Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: May

The beginning of May finds us, this year, still very much within the Easter season: the third week of Easter, to be precise, and Easter has seven weeks, commemorating the forty days and forty nights (a significant time interval in both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures) that the risen Christ remained on Earth before ascending into Heaven; and the further ten days before the Holy Spirit manifested itself to the Apostles, as commemorated in the feast of Pentecost. This year, the Feast of the Ascension falls on the 25th of May, and that of Pentecost on the 4th of June.

The Ascension of Jesus, from the Rabula Gospels (Iraq), 6th Century AD. Image: Dsmdgold (Public Domain). 

Medieval theologians expended much sweat and candle-wax in considering the status of Christ during the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The early Church Fathers had agreed, after much deliberation, that the living Jesus was both fully divine (and thus able to turn water into wine, cure the sick and the lame, and raise the dead); and fully human (and would thus have experienced the same pain on the cross as any of us would in the same circumstances, and without which the crucifixion would have had no meaning); but what of the risen Christ? Surely he must have been, in some sense, more divine than human, which might account for the fact that so many people who had known the living Jesus failed to recognise the risen Christ? Books of Hours and similar documents were, however, intended for the use of lay-people, who were, on the whole, happy to leave such weighty matters to the scholars.

The Ascension of Jesus, from The Bamberg Apocalypse, 11th Century, Bamberg State Library MS A II.42 (image is in the Public Domain).

The pages for the month of May in Medieval Books of Hours frequently depict the leisure activities of the wealthy. It was a season for spending time outdoors, and enjoying the natural world. Boat trips on lakes and rivers seem to have been especially popular, and these may very well have been "picnics" in the modern sense: the word "picnic," however, seems not to have been used before the Eighteenth Century, and the Medieval equivalent may well have been Undrentide.

Calendar page for May, from Les Petites Heures du Duc de Berry, 1372-5, National Library of France (image is in the Public Domain).

Boating in May, workshop of Simon Bening, Bruges, early 16th Century, Munchen StB 23638 fol.6v (image is in the Public Domain).

Boating in May, from The Golf Book, workshop of Simon Bening, Bruges, 1520-30, British Library Add.24098, f22v (licensed under CCA).

This is an extract from the poem, Sir Orfeo, written between 1330 and 1340, probably in London or the South Midlands of England (if the words sound familiar, you may have heard the recording by The Medieval Baebes). The original poem is to be found in the Auchinleck Manuscript, now in the National Library of Scotland:

"Bifel so in the comessing of May
When miri and hot is the day,
And oway beth winter schours,
And everi feld is ful of floures,
And blosme breme on everi bough,
Over al wexeth miri anought,
This ich quen, Dame Heurodis
Tok to maidens of pris,
And went in an undrentide,
To play bi an orchardside
To se the floures sprede and spring,
And to here the foules sing ... "

Illustration from the Auchinleck Manuscript, NLS Adv. MS 19.2.1 (image is in the Public Domain).

The poem tells a story of enchantment, derived from the Roman author, Ovid (the queen falls asleep on the grass and, in her dream, is transported to the world of the fairies), but the context is recognisable enough in the modern world, and recalls my own season of "undrentides," as a student, punting from the "Backs" of Cambridge up to Grantchester, for picnics with "prized maidens."

May, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The Duke is shown setting out for the countryside from his Parisian residence, L'Hotel de Nesle, accompanied by some gentlemen, and rather more ladies (of the latter, he reportedly said "the more the better, and never tell the truth"), 1412-16, Musee Conde, Chantilly (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: East Bankside - Blood Sports and Theatres

A visitor to London, following the south bank of the River Thames from London Bridge towards Westminster Bridge, emerges from Clink Street onto Bankside. Today, this stretch of the riverside is crowded with tourists, attracted by its bar and restaurants, as well as by cultural institutions, including the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe and Tate Modern.

The reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Bankside. Photo: ChrisO (licensed under GNU).

