Vegetation

A couple of interesting BBC links:

1. Alastair Sooke investigates the so-called “Green Man”:

A mask-like face engulfed in undergrowth, leaves sprouting eerily from his wretched mouth. Sometimes beautiful, often sinister, this mysterious figure – so common in medieval sculpture – is known as ‘the Green Man’.

In his heyday, the Green Man could be found glaring in churches across Europe. Since then, he has permeated folklore, popular culture and literature.

But who is he? And where did he come from? Is he a positive symbol of springtime renewal? Or an image of dereliction and decay – a dark reminder of man’s mortality?

Find out more at the link. The video references a 1978 book on the topic by Kathleen Basford, which is still in print.

2. News from Somerset:

Bath’s Sydney Gardens to be restored

Georgian pleasure gardens which were loved by Jane Austen are among six parks to have been awarded a total of £13.8m in lottery cash.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, which have fallen into decline, have been given £2.74m to help with restoration.

The novelist lived near the park when she moved to the city in 1801.

Other parks to get cash include South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough, Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford and Ellington Park in Ramsgate.

Fairhaven Lake and Gardens on the Fylde coast and Stevens Park in Quarry Bank, Dudley, have also received Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money.

The Grade II registered Sydney Gardens were designed in the late 18th Century, and became Austen’s local park when she moved to the city.

More at the link.

Lady Godiva

Was pleased to receive a Christmas treat from a college friend of mine: a box of Godiva chocolates. The company’s well-known logo features Lady Godiva riding naked on a horse.

Wikipedia.

The Godiva episode is one of the more popular medieval legends, even outside of England, where it is alleged to have taken place (the company was founded in Belgium in 1926). The idea is that Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057), oppressed his subjects with heavy taxation. His wife Godgifu (Godiva) repeatedly besought Leofric to change his mind, to no avail. Finally, an exasperated Leofric said that he would grant relief, if Godgifu  rode naked through the streets of Coventry. His request was seemingly impossible by the standards of aristocratic feminine behavior, but Godgifu took him up on it and rode through the town clothed in nothing but her long hair (although she ordered everyone to stay indoors first; only a certain “Peeping Tom” violated the edict).

Leofric and Godgifu were real people. Godgifu died between 1066 and 1086, i.e. some time after the Norman Conquest; unlike most Anglo-Saxons, she retained her lands and position in the face of the regime change. The legend of her naked ride started to be told in the thirteenth century, so this is an interesting example of medieval medievalism. A good book on the phenomenon is Daniel Donahue, Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend (2002), which details the erotic, aristocratic, and decadent strands of the legend that made it so appealing as the name of maker of fine chocolates.

“Lazy, Arrogant Cowards”

From the Telegraph (hat tip: Chris Berard):

Lazy, arrogant cowards: how English saw French in 12th century

A twelfth-century poem newly translated into English casts fresh light on the origin of today’s Francophobic stereotypes.

Although it is meant to be an ‘entente cordiale’, the relationship between the English and the French has been anything but neighbourly.

When the two nations have not been clashing on the battlefield or the sporting pitch they have been trading insults from ‘frogs’ to ‘rosbifs’.

Now the translation of the poem has shown just how deep-rooted in history the rivalry and name-calling really is.

Written between 1180 and 1194, a century after the Norman Conquest united England and Normandy against a common enemy in France, the 396-line poem was part of a propaganda war between London and Paris.

Poet Andrew de Coutances, an Anglo-Norman cleric, describes the French as godless, arrogant and lazy dogs. Even more stingingly, he accuses French people of being cowardly, and calls them heretics and rapists.

It has taken David Crouch, a professor of medieval history at Hull University, months to complete the translation of what is one of the earliest examples of anti-French diatribe.

The poem was written at a time when Philip II of France was launching repeated attacks on Normandy, taking advantage of in-fighting within the English royal family.

Prof Crouch says that the poem is of great interest to historians because of its “racial rhetoric”, which was deployed by Anglo-Norman intellectuals in support of their kings’ bitter political and military struggle.

Extracts from the poem may be read at the link. I have enjoyed hearing Prof. Crouch present at Kalamazoo. It’s interesting how this is an example of the antiquity of ethnic animus; it’s not as if it was invented yesterday and then projected onto the past.

