Plough Monday is the traditional start of the English agricultural year. While local practices may vary, Plough Monday is generally the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), 6 January. References to Plough Monday date back to the late 15th century. The day before Plough Monday is somet... Read More...
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I tend to restrict my historical ramblings on this page to pewter related subjects so this one may seem to be a bit off-piste. Not really though, as candles and pilgrim badges were often closely linked, with some medieval shrines giving the rights to sell pilgrim badges to the wax chandlers. Sometimes the wax chandlers… Read More...
I tend to restrict my historical ramblings on this page to pewter related subjects so this one may seem to be a bit off-piste. Not really though, as candles and pilgrim badges were often closely linked, with some medieval shrines giving the rights to sell pilgrim badges to the wax chandlers. Sometimes the wax chandlers assumed those rights unlawfully: Such was the case in the 13th century with Bartholomew the candlemaker, who found himself excommunicated for illicitly trading in pilgrim badges at Le-Puy-en-Velay. Naughty boy! Having said all this, this item isn’t even an actual candle, but it does look rather Christmasy...
This is a very rare item, being one of only two known surviving examples (with those two being a matched pair).
It looks like a candle but is, in fact, a bit of medieval trickery. It’s a 14th century candle-stock; made from wax, elaborately decorated with paint and gold leaf and large at 550mm, but hollow and therefore totally useless as a candle. Missing from the top is a metal ring that would have allowed a small and relatively cheap functional candle to be fixed atop the candle-stock. It would have then sat in a church (probably on an altar) and, from a distance, with the functional candle burning, would have looked most impressive, giving the impression of a large and extravagant candle while only actually burning the small replaceable bit. This example is in the collection of the British Museum while its matching pair is owned by Jesus College Cambridge but is on loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
So how have a pair of these rare items survived? This example came to the British Museum in the 1960’s from the Kett family - George Kett having been a renowned victorian carpenter who worked on many church restorations in the 19th century. The other example was supposedly found by the famous victorian architect and designer Augustus Pugin during restoration of Jesus College Cambridge’s chapel. George Kett had worked with Pugin at Jesus College, so this gives us the most likely story - that Pugin or Kett found them and, for whatever reason, divided their lucky finds equally.
Jesus College Cambridge was not founded until 1496, with the college chapel occupying the former church of the small Benedictine convent of St Radegund. This was a very poor priory - frequently in debt, mismanaged and beset by bad luck. In 1373 the priory’s refectory roof was leaking so badly that the room couldn’t be used in bad weather - repair apparently being impossible due to the burden of debt and taxation. It’s likely that these candle-stocks were the possessions of St Radegund Priory and possibly one of the few rich items in an otherwise poor church. For some unknown reason they may have been hidden away, only to have been discovered by Augustus Pugin or one of his associates some 500 years later.
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Here is a little late medieval pewter artefact from my collection with an interesting & very seasonal history. At first glance it could be mistaken for a coin, which isn’t surprising as it is based on a medieval penny. The bishop’s mitre on the obverse is the clue, for this is what is known as… Read More...
Here is a little late medieval pewter artefact from my collection with an interesting & very seasonal history. At first glance it could be mistaken for a coin, which isn’t surprising as it is based on a medieval penny. The bishop’s mitre on the obverse is the clue, for this is what is known as a Boy Bishop token.
Today, 6th December is the feast of St Nicholas and the day when one of the medieval church’s strangest annual traditions began. Many cathedrals (although perhaps not all) would elect a Boy Bishop from the junior members of the church - often from the choristers or, where there was an attached school, from the scholars. He would be elected by his peers, either on St Nicholas’ day itself or St Nicholas’ eve and then dressed in full episcopal robes, usually specially made for the occasion at considerable cost. The Boy Bishop would assume the full duties of a bishop, sometimes just on St Nicholas’ Day or sometimes on Holy Innocents’ Day (28th December), while in some places he would rule for the entire period between the two dates. While in power the Boy Bishop had the authority to conduct all of the duties of the real bishop, with the notable exception of taking mass and he would expect to receive the respect usually given to a bishop. In some places, the Boy Bishop would make visitations to outlying churches, hold services and distribute alms. The culmination was a sermon preached by the Boy Bishop followed by a feast. While all this was going on, the real Bishop and senior clergy took on the usual duties of the choir-boys or junior clergy.
