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The meaning of Michaelmas….

The following article is taken from this article by Ben Johnson:

St Michael

St Michael

“Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on 29th September. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”.

There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day – 25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

“St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.

“Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year; and as the saying goes:

‘Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year.’

“Sometimes the day was also known as “Goose Day” and goose fairs were held. Even now, the famous Nottingham Goose Fair is still held on or around the 3rd of October. Part of the reason goose is eaten is that it was said that when Queen Elizabeth I heard of the defeat of the Armada, she was dining on goose and resolved to eat it on Michaelmas Day. Others followed suit. It could also have developed through the role of Michaelmas Day as the debts were due; tenants requiring a delay in payment may have tried to persuade their landlords with gifts of geese!

“In Scotland, St Michael’s Bannock, or Struan Micheil (a large scone-like cake) is also created. This used to be made from cereals grown on the family’s land during the year, representing the fruits of the fields, and is cooked on a lamb skin, representing the fruit of the flocks. The cereals are also moistened with sheep’s milk, as sheep are deemed the most sacred of animals. As the Struan is created by the eldest daughter of the family, the following is said:

‘Progeny and prosperity of family, Mystery of Michael, Protection of the Trinity.’

“Through the celebration of the day in this way, the prosperity and wealth of the family is supported for the coming year. The custom of celebrating Michaelmas Day as the last day of harvest was broken when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church; instead, it is Harvest Festival that is celebrated now.

“St Michael is also the patron saint of horses and horsemen. This could explain one of the ancient Scottish traditions that used to be practiced on Michaelmas Day. Horse racing competitions in the local communities would be held and small prizes won. However, with a twist, it was the only time at which a neighbour’s horse could be taken lawfully the night before and ridden for the entirety of the day, as long as the animal was returned safely!

“In British folklore, Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October, is the last day that blackberries should be picked. It is said that on this day, when Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush. He then cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, spat and stamped on them and made them unfit for consumption! And so the Irish proverb goes:

‘On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries’

Michaelmas Daisy

“The Michaelmas Daisy, which flowers late in the growing season between late August and early October, provides colour and warmth to gardens at a time when the majority of flowers are coming to an end. As suggested by the saying below, the daisy is probably associated with this celebration because, as mentioned previously, St Michael is celebrated as a protector from darkness and evil, just as the daisy fights against the advancing gloom of Autumn and Winter.

‘The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.’

(The Feast of St. Simon and Jude is 28 October)

“The act of giving a Michaelmas Daisy symbolises saying farewell, perhaps in the same way as Michaelmas Day is seen to say farewell to the productive year and welcome in the new cycle.”

 

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A new interpretation of 1580s events

We all know that Mary Stuart was beheaded at Fotheringhay on 8 February 1587 and that the Spanish Armada sailed to facilitate a Catholic invasion of England in the following year, leaving Lisbon on 28 May and fighting naval battles in late July, at Plymouth and Portland. The traditional view is that Mary Stuart’s execution and Elizabeth I’s support for the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands provoked Phillip II’s wrath.

It is quite possible that this was not the case and that Phillip had

sought to overthrow his quondam sister-in-law much earlier. Mary, as the daughter of Marie de Guise and widow of Francis II was the French-backed Catholic candidate for the English throne and Franco-Spanish rivalry ensured that Phillip, great nephew of Catherine of Aragon and a Lancastrian descendant proper+, would not act in concert with any of her plots; however her death cleared the way for him, especially as the French Wars of Religion were still to resolve themselves.

We can compare this with the England of 1685-8, as William of Orange allowed the Duke of Monmouth to attempt an invasion first and only asserted his stronger semi-marital claim against James VII/II afterwards. In 1483-5, by contrast, the Duke of Buckingham was legitimately descended from Edward III when he rebelled against Richard III, only for Henry “Tudor”, of dubious lineage, to benefit.

h/t Jeanne Griffin

+ See The Wars of The Roses, Ashdown-Hill, part 4.

Keeping it in the family

You will have seen him if you have been to Richard III’s final resting place. There are eight small statues on the main entrance (the Vaughan Porch, left) of St. Martin’s Cathedral but only one of them is wearing a doublet and hose, showing him to have lived a century later than the others. This is Lord Henry Hastings, as he was during his education alongside Edward VI and participation, with Northumberland’s daughter Lady Catherine Dudley in the triple marriage of May 1553. He was still Lord Henry as he served in the household of his great-uncle Reginald Cardinal Pole, travelling to Calais and Flanders and escorting Phillip II to England for his marriage to Mary I, whose succession had been aided by Lord Henry’s father, Francis, despite the family’s overt Protestant beliefs.

In 1562, two years after succeeding to the Earldom of Huntingdon, he was considered by some for the throne had Elizabeth I not recovered from a bout of smallpox. By 1576, on the death of his mother Catherine (nee’ Pole) he was the senior post-Plantagenet, barred from the succession maternally only by the Clarence attainder but he had a junior claim through his grandmother Anne Stafford, whose father and brother both had their attainders posthumously reversed.

From 1572 to his death in 1595, Huntingdon was Lord President of the Council of the North, a position previously held by Richard as Duke of Gloucester and then by the Earl of Lincoln, in which he ruled the part of England north of the Trent from the King’s Manor (above), formerly home to the Abbot of York. During this tenure, he re-established royal authority in the region after the Northern Earls’ Rebellion failed, attended Mary Stuart’s trial, ensured good relations with James VI and his regents, the Earl of Morton in particular, also helping to prepare defences against the Armada. For his long service for more than half the reign of the last “Tudor”, Huntingdon deserves to be remembered alongside Lord Burleigh and his brother-in-law the Earl of Leicester, although his Calvinist beliefs set him apart from them and their Queen. During his time, in 1586, the recusant Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death at York.

As Claire Cross points out in her iconic biography The Puritan Earl, Huntingdon took his role as head of the family seriously. We can read how his assets shrank during his lifetime and how his 42 year marriage was childless, such that his brother Sir George succeeded him as Earl, with senior descendants still alive in Australia, as Jones has shown. He died eleven days before Christmas 1595 and was connected to all four later “Tudor” monarchs but his strongest connection was to Elizabeth I. Just like her, he had been imprisoned at the outset of Mary I’s reign, probably because he was Northumberland’s son-in-law, although his father’s loyalty soon extricated him from this.

Invasions

 

SamWillis

I have watched Dr. Sam Willis on several occasions and regularly enjoy his programmes, particularly his artillery series. With the prematurely grey beard, he is usually much more informative than Dan Jones, who is of a similar age.

 

However, part two of his Invasions fell below this standard. It featured a lot of black and white film of William I as a control freak drafting the Domesday Book, building castles and organising archers; John as “evil”, “Perkin” as “an impostor” and Elizabeth I speaking at Tilbury. John was shown stealing a puppy, hanging several and blinding someone for taking deer from a royal forest – a penalty actually introduced by William I. “Perkin”‘s imposture was referred to at least four times with a clip from “The Shadow of the Tower”, whilst Willis didn’t think about the possibility that  he falsely confessed to save his wife and child, which Wroe, Fields and Lewis have considered.

It wasn’t quite as simplistic as many Jones programmes because we were told about Louis the Lion being invited, by some nobles) to ascend the English throne from 1215-7, the Barbary pirates and the Dutch Medway raids of Charles II’s time. As a result, I shall be watching the final episode.

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