Shall These Bones Live?

From The Telegraph (hat tip: Paul Halsall):

Bones hidden in church revealed to be remains of one of England’s earliest saints

The discovery has been hailed as a ‘stunning result of national importance’

Bones hidden away by monks during the Reformation have been confirmed as belonging to one of England’s earliest saints who founded the country’s first nunnery. 

The seventh-century remains of St Eanswythe, a Kentish Royal Saint who was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings, have finally been identified by historians.

The relics survived the upheavals of the Dissolution of the Monasteries – in which King Henry VIII aimed to destroy the monastic system – after being squirrelled away in a lead box behind a church wall in Kent.

Her remains were discovered in 1885. However, it is only now – more than 1,300 years after her death and after carbon dating her teeth and bones – that historians believe they have finally identified England’s first abbess and one of the country’s earliest saints.

The remarkable discovery was made by Kent archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, who confirmed that human remains kept at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe Folkestone are almost certainly those of the saint.

The discovery has been hailed as “a stunning result of national importance” and has drawn comparisons with the exhumation of King Richard III after DNA confirmed that bones found beneath a Leicester car park in 2012 were those of the former king of England.

Read the whole thing, and the Finding Eanswythe website.

Queen Elizabeth and Tacitus

News of an interesting discovery from Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) – Elizabeth I, one of England’s best-loved monarchs, has been revealed to be the translator behind an English version of an ancient text by Tacitus who described the high politics, treachery and debauchery of the Roman elite.

A 16th Century translation of the first book of Tacitus’s Annals – written in elegant italic hand on ruled paper – has been shown to be Elizabeth’s after an analysis of handwriting, her style of writing and the type of paper used.

“The manuscript translation of Tacitus Annales now preserved at Lambeth Palace Library is the work of Elizabeth I,” John-Mark Philo wrote in The Review of English Studies.

“Elizabeth goes to some lengths to retain the density of Tacitus’s prose and his celebrated brevity,” Philo wrote. “She follows the contours of the Latin syntax with remarkable commitment, even at the risk of obscuring the sense in English.”

Erased Females

A couple of recent news stories suggest that certain individual women in history had their achievements stolen by men.

1. Elizabeth Winkler in The Atlantic:

Doubts about whether William Shakespeare (who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died in 1616) really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writing itself. Alternative contenders—Francis Bacon; Christopher Marlowe; and Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, prominent among them—continue to have champions, whose fervor can sometimes border on fanaticism. In response, orthodox Shakespeare scholars have settled into dogmatism of their own. Even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s son. The time had come, I felt, to tug at the blinkers of both camps and reconsider the authorship debate: Had anyone ever proposed that the creator of those extraordinary women might be a woman? Each of the male possibilities requires an elaborate theory to explain his use of another’s name. None of the candidates has succeeded in dethroning the man from Stratford. Yet a simple reason would explain a playwright’s need for a pseudonym in Elizabethan England: being female….

The prevailing view… has been that no women in Renaissance England wrote for the theater, because that was against the rules. Religious verse and translation were deemed suitable female literary pursuits; “closet dramas,” meant only for private reading, were acceptable. The stage was off-limits. Yet scholars have lately established that women were involved in the business of acting companies as patrons, shareholders, suppliers of costumes, and gatherers of entrance fees. What’s more, 80 percent of the plays printed in the 1580s were written anonymously, and that number didn’t fall below 50 percent until the early 1600s. At least one eminent Shakespeare scholar, Phyllis Rackin, of the University of Pennsylvania, challenges the blanket assumption that the commercial drama pouring forth in the period bore no trace of a female hand. So did Virginia Woolf, even as she sighed over the obstacles that would have confronted a female Shakespeare: “Undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned.”

Emilia Bassano [was] born in London in 1569 to a family of Venetian immigrants—musicians and instrument-makers who were likely Jewish—she was one of the first women in England to publish a volume of poetry (suitably religious yet startlingly feminist, arguing for women’s “Libertie” and against male oppression). Her existence was unearthed in 1973 by the Oxford historian A. L. Rowse, who speculated that she was Shakespeare’s mistress, the “dark lady” described in the sonnets. In Emilia, the playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm goes a step further: Her Shakespeare is a plagiarist who uses Bassano’s words for Emilia’s famous defense of women in Othello.

Could Bassano have contributed even more widely and directly? The idea felt like a feminist fantasy about the past—but then, stories about women’s lost and obscured achievements so often have a dreamlike quality, unveiling a history different from the one we’ve learned. Was I getting carried away, reinventing Shakespeare in the image of our age? Or was I seeing past gendered assumptions to the woman who—like Shakespeare’s heroines—had fashioned herself a clever disguise? Perhaps the time was finally ripe for us to see her.

