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The three saints of 6th July….

an early church

6th July is a day of three saints, St Godelva (d. 1070), St Sexburga of Ely (679-700) and St Merryn of Andresey. I have only previously heard of St Sexberga. Were they all celebrated on this day in medieval churches? (The above illustration is merely an example of an early church – the building depicted is not specifically concerned with any of the three saints.)

Who were they, these three holy ladies who share a day in early July?

St Godelva of Gistel (aka Godelieve, Godeleva, Godeliève and Godelina) was a Flemish saint. According to Wikipedia she was a pious young girl and then a beautiful woman, much sought after by lusty suitors. A lord called Bertolf/Berthold was determined to marry her, and sought the help of her father’s overlord. Successfully married to her, although maybe not able to get into her bed, Berthold ordered his servants to feed her with only bread and water, which she promptly shared with the poor. She managed to escape and go home to her father, but he, with two bishops and the Count of Flanders, forced her to go back to her husband. She escaped again and returned to her father. Her husband then had her strangled by two servants and tossed into a pool, to make it appear that she had drowned by accident. She died on 6th July 1070.

Legend has it that Berthold married again and had a daughter, named Edith, who was born blind. St Godelva intervened and cured her. Berthold repented his sins and went to Rome for absolution. Then he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and became a monk. Edith founded a Benedictine monastery at Gistel, which was dedicated to Saint Godelieve. This saint is regarded as a “weather saint”, like St Swithun. I do not know why.

St Sexburga of Ely (also various other spellings) She is the only one of the three of whom I had heard before, she led a blessedly dull life in comparison with Godelva. She was the queen of a king of Kent, as well as an abbess and she had four sisters. Her marriage produced two daughters, and two sons, both of whom ruled. Sexburga acted as regent until her eldest son came of age.

St Sexburga

Next, she founded the abbeys of Milton Regis and Minster-in-Sheppey, where one of her daughters became a nun. Then Sexburga moved to the monastery at Ely, and succeeded one of her sisters (St. Etheldreda) as abbess. Her saintly status came when her coffin was opened after sixteen years, and her body was found to be miraculously preserved. No terrible death, then, just a good, pious and holy woman.

As a matter of interest to Ricardians, and indeed to anyone interested in the ancestry of the Kings of England, Sexburga was the great-niece of Raedwald, the king of the East Angles, who died circa 616-627. He was a very sensible man, who on conversion to Christianity, did not forbid the continued worship of the old Anglo-Saxon gods. Raedwald may be the king who is buried at Sutton Hoo, and thus provided us with such amazing treasures from that far-off time. Collateral descent from Raedwald leads through the Houses of Wessex and Dunkeld, to include Richard III, which means that Sexburga was one of Richard’s ancestresses. Richard’s coronation was on St Sexburga’s Day, which cannot have been an accidental coincidence!

The third saint is St Merryn of Andresey. It seems that she is also known as St Modwenna/Monnina, who was a Christian anchorite on the island of Andresey in the River Trent at Burton-upon-Trent, just across from the then abbey. She is said to have been the daughter of a pagan Irish king, who rejected a robber baron’s offer of marriage, and then gathered a troop of virgins around her to travel to Britain. She raised a number of churches, particularly in southern Scotland. Conflation may have introduced elements from other saints, so that Modwenna’s father sought to have an incestuous relationship with her, or tried to force her to marry his powerful pagan ally. Or maybe her father finds her when she runs away, beheads her and seals her body in a cave.

Andresey Island - Burton upon Trent, Staffs.

Another version of her story: “Born to the Flemish nobility, the daughter of Hemfried, Lord of Wierre-Effray. Married to Bertulf of Ghistelles, a Flemish nobleman, who abandoned her before the wedding feast was over. Abused by her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, Godelieve was variously locked in a cell, starved, and subjected to assorted physical and mental abuse. Her father threatened to turn the husband and in-laws over to state and Church authorities; Bertulf appeared to repent, Godelieve returned to him, and was soon after murdered; she is generally considered a martyr. Always a friend of the poor and sick, post-mortem miracles ascribed to her include restoration of  sight to her step-daughter.”

St Modwenna

The road to sainthood was usually a terrible one, mostly strewn with danger, torture and, ultimately, martyrdom. Of the above three ladies, only St Sexburga was blessedly free of such things. She led a flawless Christian life, and—presumably—died a natural death. It is good that this is so, and that her kindly and pious ways led to becoming a saint. It seems a pity that she would not have known of her destiny when she passed away. But I think that her descendant, Richard III, honoured her example. Not that I imagine he strove to be a saint! No, but I do think he did all he could to reign by example. Thanks to traitors, he was murdered in battle before he could prove himself to the full.

So…which of these ladies was most generally venerated on 6th July in medieval times? One? Two? Or all of them?