Some places issued tokens such as my artefact & these would be distributed to townsfolk as gifts, the recipients being able to exchange them with traders for goods, or maybe they would choose to keep them as devotional tokens associated with the cult of St Nicholas. The vast majority of surviving English Boy Bishop tokens have been found in East Anglia and date from between the 1480s to the 1530s. It’s thought very likely that most English tokens originate from Bury St Edmunds. My token reads on the obverse as ‘sanctus nicholaus’ & on the reverse as ‘ave rex gentis’ - hail (the) King of the people.
As might be expected when authority is suspended, the Boy Bishop festivities sometimes got out of hand, with fighting, riots and even murders being reported. At Salisbury in 1137, one of the canons was beaten to death by the Boy Bishop’s retinue - perhaps a case of old scores being settled. In Paris in 1367, the Boy Bishop himself was murdered during a fight with the city watch. In 1249, the Pope wrote to the Bishop of Regensburg to complain about the behaviour of the Boy Bishop and his retinue who had been accused of molesting the monks at a nearby abbey!
We don’t know exactly when & from where this strange custom originated, although mention of Boy Bishops occurs in church records as early as the 10th century. Wherever it came from, its popularity spread and by the 13th century it was widely practised throughout Europe. Its origins are undoubtedly ancient and it is impossible to avoid the similarities between this tradition and the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia where misrule and role reversal seem to have played a central part. The medieval secular world joined in with its own similar custom where great households would appoint a commoner as the ‘Lord of Misrule’ who presided over the Christmas festivities. It’s clear that this anarchic Christmas tradition of role reversal has very deep roots.
Although these customs were abolished in England at the time of the Reformation, this is a medieval tradition that refuses to totally die. In recent years, some churches and cathedrals have reinstated their Boy Bishops, albeit in a reduced form. Similarly, the Christmas tradition of role reversal survives in the secular world: The military, at least in the UK, has a tradition where the officers serve a Christmas meal to their subordinates and in a short while my own children will have their school Christmas lunch served to them by their teachers. Sadly, the children are never told the long history behind the custom, which is a pity, but I’m just happy that this particularly odd medieval tradition continues.
Pictured is my penny size boy Bishop token (both sides), plus an original stone mould for casting them. As you can see from the mould, Boy Bishop tokens came in two sizes - penny or groat size.
Happy St Nicholas' Day.
A FULL TOUR OF BOSWORTH BATTLEFIELD ~ YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SEE THE BATTLEFIELD BEFORE IT IS SPOILT FOREVER~ with latest interpretation based on recent archaeological finds and view of the battlefield from viewpoint of all 3 protagonists especially that of Henry Tudor which will not be possible if the western part of battlefield is… Read More...
A FULL TOUR OF BOSWORTH BATTLEFIELD ~ YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SEE THE BATTLEFIELD BEFORE IT IS SPOILT FOREVER~
with latest interpretation based on recent archaeological finds and view of the battlefield from viewpoint of all 3 protagonists especially that of Henry Tudor which will not be possible if the western part of battlefield is built on in 2019.
Our Tour Guide will be Richard Mackinder
Richard worked at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre for 26 years and worked with Glenn Foard on the archaeological survey (2005 – 2008) and has continued archaeological research ever since with the Ambion Historical & Archaeological Group (AHARG), a dedicated team of metal detectorists carefully plotting every find.
We hope that each tour will include descendants of those who fought in the battle and leading historians.
We only have room for 25 participants on each tour
Meet: Bosworth Battlefield Visitor Centre, Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire CV13 0AD
for 2.5 hour tour, including coach and briefing notes
Cost: £ 25
Pay on the Day
(NB please let me know in in good time if you cannot come so that somebody else can have the ticket) .
The Visitor Centre Tithe Barn is OPEN for Sunday Roast lunch at 1pm.
3 courses including soup, roast (or vegetarian alternative)
apple crumble or treacle sponge - all local produce - £14.85
Please indicate in your email if you would like Sunday lunch
so we can give the visitor centre an idea of numbers.
Then you can enjoy the visitor centre and its excellent bookshop and then go on to visit local villages and churches such as Daddlington
TOUR DATES ARE:
Sunday, December 9th
Sunday, December 16th
To get your NUMBERED ticket all you need to do is to email the organiser with your booking and provide your mobile number to:
Kelvin van Hasselt – Founder & Vice President - The Battlefields Trust
Tel: 01263 – 513 560
TICKETS WILL BE SERVED ON A FIRST COME FIRST SERVED BASIS
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