Throughout much of the Twentieth Century, however, Bankside was very much part of the working environment of the London Docks. The blog-site, "A London Inheritance," has an extensive collection of "then and now" photographs (the former inherited by its author from his late father), which can be seen here and here. Ironically, however, if we imagine ourselves back to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the atmosphere of the area would have been more akin to that which we experience today, albeit with a rather different range of attractions.

Bankside incorporates parts of two ancient "liberties," that of The Clink, and that of Paris Garden, both of which fell outside the jurisdiction of City and Shire authorities, and in both of which were consequently to be found numerous brothels, gambling dens, and rowdy taverns. Other popular entertainments, from the mid-Sixteenth Century onwards, included bull-baiting and bear-baiting.

Bull and bear-baiting rings on Bankside, c1580. William Smith's manuscript of The Description of England (image is in the Public Domain). 
The Bear Garden, Bankside, before 1616, Visscher's Map of London (image is in the Public Domain).
Bear-baiting, by Abraam Hondius, 1650, private collection (image is in the Public Domain).

In the 1580s, two entrepreneurs, Philip Henslowe and John Cholmley, both of whom had financial interests in brothels and blood-sports, embarked on what might, today, be called a "brand extension," investing money in the construction of The Rose Theatre, in the liberty of The Clink. The commercial theatre was a relatively new (and uniquely English) phenomenon, but earlier theatres had, for the most part, been situated to the north and east of the City of London.

London's early play-houses (image is in the Public Domain).

The Rose was used by the Lord Admiral's Men, and produced plays by, among others, Christopher Marlowe. Its foundations have been partially excavated, and small-scale productions are staged there - an unforgettable experience for a modern visitor to London. Henslowe's "diaries" (actually more of a ledger-book) are also preserved, with records of loans and payments to writers, including Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, and Ben Jonson.

The Rose Theatre today, with the outlines of stage and stalls picked out by lights. Photo: David Sim (licensed under CCA).
Henslowe's "Diary," Dulwich College (image is in the Public Domain).

Henslowe built The Hope Theatre with another business partner, Jacob Meade, in 1613-14, on the site of the old Bear Garden (they equipped it with a removeable stage, so that it could still be used for blood-sports, as well as for theatrical performances). It opened on 31st October 1614, with a production of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair.

When Philip Henslowe died in 1616, his share in the theatres passed to his son-in-law, Edward Alleyn, an actor who had made many of the great Marlovian roles his own (Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine, Barabas in The Jew of Malta). When Alleyn's first wife (Henslowe's step-daughter, Joan) died, he married Constance Donne, the daughter of the poet, John Donne, who was also the Dean of Saint Paul's, but her father disapproved of the union: perhaps he thought that some of Alleyn's business interests made him an inappropriate husband for a clergyman's daughter; or perhaps he suspected that the affection between them had begun before Joan's death, making it adulterous, in thought, if not in deed.

Edward Alleyn, 1626 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Swan Theatre, meanwhile, had been built by another impresario, Francis Longley in the liberty of Paris Garden. Johannes de Witt, a Dutchman who visited in 1596, described it as having a capacity for 3000 spectators.

The Swan Theatre, 1595, Arnoldus Buchelius, after Johannes de Witt (image is in the Public Domain).

The Globe Theatre was opened in 1599 by William Shakespeare's company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, and probably saw the first performances of Henry V and Julius Caesar during the course of that year. The theatre burned down in 1613, during a production of Henry VIII, the fire apparently caused by the discharge of a theatrical cannon.

The Globe, 1647, by Wenceslaus Hollar (image is in the Public Domain). The adjoining buildings were used to prepare food for sale to theatre audiences.