Queen Elizabeth

From the BBC:

Elizabeth I is arguably one of the most recognisable and iconic monarchs in history, yet the careful curation of her image and the way she was depicted throughout her reign means her true appearance has remained a mystery.

“Propaganda portraiture, once the reserve of the rich and powerful, is now in the hands of every teenager. The ability to curate your image to present a persona to the world. Elizabeth I pioneered this syndrome” says Mat Collishaw, an artist who has embarked on the task of recreating the true face of the Virgin Queen.

To bring her back to life, Collishaw has used a combination of modern technology such as digital scanning, 3D printing and animatronics. His very modern portrait, named The Mask of Youth, now sits face to face with its original inspiration, the famous Armada portrait at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London.

“I’m creating a mask which attempts to reveal the truth of her actual appearance but also provides other mechanical elements which suggest that beneath the surface, behind the mask, her mind is busy making decisions and calculations that no one is privy to.” says Collishaw.

Click the link to watch a 5-minute video of Collishaw’s work.

England at the World Cup

So the English national football team lost yesterday in the semi-final of the World Cup. Their first goal was a thing of beauty but it came too early, giving Croatia the chance to tie the game and then score a winning goal in extra time. The English fans’ continuous chanting of “it’s coming home!” can now only apply to the third place trophy, which England will play for on Saturday against Belgium, a rematch of a pool stage game that England lost 1-0. So England, where the game was invented and which hosts the Premier League, the world’s top professional soccer league, with such monumental clubs as Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal, must suffer yet another disappointment from their national side.

At least this time the team made it to the semi-finals. They did not exit after the pool stages like they did four years ago, they were not eliminated in the first round by Iceland like they were two years ago, and they were not sent home after losing a penalty shootout as they have done consistently since 1996. In this tournament, by contrast, they actually won a shootout (in their Round-of-16 game against Colombia), and thus have broken that particular curse.

Wikipedia.

All this wouldn’t matter nearly so much had not England won the World Cup in 1966, symbolized by the single star displayed over the team’s coat of arms. Why have they not managed to repeat this feat in the intervening half-century? What has gone wrong?! I found a Financial Times article that I thought was interesting and revealing:

Wikipedia

“Ee-aye-addio, we won the cup!” sing the crowd. England’s captain Bobby Moore climbs the steps to the royal box at Wembley, where a yellow-clad 40-year-old Queen Elizabeth hands him the little gold Jules Rimet trophy. She, he and it all look gorgeous in the London sunshine.

The Technicolor moment in 1966 when England’s football team won their only World Cup is a high point of postwar English history. It also serves as a constant reprimand to the nation’s present. National decline is a powerful notion in modern English history, and England’s failure to win a football tournament since that July day seems to sum up that decline. That’s why the English often turn 1966 into a symbol. The argument then goes that Moore’s “greatest generation” won because they were better men than today’s spoiled overpaid lot. However, if you want to understand why England won then and have lost since, symbolism doesn’t get you very far. In an attempt to demystify 1966, I read the history and crunched data.

Read the whole thing, which examines the roles of home field advantage, changes in the game, and the ever-present quality of luck, among other factors.

Windsor Castle

From the Independent:

Fascinating images show original Windsor Castle after it was built to defend against medieval Home Counties

Research sheds new light on origins of England’s most famous royal palace outside London

Historians have reconstructed what Britain’s largest medieval fortress – Windsor Castle – originally looked like when it was built to keep the Home Counties under control some nine and a half centuries ago.

Using a series of archaeological discoveries made over recent decades, researchers have been able to calculate that the original 11th century fortress, built by William the Conqueror, was around a fifth of the size of the current castle.

They have also discovered that, although it has always been a Royal fortress, the land on which it stands had to be rented from a private landlord for the first 475 years of the castle’s existence.

More at the link.

Book Review

From The American Interest:

Addicted to Addiction

A new book about early modern England reveals an eternal truth: We are all addicted to something, and maybe that’s not a bad thing, so long as we choose well.

The first addicts to stumble across the threshold of the English language, refugees from Latin, were not only drunks or gamblers. Their ranks included devout Christians and scholars. Today we argue about whether addiction is a sin or a sickness, but when the term first entered our language it could name a virtue and an accomplishment: In the 16th century “addiction” covered many forms of “service, debt, and dedication,” including the pious Christian’s zeal to obey God’s every command. Rebecca Lemon’s new study, Addiction and Devotion in Early Modern England, does not merely trace an etymological development. She takes the earliest meanings of “addiction” not as a cute quirk of linguistic history, but as a challenge to our contemporary shared understandings of substance abuse, political sovereignty, religious faith, and love.

