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Æthelthryth of Ely, perpetual virgin

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Full page miniature of Æthelthryth, London, British Library, Add MS 49598

Full page miniature of Æthelthryth. London, British Library, Add MS 49598, fol. 90v

The 23rd June is the feast day of Æthelthryth, an Anglo-Saxon queen and founder of a double monastery at Ely, who took a vow of celibacy despite being married twice. She was born c. 636 near Newmarket, Suffolk, and died at her monastery in 679 where she had been abbess for seven years, and is sometimes known as Etheldreda, or Audrey. She lived at a time when Christianity was really taking a foothold in England, and the story of her fiercely-protected virginity made her an ideal icon for spreading the message of the new church. According to Bede, her body remained uncorrupted after death, a sure sign she had not been defiled. In Signs of devotion : the cult of St. Aethelthryth in medieval England, 695-1615, the long-standing popularity of Æthelthryth is explored from its origins in the seventh century through to the early modern period. The story of the Northumbrian queen preserving her chastity as a sign of her devotion to God, fleeing from her second husband Ecgfrith when he tried to rape her and travelling back to her homeland to found the monastery at Ely in 679 obviously struck a deep chord in the medieval psyche, and her royal lineage propelled her to cult status. She also had a sister who succeeded her as abbess at Ely, and The Kentish Queen as Omnium Mater : Goscelin of Saint-Bertin’s Lections and the Emergence of the Cult of Saint Seaxburh explores the importance of themes such as maternity and sanctity in medieval hagiography.

 

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

 

Æthelthryth’s life has been well-documented in medieval sources such as Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints and Goscelin’s Lives of Female Saints, and her elevated status is also apparent in the tenth-century manuscript, London, British Library, Add MS 49598. The manuscript contains the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written in a beautiful caroline minuscule and sumptuously decorated with gold initials. The article The Structure of English Pre-Conquest Benedictionals discusses the possibility that Æthelwold himself wrote the blessing for the feast of Æthelthryth. As Æthelwold was a pioneer of the tenth-century monastic reform, it is easy to see how the promotion of the cult of Æthelthryth would have suited his agenda. Ely had been destroyed by Viking raids and was refounded in 970 by Edgar and Æthelwold as part of their rebuilding programme.

 

Benedictional for Æthelthryth

Benedictional for Æthelthryth, from The Benedictional of St Æthelwold, London, British Library, Add MS 49598

 

The writing on the leaf pictured above (fol. 90r, using the Latinised version of her name yet retaining the Anglo-Saxon letter forms), highlights her sanctity, declaring the blessing for the feast day of saint Æthelthryth the perpetual virgin: Benedictio in natale s[an]c[t]e Aethelðryþae perpetue virg[inis].

Æthelthryth died from a tumour on her neck (probably plague), which she interpreted as a punishment for her former love of fine dresses and jewels, and Anglo-Saxon Woman : Fame, Anonymity, Identity and Clothing and The Adornment of Virgins : Æthelthryth and Her Necklaces explore the theme further. Unlike the miracles of St Brigid, Æthelthryth does not seem to have performed anything remarkable during her lifetime (apart from evading Ecgfrith and choosing a site for the monastery), but saved her powers for use posthumously. The Liber Eliensis (book of Ely), written some 500 years after her death, embellishes the miracles recorded by Bede, and The Changing Hagiography of St. Æthelthryth discusses her healing abilities, apparently curing people’s eye-diseases when they touched her coffin. She also inflicted death on those who disturbed her tomb, including a Viking, and a group of priests sceptical about her uncorrupted body. Sixteen years after her death, Seaxburh wanted her body interred inside the cathedral, and miraculously chanced up a white marble sarcophagus for the purpose, which happened to be an exact fit for Æthelthryth’s corpse. The symbolism of her virgin body and connection to Ely is explored in Ely’s St. Æthelthryth : The shrine’s enclosure of the female body as symbol for the inviolability of Monastic space.