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Developments at Sutton Hoo

This East Anglian Daily Times article reveals that Sutton Hoo, almost certainly the burial of Raedwald, the Wuffing King of East Anglia who was Richard III’s collateral ancestor, will be the subject of its first major dig for nearly thirty years.

A new viewing tower (left) will be installed during the process, between May 29th and June 2nd. Tranmer House, home of the late Edith Pretty will also be transformed, as the result of a substantial National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

Anyone for tennis?

There is an i220px-Edmundbeingmartyred05ssue with Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, who was shot and beheaded by Vikings, today in 869. He isn’t England’s patron saint, although he is far more English than St. George, who is thought to have originated in modern-day Turkey or Syria. However, unlike St. Edward the Confessor, whose brother-in-law Harold II and great-niece Margaret of Wessex are ancestors of centuries of English and British monarchs, St. Edmund does not seem to be connected to our Royal family at all, even though he reigned during the late Heptarchy and counted Raedwald and the other Wuffings among his predecessors. In short, he is a genealogical island.

Now it seems that St. Edmund, as were Richard III, Henry I and other kings, is on the verge of being rediscovered in plain sight, under a tennis court in his case.

A most unpleasant surprise

Peter Cole was a tanner from Ipswich, although his year of birth is generally unknown. He found himself tried in Norwich for heresy and executed there, presumably in the Castle moat (below), which must have been something of a shock as it was 1587 and the heresy laws had been repealed again almost thirty years earlier. Cole was an Arian (1) and one of nine people burned during Elizabeth I’s reign, followed by another two under James I, as detailed here.
Just as we showed in this post, there was a distinct East Anglian emphasis to this smaller scale persecution, just as there had been in Mary I’s reign. Four of this nonet suffered in Norwich from 1579-89 and the others in London from 1575-93. Two, or possibly three, were from the Netherlands. The cases of Matthew Hamont and Francis Kett, both Norfolk residents, are better documented than that of Cole and the latter was Robert Kett’s nephew. During this decade, Edmund Freke and then Edmund Scambler were Bishop of Norwich.

(1) As you can see, the Unitarians see themselves as heirs to the Arian tradition, whose followers in the centuries after the Norwich Four included Newton and Priestley.

A pastoral tale

This article investigates why, as the Mediaeval Warm Period drew to a close, Britain (and particularly England) developed differently to many nations of Southern Europe.

Sandbrook mentions two major cultural factors: the tradition of salting bacon because ham could not be dry-cured and the evolution of the wool trade through the systematic elimination of the flock’s only natural predator – the wolf – through a hunting campaign led by Peter Corbet, from a Shropshire family, under Edward I. Corbet, who fought at Falkirk, may even have given his name to this.

Sheep could now safely be domesticated and their numbers greatly expanded. In Florence, the Medici saw the banking system develop as a result. In England, the best evidence is all around us. Whilst the Woolsack (left) has been a dominant feature of the House of Lords for centuries, the wealth generated

by the wool and cloth trade is reflected in properties throughout the country, but particularly in East Anglia, the region generally closest to the European mainland and the other territories of the Hanseatic League. In particular, Lavenham (below), Hadleigh and Woodbridge still have many such distinctive timber-framed houses, the former having been regarded as a town in the late mediaeval and Early Modern eras.

As Sandbrook goes on to explain, in his review of Robert Winder’s “The last Wolf”, writers from Chaucer (who married into the de la Pole family of wool barons) to Eliot and Orwell wrote of the traditions of the wool trade. It continued long after Corbet’s 1281-90 campaign and was to benefit from the technological developments of later centuries.

Witchcraft (3): Matthew Hopkins

matthew_hopkins_witch-finder-_wellcome_l0000812If the witchcraft trials at North Berwick in the 1590s and later in England, of which Pendle in 1610 is an example, happened because James VI/I fervently believed in witchcraft, as shown by the three characters in Macbeth, it can be argued that the subsequent decline in such cases came because judges and Charles I took a more sceptical approach, Charles being a more Anglican King than his father. There was, however, a significant case in his reign at Lancaster in 1634.

This trend was reversed in the early 1640s when the start of the First English Civil War saw Charles lose his authority over several parts of his largest kingdom but particularly Puritan-inclined counties such as Suffolk and Essex. To fill this vacuum, various individuals assumed some Parliamentary aut240px-st-_johns_church_great_wenham_suffolk_-_geograph-org-uk_-_213446hority in finding witches. Matthew Hopkins, born in about 1620, was the son of a Puritan vicar who had held the living of Great Wenham and land in Framlingham. By 1643, Matthew was an innkeeper near Manningtree but could also rely on an inheritance from his father and appointed himself Witchfinder General. With John Stearne and four followers, he began hunting witches the following year across the whole of East Anglia, subjecting them to the “swimming” ordeal, psychological torture and sending them for trial. By 1647, when his The Discovery of Witches was published, about three hundred people from Bury St. Edmunds to Chelmsford had been hanged, out of the five hundred such executions throughout England between 1400 and 1700.