More at the link.

2. From the Herald Sun (Melbourne):

Was King Tut a fraud? New evidence points to a female pharaoh who ruled before him

Why do so many of Pharoah Tutankhamun’s famous golden statues have breasts? Turns out, it’s not him. It’s his sisters. They ruled Egypt before him — and achieved everything the boy king is credited with. But they were written out of history — until now.

That’s one new theory that is beginning to emerge from fresh forensic analysis of the rich relics found bundled in the famous tomb found by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Modern Egyptologists are revisiting the clues, reshaping the fragmentary puzzle of what exactly happened during one of history’s most tumultuous times….

[After Akhenaten’s death,] Princess Neferneferuaten took the throne, the professor says, with the teenage Meritaten adopting the ritual role of chief royal consort.

“It looks like after one year, Meritaten had herself crowned as pharaoh, as well,” she says.

It wasn’t without precedent. Or controversy.

Egypt had had female pharaohs before — Hatshepsut and Sobekneferu.

And Akhenaten had already done something radical: Among his revolutionary acts was to make his favourite queen, Nefertiti, a full equal in rank and status. Essentially, a co-pharaoh.

Their looted statues — one wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, the other of Lower Egypt — were later bundled among Tutankhamun’s possessions.

The bejewelled plate of the goddess Nut also found among Tut’s treasures indicates it was these child queens that had set about restoring the old religions and moving the capital back to Thebes. Not Tutankhamun, as is widely reported.

But the priests who cemented King Tut’s rule hated Akhenaten with a vengeance for having stripped away their gods, their wealth and their power. And they wold have been scandalised by any following co-female rule, Professor Angenot says.

More at the link. I am not endorsing either of these, but I’m not discounting them entirely; sometimes women really have been written out of history because men wanted it that way. However, it is always tempting to go too far in the opposite direction for similarly political reasons. Whom to believe? (Although I confess to being a Stratfordian myself; I found James Shapiro’s Contested Will to be convincing.)

November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

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.

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.

Lady Di

This day marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, at the age of 36 in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Her lover Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul also perished in the wreck. Paul had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, and had been driving over 100 km/h, in an attempt to evade a number of photographers chasing them on motorcycles. 

Monogram of Diana. Wikipedia.

Lady Di’s relative youth and the violence of her death were shocking, of course, but what was most remarkable was the great outpouring of sympathy for the deceased. She had admitted to cheating on Prince Charles prior to their divorce and since that time had led a sort of Eurotrash lifestyle, but to a lot of people these things then became badges of “authenticity,” especially when compared to the rest of the allegedly stuffy, uptight royal family – her flaws became her virtues. Press coverage was nonstop, a great carpet of flowers and teddy bears appeared in front of Buckingham Palace, and even Prime Minister Jean Chrétien ordered flags to fly at half-mast in Canada. The Queen remained at Balmoral, her Scottish summer residence, in the week following the crash; by Thursday the headlines were reading “Show us you care!” – the idea being that King George VI had refused to leave London during the Blitz, so Her Majesty should come down to be with her people in their hour of need. I recall someone later writing that this drift “deserved a special Pulitzer for ass-saving improvisation,” as it usefully deflected peoples’ animosity away from the “paparazzi,” whom they blamed for Diana’s death.

Coat of arms of Diana during her marriage to Prince Charles – i.e. the Spencer arms, impaled with the arms of the Prince of Wales. Wikipedia.

There are theories that World War I started because all the Events of 1914 took place starting on June 28 – i.e. during the summer – and that people would have been a lot less hotheaded if the Archduke had been assassinated in January.* Summertime is the “silly season,” and my personal theory is that the higher temperatures and extended daylight hours made the reaction to Diana’s death a lot more intense than it otherwise would have been.

Coat of arms of Diana following her divorce – i.e. the Spencer arms, on a lozenge. Wikipedia.

Fortunately, it burned itself out. It reminded me of a medieval political assassination (e.g. that of Thomas of Lancaster or Simon de Montfort); often, such deaths were followed by a burst of miracles at the tomb of the deceased, but these tended to taper off as grief for him waned, and without the active involvement of interested parties, the initial sympathy generally did not evolve into a sustained saint’s cult. I seem to remember that a memorial march on the first anniversary of Diana’s death attracted much fewer people than anticipated, and two years ago the Express newspaper found her gravesite at Althorp, Northants., to be in an unkept state. Furthermore, I am really glad that the Queen has not abandoned her old-school reserve and devotion to duty, that she has not started oversharing her personal feelings with celebrity journalists or publicly working out at the gym, because that’s what people expect these days – and that she retains the respect and affection of her subjects for it. Christopher Hitchens was perhaps too harsh when he called Diana a “silly, trivial woman” and a “simpering Bambi narcissist,” but the revelation that she had borderline personality disorder in retrospect makes complete sense and suggests that she was not really someone worthy of admiration.