Shrine and relics of Æthelthryth. Image from Wikipedia

Shrine and relics of Æthelthryth. Image from Wikipedia

Æthelthryth’s popularity has continued to the present day. She is often depicted with a crown of flowers or a book, and is the patron saint of throat ailments. Her church in Holborn, known as St Etheldreda’s church, is the oldest Roman Catholic church still surviving in England, and she continues to be worshipped in her hometown of Ely at St Etheldreda’s church, where her shrine and relics are contained. Lace and silk necklaces are associated with her cult, and were sold on her feast day in Ely at St Audrey’s Fair. The work ‘tawdry’ derives from this, referring to the inferior quality of these tokens.

To explore the cult of Æthelthryth further, please visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History:

Screenshot for advanced search for 'Æthelthryth'

Figure 1. Screenshot for advanced search for ‘Æthelthryth’

 

Screenshot for search results for 'Æthelthryth'

Figure 2. Screenshot for search results for ‘Æthelthryth’

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Medieval Merchants and Money

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boltonLaunching later this month, the IHR is delighted to announce the publication of Medieval Merchants and Money, a volume of selected essays celebrating the contribution to scholarship of the medieval historian Professor James L. Bolton. Expanding on a 2013 conference on the same theme, these 16 essays address different questions in medieval economic and social history, focussing on merchant activity, trade and identity. What did medieval merchants read, for example? How did mercantile and military activity interact with one another? And what did it mean to identify with one mercantile company over another? Looking at both rural and urban economies, this volume offers a small cross-section into the ongoing research that connects to James L. Bolton’s pivotal and diverse work in economic history.

The book launches on 30 June, and is available for pre-order at www.store.london.ac.uk.

 

New reviews: rational action, Russian religious toleration, royal touch and US left

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thomas_0First up this week is Rational Action: The Sciences of Policy in Britain and America, 1940–1960 by William Thomas. Tom Kelsey and the author discuss a book which deserves serious attention from historians of science (no. 1951, with response here).

Then we turn to The Crisis of Religious Toleration in Imperial Russia: Bibikov’s System for the Old Believers, 1841-1855 by Thomas Marsden. J. Eugene Clay believes this book to be a major contribution to understanding the history of Russian state policy toward religion (no. 1950).

Next up is Stephen Brogan’s The Royal Touch in Early Modern England. Benjamin Guyer praises a book which offers a compelling revision of popular religious belief and practice in early modern England (no. 1949).

Finally we have The Cultural Left and the Reagan Era: US Protest and Central American Revolution by Nick Witham. Evan McCormick reviews a deftly and concisely written book which confirms the enduring importance of US interventions in Central America (no. 1948).

Shakespeare and Place on BHO

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Shakespeare on BHO

Shakespeare when he discovered BHO (probably)

British History Online might not be the first place you’d think to look when researching Shakespeare, but London and the early modern period are two of the great strengths in BHO’s collection. We have an abundance of materials that provide excellent context for Shakespeare’s life and his writing. What was London like when Shakespeare lived there? How has Shakespeare shaped the London of today? What about Shakespeare and places across the rest of the country?

Senate House Library recently hosted a Shakespeare and place Wikipedia workshop, which prompted me to compile the following list of relevant BHO resources. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully a useful starting point.

John Stow’s Survey of London: Although John Stow famously does not mention any theatres or playwrights in his Survey of London, the Survey is a contemporary account of London, which makes it an invaluable resource for understanding the city where Shakespeare lived. The first edition of the Survey was published in 1598, with a second and much-modified edition published in 1603. The version of the text that is on BHO is a 1908 edition of this 1603 text, edited by C L Kingsford. In his Survey, Stow ‘walks’ through the City of London, parish by parish.

Survey of London: Not to be confused with its early modern namesake above, this project began in the late nineteenth century and continues today. It provides detailed architectural and topographical studies of the capital’s built environment. Volume 22 covers Bankside, including the playhouses.

Victoria County History: This project also began in the nineteenth century and continues to this day. It is an encyclopaedic record of England’s places and people from earliest times to the present day. Particular series that contain useful information about Shakespeare are the History of Middlesex and the History of Warwickshire.