Early that year, magistrates in Hopkins’ own region began to demand more evidence and the convictions stopped. Hopkins died that August, probably from tuberculosis. Stearne, a decade older, lived on in Bury St. Edmunds until 1670. Their methods had already spread to the New World Colonies, where there was a hanging in Connecticut in May 1647. The first American witch-hunt continued until 1663 but it wasn’t to be the last …

Beowulf and Sutton Hoo -Sources for a lost world

Giaconda's Blog

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

I was recently asked to visit my daughter’s class and talk to them about archaeology and what we can find out about past cultures from the physical remains that are left behind. The class is also reading Beowulf as part of their topic on the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain which will run for the whole term.

I immediately plunged into further research on Beowulf and two archaeological sites which I hope will be useful; namely the ship burial at Sutton Hoo and the Coppergate dig in York which uncovered part of Viking Jorvik, the largest excavated Viking settlement in the British Isles.

I picked these because the culture of Beowulf would appear to be closely tied to the archaeological site of Sutton Hoo with references made in the poem to artefacts…

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Sutton Hoo and Raedwald of East Anglia (2011)

(originally published in the Ricardian Bulletin)

Saturday 30 July saw nearly twenty of us visit Sutton Hoo, a National Trust property that overlooks Woodbridge from across the Deben. Members travelled from London, Ipswich or by themselves, using booked taxis from Woodbridge station. We were there for three and a half hours, joining an official tour of the Burial Grounds and visiting the indoor Exhibition Hall.
The main grave is supposed to be that of Raedwald, at least a third-generation Anglo-Saxon immigrant from Angeln. Like his grandfather, Wuffa, Raedwald was a “Bretwalda” or high chief of all Saxons south of the Humber and east of about Birmingham, and his “Wuffing” successors became Kings of East Anglia as part of the Heptarchy. Raedwald ruled from 599 to 624/5 and converted to Christianity late in life, yet was still buried in pagan style, possibly at the behest of his sceptical widow. Two of his great-nieces are St. Ethelreda (aka St. Audrey) who is buried in Ely Cathedral and Sexberga, who married Earconbert, King of Kent, their great-granddaughter becoming the mother of Egbert III of Wessex, grandfather of Alfred. Raedwald’s brother Eni is, therefore, an ancestor of every undisputed monarch of England (except possibly from 1066-1154). The Wuffings ruled East Anglia until 20 November 869 when their last King, Edmund, was martyred by the Danes.
In summer 1938, the widowed Edith Pretty was overtaken by her own curiosity about the estate she owned and hired an amateur archaeologist and tenant farmer, Basil Brown, to investigate. Other authorities, at county, University of Cambridge (Charles Phillips) and University of London levels became involved – before war was declared and the task was suspended, the artefacts already discovered being stored in disused Tube stations. The British Museum, under Rupert Bruce-Mitford, resumed the process in 1965.
On arrival at Sutton Hoo (a Saxon word for hill), we booked our places on the official tour. It started at twelve thirty and was barely supposed to exceed an hour but lasted about ninety minutes. Our guide was Neil Montgomery of the Sutton Hoo Society, who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic with a good voice. We first passed Tranmer House, formerly the home of Colonel and Mrs. Pretty, and reached the seventeen mounds. In the first, Brown found a random selection of rivets because grave-robbers had beaten him to it and no other evidence remained.
In the second, he found rivets arranged in the shape of a wooden ship (a “clinker vessel”), together with soil that had absorbed the wood and changed its chemical characteristics. Knowledge of pre-conversion Anglo-Saxon burial rites, the personal possessions (a helmet, bowls and spoons by the head; weapons, a purse, shoulder-clasps and a great buckle by the torso; drinking vessels and other artefacts lower down) and the size of the ship showed that only a prominent chieftain could have been laid here. Brown found no human remains, save for phosphates in the soil, but many of Raedwald’s successors were Christians and thus would have been buried differently. The important mounds were reconstructed in the sixties, to heights calculated trigonometrically, but have started to erode again.
After viewing the principal mounds, we were shown the grave of a younger man, who died in his twenties during the same era and could be Raedwald’s son, buried with his horse. There are also the graves of a number of people who were hanged or beheaded in the later Saxon era. The Exhibition Hall features a lot more information and artefacts from the Wuffings’ era, including a recreation of the burial chamber and a film shown at regular intervals.
We expected to spend just under an hour exploring Woodbridge but there was insufficient time for this although there some old buildings such as the Shire Hall and C16 Bull Hotel, visited by Defoe. Edward Fitzgerald, the translator, is also commemorated in the town. During the summer, an open-top bus runs hourly around Woodbridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays, stopping at Sutton Hoo.