The theatrical attractions of Bankside were to be short-lived, however. The fictional character of Malvolio, in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, prefigured the rise of the historical Puritans, who banned play-acting, bear-baiting and bull-baiting in 1642. When the English theatre was given new life, under the restored monarchy of Charles II, it was in the very different environment of Covent Garden's indoor theatres (no bull or bear-baiting there), with the female roles played, for the first time, by actresses, rather than by boys.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Streets of Old Southwark: Of "Liberties" and Prisons

A visitor to London, following the south bank of the River Thames from London Bridge towards Westminster Bridge, on passing the Medieval ruins of Winchester Palace, finds himself or herself in Clink Street, so-called after the prison that stood here from the 1140s until it was burned during the Gordon Riots of 1780. When King Stephen granted the Manor of Southwark to the Bishops of Winchester, it came with a substantial estate, designated a "Liberty," since it fell outside the jurisdiction of City or Shire authorities. Successive bishops took advantage of this freedom in several ways, most famously to license brothels, which were forbidden to operate on the other side of the river, within the City of London (I try to avoid duplicating the work of others, and will thus refer the reader to Jessica Cale's excellent blog-post on Medieval prostitution in Southwark).

The bishops also had the freedom to deprive others of their liberty, both in their capacity as ministers of the Crown (Bishops of Winchester served variously as Lord Chancellor and Lord Treasurer of England); and, as prelates, presiding over ecclesiastical courts, to imprison people for heresy, and other crimes against the Church. Notable inmates of The Clink included Anne Askew (a Protestant martyr under Henry VIII, burned at the stake at Smithfield in 1546); John Hooper and John Bradford (Protestant martyrs under Mary I, burned at the stake in 1555 - both prosecuted by Bishop Stephen Gardiner); and John Gerard and George Blackwell (Catholic martyrs executed under Elizabeth I and James I).

John Bradford, with fellow Protestant prisoners, from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 1563 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Clink was not the only prison in the vicinity: on emerging from a tunnel at the western end of Clink Street, our visitor may turn left into Park Street, and then right into Redcross Way, leading into a district whose street names evoke, in Charles Dickens's phrase, " ... the crowding ghosts of many miserable years:" Marshalsea Road (the Marshalsea Prison stood here from 1373 until the Nineteenth Century); Little Dorrit Court (Dickens's character, Amy Dorrit, like the author himself, had a father imprisoned there for debt - throughout much of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, half of England's prison population were incarcerated as debtors).

The Marshalsea Prison in the Eighteenth Century (image is in the Public Domain).
The Marshalsea Prison in 1773 (image is in the Public Domain).

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century prisons were run as private enterprises, and the treatment of individual prisoners depended upon their means, and upon the generosity of relatives (the young Charles Dickens worked in a shoe-polish factory to earn money to alleviate his father's position). The Marshalsea had two distinct wings: the "Master's Side," where those prisoners who could afford to could rent superior rooms; and the "Common Side," in which three hundred poor prisoners were crammed into nine small wards.

Facilities on the "Master's Side" included a coffee shop, run by a prisoner named Sarah Bradshaw; a steak-house called Titty Doll's, run by a prisoner, Richard McDonnell, and his wife; a tailor's shop; a barber's shop; and a tap-room serving beer. Debtors could even purchase "The Liberty of the Rules," allowing them to rent private accommodation in the streets surrounding the prison.

The more fortunate prisoners on the "Common Side" were hired as servants by those on the "Master's Side," but a Parliamentary Committee in 1729 found that others, perhaps especially those unfit for work, were routinely starved to death. The situation may have improved somewhat by 1774, when the Marshalsea was visited by the penal reformer, John Howard, but he nonetheless lamented the lack of healthcare facilities, and the prevalence of bullying, both by prison staff, and by prisoners on other prisoners.

The Sick Mens' Ward of the Marshalsea Prison in 1729 (image is in the Public Domain). 

The prison reformer, John Howard, portrait by Mather Brown, 1789, National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).