Agas Map of London: The woodcut map of London, usually called the Agas map, represents London in the 1560s—slightly earlier than Shakespeare was in London, but it is a wonderful resource to get a sense of what the city was like in the 16th century.

Old and New London: This nineteenth-century account of the history of London is chock-full of useful—and sometimes imaginative—descriptions of famous Shakespearean sites. Volume 6 covers Southwark and the Globe.

The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Inventory volumesThe RCHME was established in 1908, with a remit to produce an inventory of English monuments and identify those which were worthy of preservation. It is a good resource for both monuments mentioned by Shakespeare and monuments to Shakespeare.

A Dictionary of London: This early twentieth-century text by Henry A Harben lists streets and buildings in the City of London and often signposts places that have been mentioned in Shakespeare plays.

Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remambrancia 1579-1664: This index covers correspondence between the central government and City of London officials. Includes descriptions of letters regarding plays, players and theatres.

Camden Record Society Old Series: The volumes of this series that we have on BHO cover medieval and early modern London.

Feet of Fines, London and Middlesex: Feet of fines are court copies of agreements following disputes over property. The disputes were mostly fictitious and were simply a way of having the transfer of ownership of land recorded officially by the king’s court. The records in this series relate to London and Middlesex for the period 1189-1570.

Historical Gazetteer of London Before the Great Fire Cheapside; Parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary Le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane: Detailed property histories for five parishes in the central Cheapside area of London, from the 12th to the late 17th century. It includes accounts of the parish churches, and information about the people and buildings associated with the properties.

Topographical Dictionaries: A series of topographical dictionaries for England, Scotland and Wales, compiled by the publisher Samuel Lewis (1782/3-1865).

Bibliography of British and Irish History updated (June 2016)

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An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 9 June 2016. There are 3,762 new records, some 486 new records relate to Irish history while 147 deal with the history of London, 237 with the history of Scotland and 112 with the history of Wales. The overall total of records available online is now 574,494.

We usually list the number of new records for each update and we thought it would be interesting to plot the number of publications over the course of the history of the Bibliography (1909-present). This is the resultant graph. Note the small dip for the First World War and the more significant dip during the Second World War. There is a post-war peak and then the seemingly inexorable rise in publishing.

BBIH graph 2016

Click on the graph for a more detailed view.

The data was compiled by simply searching on the Advanced Search and the Year of publication field.

We expect the next update to be released in October 2016.

New reviews: First World War, Irish witches, British documentaries and early modern astrology

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sneddonWe begin this week with Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918 by Alexander Watson. Jonathan Kwan and the author discuss an important book that reconfigures our understanding of the First World War and of European history (no. 1947, with response here).

Then we turn to Andrew Sneddon’s Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland, and Mary Ann Lyons believes this book provides an excellent, fresh insight into the nature of beliefs about these phenomena (no. 1946).

Next up is A New History of British Documentary by James Chapman. Patrick Russell recommends a book whose methodology and contents raise numerous questions (no. 1945).

Finally we have the latest in our occasional podcast series, as Jordan Landes talks to Darin Hayton about his new book The Crown and the Cosmos: Astrology and the Politics of Maximilian I (no. 1944).

Churchill Papers 30-Day Trial

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£5 back - polymer © Bank of England [2015]

£5 back – polymer © Bank of England [2015]. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This week, we discovered that Winston Churchill has made the move from paper into polymer, with the announcement from the Bank of England that the next version of the five-pound note featuring the former Prime Minister will be manufactured from transparent plastic film. His papers, which are kept at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, have, of course, already made the transition from paper into microfilm, and now digital. Some 800,000 documents can now be searched via this resource, including the letter containing revelation (to this librarian) that in 1891 the young Churchill exchanged his bike, believed to be worth a fiver, for Dodo, a fine-bred British bull dog.

The IHR Library is currently running a 30-day trial of the digital resource. The papers can be accessed via any of the Library computers via http://www.churchillarchive.com/. We would be interested in knowing what you think about the resource, and whether it would be useful for your research. Please contact ihr.library@london.ac.uk or Tweet to us at @IHR_Library.