Lemon looks at a range of sources, from translations of John Calvin’s sermons to pamphlets promoting anti-drunkenness laws, but her primary focus is on plays and poetry. The first chapter looks at Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus; then we get Twelfth Night, the Henry IV and Henry V plays, and Othello; and lastly, literary portrayals of the custom of “health-drinking.” Throughout, Lemon uses other sources to explore the artistic works’ portrayals of addiction: For Faustus we get religious texts on God’s grace as the power determining whether someone is addicted to God or to vice; for Othello, with its crimes of passion, shifting legal rulings on the culpability of people who commit crimes while drunk.

Lemon begins in the 1530s, when “addiction” begins to appear in English to designate both distorted desire for wine or riches and properly exclusive, single-minded desire for Christ. In 1534 George Joye asks God to “make faste thye promises to thy servant which is addicte unto thy worshyppe.” For these Protestant writers, Catholics were “addict to their supersticyons,” whereas they should be “addict unto none but to christ,” “addicted to praiers,” to “the meaneynge of the scripture.” Lemon’s Protestant sources share a suspicion of anything too material, too embodied—fasting, kneeling—as if Catholic sacraments were the original substance abuse. Lemon quotes a translation of the Letter of St. Paul to Titus which opens, “I Paule my selfe the addict servant & obeyer, not of Moses lawe as I was once, but of God the father, and ambassador of his sonne Jesus Christ.” That Paul should be an addict is obvious to his English readers; the important question is to whom he ought addict himself.

More at the link.

Anglo-American

On February 12, at the annual conference of the National Sheriffs’ Association, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the expression “Anglo-American,” and some people have objected. This adjective appeared in an off-the-cuff digression (or at least, not included in his remarks as prepared for delivery); they may be seen in a YouTube video of the event, courtesy of NBC. A transcription:

Every sheriff in America, since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people, through the elected process. The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office. I know this, you know this, we want to be partners, we don’t want to be bosses. We want to strengthen you, and help you be more effective in your work.

What’s so wrong with this, you ask? Well, the adjective “Anglo-American” is “problematic” for some people, connoting an America founded by and for white people of British descent (cf. “Anglo-Saxon“) – the antithesis of what we want for America today. On the Facebook group Teaching the Middle Ages, one professor claimed that “Anglo-American” was “racist” and “an alt-right term,” and suggested the use of “Common Law” as a substitute. And yet, America really did inherit certain things from Britain, and law professor Sasha Volokh, our guest speaker this week, pointed out that “Anglo-American law” and its variants are perfectly legitimate terms, and used all the time (specifically, courtesy Westlaw, 1695 times in U.S. state and federal cases, and 9449 times in legal periodicals). Moreover, “Common Law” isn’t precisely the same thing, given that the Anglo-American legal tradition includes “various administrative and constitutional principles, plus a bunch of procedural rules, which are not thought of as being part of Common Law.” As for the alt-right: well, they talk about the Constitution, too, “but that’s no excuse for us not to also talk about it.” He then quoted some decidedly non-alt-right authors who used the terms “Anglo-American law” or “Anglo-American legal [system, tradition, etc.],” people such as Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Brennan of the US Supreme Court, and President Barack Obama himself.

That sounds pretty convincing to me. But what if you dislike Jeff Sessions anyway, and are not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt? Well, you can adopt the strategy of one Ken Mondschein. In an article on The Public Medievalist, published on Thursday, Mondschein conceded that Sessions was “technically correct” and “factually correct,” and that “Anglo-American” is “actually a very common legal term, [which is] is not typically racially charged.” But he then proceeded to use the same rhetoric as that of your high-maintenance ex-girlfriend: “Even if I’m wrong, I’m right.” Essentially, everyone else can use the term, but not Sessions, because everyone knows he’s a baddie. Sessions’s use of the term was “incredibly fraught” and “widely interpreted as being a racist dog whistle.” That he addressed his remarks to a group of sheriffs made it even worse: the medieval office of shire-reeve came to be dominated by the local gentry, and in America also represented the locals… who used it to keep black people down. (I’m not denying that this may have been a problem once, but whether law enforcement is centralized or decentralized is a discussion we can have independent of its racial implications – or medieval roots, for that matter.)