By the late Nineteenth Century, thanks to the efforts of writers such as Dickens, and of reformers, including the Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, public opinion had turned decisively against the worst abuses of the prison system. The Clink never reopened after its destruction by the Gordon rioters; the Marshalsea closed in 1843; imprisonment for debt was outlawed in England in 1869. Nothing of The Clink can be seen today, apart from a blue plaque and a small private "museum;" whilst, of the Marshalsea, only a few walls remain.

Plan of the Marshalsea in 1843, J. Shuttleworth (image is in the Public Domain).

The Clink Prison "Museum." Photo: Sir James (licensed under GNU).

The courtyard of the former Marshalsea Prison in 1897. Photo: John Lawson Stoddart (image is in the Public Domain).
A surviving wall of the Marshalsea Prison. Photo: Russell Kenny (licensed under CCA).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: April

The month of April, like that of March, was a difficult one for a Medieval artist to represent. An illuminated manuscript, such as a book of hours, was an expensive gift, intended not only to last a lifetime, but in due course to become an heirloom. In some years, however, the Christian solemnities of Easter fell in March, allowing April to be devoted to secular pleasures, including courtship (the priorities of young men and women reflecting those of the wild birds and animals around them); whilst in other years (like this one), these solemnities fell in April, in which case people were expected to remain focused on devotional themes.

With lambing completed, and flocks released into the meadows once again, pastoral scenes might be thought of as appropriate in either case: since they could be seen either as straightforward representations of a stage in the agricultural year; or, metaphorically, as symbolic of "the lamb of God."

Calendar page for April, from the Huth Hours: a sheepdog dances to a tune played by the shepherd. British Library, Add. Ms. 38126f4v (image is in the Public Domain).

In those years in which Easter fell in March, the month of April was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, reflecting the ethos of Pentecost, and the acts of the apostles, inspired by the spirit.

The Holy Spirit, from the De Grey Hours, c 1390, National Library of Wales MS 15537c (licensed under CCA).

Easter itself, however, was always marked by a commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Franciscan orders had introduced the "Stations of the Cross," as a physical re-enactment of these events, first of all in the holy places of Jerusalem itself (which were in the care of the Franciscans), but subsequently in Franciscan priories across Europe, and even in parish churches, with priests or friars leading the faithful from one "station" to another, each representing a particular stage in Christ's journey to the cross. These stages were similarly depicted in the books of hours that the wealthy used as an aid to their private devotions.

The Last Supper, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme, late 15th Century. The artist, Robinet Testard, has, in effect, plagiarised the composition of the engraver, Israhel Van Meckenham, pasting it onto the vellum and adding colour. National Library of France, Latin MS. 1173. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA).

The Arrest of Jesus (left) and the Annunciation (right), from the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, 1325-1328. The artist is Jean Pucelle. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image is in the Public Domain).

Christ led to judgement, from Le Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Musee Conde, Chantilly (image is in the Public Domain). 

Christ is assisted by Simon of Cyrene, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA).

The Crucifixion, from the Black Hours, c 1480, Pierpoint Morgan Library MS. 493 14v/15r (image is in the Public Domain).

The Lamentation of the Virgin, from the Rohan Hours, c 1435. National Library of France Latin MS 9471 (image is in the Public Domain).

The Harrowing of Hell, from Les Petites Heures du Duc de Berry (image is in the Public Domain).

The Resurrection of Christ, from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme. Image: Cardena2 (licensed under CCA). 

The Feast of Saint Mark falls on the 25th April, by which time the solemnities of Easter would, in almost all cases, have been completed, allowing secular concerns to come once more to the forefront of people's minds.

Saint Mark, from the Sforza Hours, c 1519. The artist is Gerard (or Lucas) Horenbout. British Library Add. MS 34294 (image is in the Public Domain).

April from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Musee Conde, Chantilly (image is in the Public Domain). In the foreground, a young man and woman are engaged: the castle in the background is believed to be that of Dourdan near Paris.

Calendar page for April, from the Huth Hours, with a courting couple in a garden. British Library Add. Ms. 38126f4v (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.