Further reading:
http://www.wuffings.co.uk/MySHPages/SHPage.html (Dr. Sam Newton)

Bringing up the Saffron

saffron_flower_3097101b

Pare saffron plot,

forget it not. 

His dwelling made trim,

look shortly for him. 

When harvest is gone,

then saffron comes on. 

A little of ground,

Brings Saffron a Pound

The history of saffron, that exotic spice of the Levant, spans three millennia, landing in England some time in the mid-14th century – although certainly there are hints of its somewhat limited existence before that found in the household accounts of nobility.  In 1240, physician Gilbert of England mentions it as an aid in mental illness.  (Today there is ongoing research into saffron as a source of helping in depression which the early 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, may have dourly acknowledged in his admonition that saffron caused “some to have fallen into an immoderate convulsive laughter which ended in death”.)  There is a legend that sometime during the reign of Edward the Third, a pilgrim returning to Essex from the Middle East brought a Crocus bulb (the source of saffron) hidden in his staff thus starting the saffron industry.  In truth, it probably was returning Crusaders from Asia Minor who introduced saffron to the upper classes who, in turn, encouraged its cultivation in England, primarily Essex and Norfolk.  And just in time to benefit the population devastated by the Black Death in 1348 and during its re-ocurrence thirty-three years later.  Its medicinal qualities (such as it was thought) included halting hemorrhages, vomiting and headache while guarding against colic, cough and scabies.  In other words, a myriad of claims that is often made about most herbs and spices – today as well as in the medieval period.  In actuality, it was often used as a dye in the wool trade and as a bright paint for illustrations of religious texts and murals.  According to Essex saffron farmer, David Smale, England was the largest producer of saffron during the medieval period.

saffron 3

Saffron is the stigma of the Crocus – not the springtime harbinger of better times and weather but, instead, of the autumn flower.  Called Crocus sativus Linnaeus, it is a descendent of the wildflower Crocus cartwrightianus.   Thought to have originated in Persia, its brilliant red-orange stigmas were not only used in paint and medicine but also food coloration and for its pungent flavor and hay-like aroma.  And no one was more color or flavor conscious than the noble classes and royalty of medieval England!  The amount of stigma (or the less prized white styles) that must be collected to make even a small amount of saffron has made it the costliest spice in the world.  The most recent estimate is that it takes over 200,000 crocus flowers to obtain 450 grams of saffron.  Today, several farmers in Essex (particularly the market town aptly named Saffron Walden) and Norfolk are reintroducing this fascinating spice into their landscape but because of cost and labor, one gram (0.035 ounces) sells for 75 pounds.  Just a brief scroll through Amazon.com to see the prices of the finest saffron of Iran and Spain is enough to make one clutch the wallet a little tighter.

saffron 2In challenging the belief that saffron was introduced to England in the 14th century, we have the 13th century accounts book of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester (Eleanor Plantagenet), the wife of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester.  Her immense household (centered at Dover Castle) purchased modest amounts of the spice – only one pound at a time as compared to six of cinnamon.  She paid between 10s. and 14s. a pound for saffron while spices such as pepper and ginger were purchased for much less.  A little bit of saffron goes a long way and one can’t help but wonder whether her husband, de Montfort, had not developed a taste for the strong-tasting strands of gold while enjoying his rice pilafs during his two crusades to Syria and the Holy Land.  If the de Montfort family saffron was not purchased in England, it is likely that it would have been imported from Spain and Venice – two top importers during this period.

Sadly, the interest in saffron began to wane in the 18th century in Great Britain when sweet flavors such as vanilla began to supplant the somewhat bitter saffron.  Nonetheless, it still has its place in English cookery and I include a link to the famous Cornish Saffron Cake (or bun) for those cooks who tire of throwing a few precious strands of sunburst into the rice while cooking up their Chicken Tikka Masala and might prefer something a little bit more cozy.  As always, the BBC includes the Imperial measurements for us benighted types.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/saffroncake_91341

saffron-cake

And here is a medieval recipe for mulled wine borrowed from “Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  Perfect for a simple holiday meal for 300 guests:

Maumenye Bastarde

“Bastarde” refers to a popular medieval wine.

2 Quarts of clarified honey

1 Pound of Pine Nuts

1 Pound of Currents

1 Pound of Sandalwood

1 Pound of Powdered Cinnamon

2 Gallons of Wine or Ale

Plus: 3 pounds of Almond

1 Gallon of Vinegar

Saffron, Powdered Ginger and Salt to taste.

Mix these in a gigantic medieval pot.  Heat for ten minutes and then strew powdered ginger on the surface.

medieval wine 3

Reference:

Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, Elizabeth David

Culpeper’s Color Herbal, edited by David Potterton

*****

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