Whether he realized it or not, Sessions’ statement had two references to medieval history buried deep within it: the idea of the power of sheriffs, and the idea of “Anglo-American” law. In this we can read Sessions’ words as a part of a disturbing pattern, where pieces of the medieval past are used to justify white supremacy….

Sessions likely did not realize the medieval context of his words. Whether he meant it as a medievalism or not, however, Sessions’ comments are part of a frustrating pattern where parts of our culture with medieval origins are weaponized to justify racist policies. It falls to each of us to remain vigilant, and to continue to push back against the use of the past to justify racism in the present.

I am reminded again of the bone-headed stupidity of the sorts of people who go around policing the discourse in this way, claiming to know you better than you know you, because they learned how to sniff out the real meaning of your words in their trendy sociology classes.* Why focus on the alleged problems of “sheriff” or “Anglo-American,” when in another part of Sessions’s speech, we read that:

Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed. It weakens the criminals and the cartels. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and makes it the material support of law enforcement. In departments across this country, funds that were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives. And there is nothing wrong with adoptive forfeitures. There can be no federal adoption if the forfeiture is not called for under federal law. In many cases, adoptive forfeitures represent great partnerships between federal and state law enforcement.

Adoptive forfeitures are also deeply corrupting to law enforcement at all levels, a violation of the fourth and fifth amendments, and an unfair hobbling of the defendant (how can you mount an effective defense, if your assets have all been seized?). So much for dog whistles: here is Sessions clearly and publicly endorsing state-sanctioned corruption (and something quite outside the Anglo-American tradition, by the way**). Why can’t we pay attention to that? Alas, apparently it’s a mere bagatelle compared to what Sessions might have meant by “Anglo-American,” if you don’t like him to begin with and you squint at his remarks in just the right way.

The late great David Foster Wallace (at 55) touched on a similar issue once:

Forget Stalinization or Logic 101-level equivocations, though. There’s a grosser irony about Politically Correct English. This is that PCE purports to be the dialect of progressive reform but is in fact — in its Orwellian substitution of the euphemisms of social equality for social equality itself — of vastly more help to conservatives and the U.S. status quo than traditional [language] prescriptions ever were. Were I, for instance, a political conservative who opposed taxation as a means of redistributing national wealth, I would be delighted to watch PCE progressives spend their time and energy arguing over whether a poor person should be described as “low-income” or “economically disadvantaged” or “pre-prosperous” rather than constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation or higher marginal tax rates on corporations. (Not to mention that strict codes of egalitarian euphemism serve to burke the sorts of painful, unpretty, and sometimes offensive discourse that in a pluralistic democracy leads to actual political change rather than symbolic political change. In other words, PCE functions as a form of censorship, and censorship always serves the status quo.)

* Yes, I know that one of the most important tasks of an intellectual is to discern meaning that might not be immediately apparent. I continue to be amazed, however, at how this hidden meaning, as exposed by your average academic, is usually predetermined, and no more true than its opposite.

** Perhaps this is why some people are so triggered by “Anglo-American.” The Anglo-American legal tradition endorses such things as presumption of innocence, reasonable standards of evidence, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. Such quaint relics of the bourgeois past are not what we need now – we want revolutionary justice, comrade!

Trade ya!

Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, has given his permission for the famous Bayeux Tapestry to visit England for the first time ever (or rather, for the first time since it was manufactured at Canterbury in the eleventh century, if you subscribe to this theory). Some believe this is an attempt at enticing the Brits to abandon Brexit. If so, perhaps the notice that Winchester has offered to loan the Winchester Round Table to France in response is an attempt at diffusing this. Anthropologically, the Brits will have met their obligation to reciprocate with a similar loan, and they can proceed with Brexit otherwise. (Although Councillor Roy Perry claims that it is only to get the Bayeux Tapestry displayed in Winchester and not in London.) My thanks to Chris Berard for the link.

The Winchester Round Table is not really from King Arthur’s reign, of course. It was fashioned during the reign of King Edward I (1272-1307), and painted during the reign of King Henry VIII (1509-47) – thus the famous double “Tudor” rose at the center. It is on display in Winchester Castle. A good book about it is Martin Biddle, King Arthur’s Round Table: An Archaeological Investigation (Boydell, 2000).

Wikipedia