Royal Standard for members of the Royal Family without assigned arms (i.e. the royal arms, within a bordure ermine). This covered Diana’s coffin during her funeral, “the most hyped non-event in history” (Hitchens, again). Wikipedia.

* Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring (1989):

The days of that summer were long and full of sunshine; the nights were mild and moonlit. That it was a beautiful and unforgettable season is part of the lore of that summer of 1914, part of its poignancy and mystique…. The fine days and nights of that July and August encouraged Europeans to venture out of their homes and to display their emotions and prejudices in public, in the streets and squares of their cities and towns. The massive exhibitions of public sentiment played a crucial role in determining the fate of Europe that summer. Had it been a wet and cold summer, like that of the previous year or the next one, would a fairground atmosphere conductive to soap-box oratory and mass hysteria have developed? Would leaders then have been prepared to declare war so readily? There is evidence that the jingoistic crowd scenes in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Paris, and London, in the last days of July and in the early days of August, pushed the political and military leadership of Europe toward confrontation.

Rex inutilis

An interesting post on the OUP blog by Sophie Thérèse Ambler, courtesy my friend Bill Campbell:

What to do with a simple-minded ruler: a medieval solution

The thirteenth century saw the reigns of several rulers ill-equipped for the task of government, decried not as tyrants but incompetents. Sancho II of Portugal (1223–48), his critics said, let his kingdom fall to ruin on account of his “idleness,” “timidity of spirit,” and “simplicity”. The last term, simplex, could mean straightforward, but here it meant only simple-minded, foolish, stupid. The same term was used to describe the English king Henry III (1216–72), as well as John Balliol, the hapless king of Scotland (1292–96) appointed by England’s Edward I. As the elites of these kingdoms knew too well, it could happen on occasion that a man rose to officewhether he had been born to claim it, had won the right to hold it, or had found it thrust upon himwho did not have the intelligence to wield power.

Such a situation was dangerous, for subjects would suffer. In Portugal, it was claimed that Sancho’s inability to govern had allowed Church liberties to be attacked, women to be defiled, and the common folk to be oppressed. England’s Henry III had frittered away his resources, monies needed desperately to maintain his government; the result, it was claimed, was that Henry did not even have the cash to buy food and drink for his household and had turned to seizing victuals from his people, leaving them impoverished. The subjects of John Balliol had, perhaps, the most to fear from their king’s simplicity: John was incapable of standing up to Edward I, when a stand was needed urgently to defend his people from the bullying English king.

The people of Portugal, England, and Scotland knew of a potential solution to the problem of their simple-minded rulers: the rex inutilis theory (literally, “useless king”). This was a tenet of Church law that provided, when a bishop was too infirm to fulfill his duties, for the appointment of a coadjutor to exercise power on his behalf. The theory could be applied to lay rulers too, though it addressed here the problem of incompetence rather than infirmity.

It was the pope who held the power to pronounce a king rex inutilis. The papal court was like a medieval United Nations: its interests ranged from the making of peace between polities to the proper conduct of rulers, and the well-being of all those under the Church’s care. To this end, the pope had a mighty moral weapon in his arsenal: he could depose rulers and free subjects from their oaths of fealty or, as in the case of a rex inutilis, take effective power from his hands.

More at the link.

St. Olaf

The relics of Norway’s patron saint seem to have been found:

Norway’s Saint Olaf Uncovered: Archaeologists Believe They have Discovered the Shrine of the Lost Viking King

A team of Norwegian archaeologists believes they have discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old church that once served as the final resting place for one of Norway’s great Viking kings, and its patron saint.

Olaf II Haraldson reigned in the eleventh century, from 1015 until 1028 AD, and today is largely credited for spreading the Christian religion throughout Norway. Olaf was driven into exile by the Danish King Canute and was slain in battle upon his return to Norway, just north of the city of Trondheim, where his forces fell to the enemy Danes and a rebellious group of Norwegian nobles.

Olaf was proclaimed a saint and was buried in St. Clement’s Church in Trondheim, but as his cult grew larger and larger, his body was eventually moved to the Trondheim cathedral. Some time after, historians believe that St. Clement’s church was destroyed, its location lost – until now.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) may have discovered the original foundations of St. Clement’s Church, and even believe that they have identified the lost shrine of the martyred King. They uncovered a stone slab which they claim had been the foundation of the altar where the King’s coffin once rested. Researchers have also found skeletons at the site, believed to be the remains of the church graveyard, but they were likely buried many years after Saint Olaf.

More at the link.