle records how, at the Battle of Lewes in 1264: ‘there were some in the army at Lewes who saw, clearly, an unknown knight, clad in armour and holding before him an unknown banner, and an archbishop clothed in pontifical garb blessing the baronial army; and they vanished, suddenly, when the battle was done. They were reckoned to be St Thomas the Martyr and St George.’ This, it has been noted, is the first known allusion of this sort to St George,[1] later to become the kingdom’s champion in the Hundred Years War and England’s patron saint.
Why, then, did St George makes his first appearance on the Sussex Downs in 1264? This was a turbulent time in England’s history. Six years earlier, a group of barons had seized power from Henry III, setting up a council to govern in the king’s name.  Henry recovered power briefly but in 1263 Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, led a violent campaign to reimpose conciliar rule. Montfort might have had a dark side (to say the least) but his followers believed him the instrument of God, possessed of a Christ-like willingness to speak and to suffer in a noble cause.
Driven by intense personal piety and the need to encourage his men, Montfort turned to a powerful iconography: that of the crusade. In December 1263, trapped at Southwark between the city gates and the king’s oncoming forces, Montfort had his men signed with the cross front and back.[2] At Lewes, five months later, the earl called upon his men to fight for the kingdom, God, the saints, and mother Church and told them to keep faith. His troops prostrated themselves, stretching out their arms to form a cross.[3] The bishop of Worcester promised for all who fought manfully that day remission of their sins, assuring them that it was glorious to endure torment in the defence of truth. The soldiers then donned crosses on their backs and chests.[4] Montfort and his men were crucesignati. They could fight secure in the knowledge that their struggle earned them merit in the eyes of God and that, if they were to die, then as martyrs they would win a place in Heaven besides the saints themselves.
Battle outside Antioch, BL Yates Thompson 12, f. 29 
This ritual transformation of Montfort and his army into holy warriors had a potent effect – hence the sighting of St George on the battlefield. The vision echoed that of the imperilled soldiers of the First Crusade, at Antioch in 1098. The Gesta Francorum tells how, with the beleaguered crusaders in a state of desperation, there ‘appeared from the mountains a countless host of men on white horses, whose banners were all white.’ The crusaders ‘did not understand what was happening or who these men might be, until they realised that this was the succour sent by Christ, and that the leaders were St George, St Mercurius and St Demetrius.’[5]
By the time that Montfort’s army marched, the First Crusade held a central place in chivalric culture. Its leaders were paragons of knightly prowess, elevated to semi-mythic proportions, their deeds sung across the feasting halls of Europe.[6] In the process, the miraculous appearance of St George and his comrades grew in stature. The Chanson d’Antioche, first put to parchment in the early-thirteenth century, told how the crusaders, battered by enemy blows,
John, duke of Bedford, before St George,
from the Bedford Hours (BL, Add MS. 18850, f.256v
‘saw a company riding proudly down ... [of] more than half a million. They were whiter than the snow that falls at the end of February. St George was out in front at its head with the noble St Maurice, renowned as a stout warrior, and St Demetrius and St Mercurius as standard-bearers ... the bishop of Le Puy restored order: “My lords, there is nothing to be afraid of. These forces are coming to help us. They are the angels sent by God which I told you of yesterday”. When the Turks saw [the reinforcements] they were flung into confusion.’[7]
Like the Christian troops at Antioch, Montfort’s army faced fearful odds but, as the defenders of God and Church, were blessed by divine succour, in the form of the great crusading saint.
In one sense, then – before Henry V at Agincourt and John, duke of Bedford, at Verneuil – Montfort was the first English general to ride out under the banner of St George.




[1] The Song of Lewes, ed. C. L. Kingsford (Oxford, 1963), 85 n.358.
[2] The Historical Works of Gervase of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs (2 vols., Rolls Series, 1880), ii, 230-31.
[3] Chronica Johannis de Oxenedes, ed. H. Ellis (Rolls Series, 1859), 222.
[4] The Chronicle of William de Rishager of the Barons’ War, ed. J. O. Halliwell (Camden Society, 1840), 30-31.
[5] Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum, ed. R. Hill (London, 1962), 69.
[6] See S. A. John, The Creation of a First Crusade Hero: Godfrey of Bouillon in History, Literature and Memory, c.1100-c.1300 (Swansea University PhD thesis, 2012).
[7] The Chanson d’Antioche: An Old French Account of the First Crusade, tr. S. Edgington and C. Sweetenham (Farnham, 2011), 313 (358),

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Lord Edward and the Leopard of Lewes

The royal arms, depicted
by Matthew Paris
(
BL Royal 14 C VII f.53)
If you’ve been following our Feature of the Month, you would have seen Nicholas Vincent’s recent article on ‘Leopards, Lions and Dragons: King John’s Banners and Battle Flags’. Here, Nick explained how the ‘three lions’ device – now the ‘three lions on the shirt’ of England – was first used in the heraldry of the Angevin rulers. King John, for instance, was shown on his seal charging into battle carrying a shield decorated with three lions passant gardant.

As Nick has shown elsewhere, though, from as early as the 1230s the Angevin lions were taken for leopards – indeed in 1251 Henry III ordered a set of robes decorated with ‘three small leopards’ front and back.[1] This was, perhaps, a strange development. The lion was the king of beasts and thus a fitting symbol for a ruler. The leopard, on the other hand (as Isidore of Seville explained in his Etymologies) was ‘born of the adultery of a lion and a pard... and from [this] union this degenerate offspring is created, just like a mule.’ The leopard was a mongrel, ignoble creature. Why the Angevins were happy to swap leopards for lions isn't clear (though it's been suggested that this was a reference to their descent from the most famous of leopards, born of adulterous union – William the Bastard).
A pard, shown in 13th century bestiary (BL, Harley MS 4751, f.6)
The leopard image was one that could quickly be turned against the Angevins. In May 1264, Henry III was defeated on the field of battle at Lewes and taken captive, together with his first-born son and heir, the lord Edward. The victor of Lewes was Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, who was to rule England at the head of a council for the next fifteen months. Montfort and his circle were brilliant propagandists and, in an effort to win support for their regime, commissioned a poem celebrating Montfort’s victory. The Song of Lewes was probably written by a friar (the experts in preaching) and makes good use of a well-known technique of medieval sermons: similitude. This was an emotive device. Preachers, wrote Thomas of Chobham in his Summa on the Art of Preaching, ‘should know the natures of animals and also of other things, because there is nothing which moves the hearts of an audience more’.The author of the Song had learned his lessons well, as is clear in his depiction of the lord Edward:
‘Whereunto shall the noble Edward be compared? Perhaps he will be rightly called a leopard.... A lion by pride and fierceness, he is by inconstancy and changeableness a pard, changing his words and promise, cloaking himself by pleasant speech.’
The author might have chosen any number of beasts to describe the heir to the throne. But he picked the very one depicted on the royal flag and shield, with which Edward would have ridden into battle at Lewes. The author played on the ambiguity of the Angevin emblem: Edward shared some characteristics with the lion (courage and pride) but not honour. In order to hammer home his point, the poet invented characteristics for the pard. This mythical beast was known (according to Isidore of Seville) for its swiftness and ability to bring down its prey with a single leap. But here the pard is also faithless – a foil for the poet’s hero, Simon de Montfort, who refuses to abandon his oath to the Provisions of Oxford and would ‘flee neither torment nor death, for the sake of truth’.
An example of Edward I's seal held at Salisbury Cathedral

Ultimately, it was Edward who was to have the last word. At the Battle of Evesham, in 1265, he ordered that Montfort be hunted down and butchered on the battlefield, his corpse dismembered. The great seal of Edward I was to show the three lions/leopards in detail, not only on the king’s shield but also on his horse’s battledress, while elsewhere Edward was depicted before a splendid cloth of state strewn with golden lions/leopards on gules.




[1] N. C. Vincent, ‘The seals of King Henry II and his court’, in Seals and their Context in the Middle Ages, ed. P. Schofield (Oxford, 2015), 7-33, at 18.