New reviews: Victorian politics, Scottish parliaments, Irish nationhood and American Baptists

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victorianWe begin this week with Victorian Political Culture: ‘Habits of Heart and Mind’ by Angus Hawkins. Simon Morgan and the author discuss a judicious and elegant synthesis of recent research which will appeal to novices and aficionados alike (no. 1943, with response here).

Next we turn to The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, and Julian Goodare gives three cheers for this latest product of the digital age, and an extra cheer for the remarkable monument of 19th-century scholarship it is based on (no. 1942).

Then we turn to And so began the Irish Nation: Nationality, Nationalism and National Consciousness in Pre-Modern Ireland. Joan Redmond believes this book shows Brendan Bradshaw’s continuing ability to provoke debate, and to pose questions regarding some of the central issues in early modern Irish history (no. 1941).

Finally we have Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins’ Baptists in America: A History. Matthew Bingham recommends an ideal choice for students, the general reader, and scholars of American religion (no. 1940).

“A Tour in the Highlands of Perthshire, July 1818″ from the Collections of the IHR Library

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During the recent reclassification of the Institute of Historical Research Library’s Scottish Local collections, a pamphlet was discovered entitled A Brief Account of a Tour in the Highlands of Perthshire, July 1818 in a Letter to a Friend.

Image-1The small pamphlet, measuring just 10.5cm x 17.5cm and only thirty-five pages in length, was written in 1818 by John Brown, Minister of the Gospel for Whitburn in West Lothian and printed for Ogle, Allardice and Thomson in Edinburgh in the same year. An additional work entitled, Loud Cry from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is also included in the pamphlet. The volume is rare, with only eight libraries in the United Kingdom holding a copy of the work – the University of Cambridge the only other library out with Scotland to hold a copy. The IHR’s pamphlet came into the library’s collections in 2010, however earlier provenance for the work is currently unknown to library staff.

After having studied at Glasgow University, John Brown became a prominent Scottish minister and theologian. Therefore, both works contained within the pamphlet describe the role of religion within societies in the Highlands of Scotland, as well as providing a travel account of a journey Brown undertook across the area. The purpose of the work is made clear in the advertisement that precedes the text. It notes that the work is published, ‘in the hope that it may be in some degree useful, in directing the attention of the Christian public, to the very interesting field for Missionary labours which the remoter districts of our own country present.’

A Brief Account of a Tour begins with Brown outlining his hopes and aims before providing an account of his travel itinerary, including the many religious figures with whom he met during the tour. In this regard, the account acts as a valuable source for the history of these communities – providing details of the number of residents, the names of sermon-givers, accommodation facilities, and places for worship (including, ‘a tent for preaching in a wood, on the margin of the water’ at Loch Tay.) In addition, Brown remarks that ‘it gave me pleasure to find several good books among the people’ – also of comfort today to library staff!

Image-2The ‘Loud Cry‘ pamphlet is more focussed on explicitly outlining a perceived lack of religious education, sermons and morals within the communities of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It is noted that ‘swearing, smuggling, drinking, strife, revenge, and almost all evil work, prevail in many places’ with the author imploring the need for religious education and guidance to be established in such communities. Indeed it is further stated that, ‘the most faithful description, exhibits only a faint representation of the state of the Highlands: it must be, “come and see”, then the case must affect.’

Consequently, a series of suggestions are set out for how to increase the religious education and spread of the Christian faith into these areas. Among the proposals are calls for ministers to spend summers preaching in rural communities, an increase in the availability of Bibles translated into Gaelic, a Missionary Society for the Highlands to be established, and a call for ‘commercial travellers in their northern journies [to] distribute religious tracts.’ It is also suggested that ‘might not ministers and teachers establish small libraries’ to help ‘moralise’ these rural communities. However, it should be noted that while the work in this respect provides valuable insight into the history of the Highlands of Scotland and religious history more generally, the work does contain language that may be offensive to the modern-day reader. Marginalia

In addition to the work itself, the pamphlet is also of note due to the marginalia and handwritten comments found throughout the work. These appear to have been written by Agnes Baillie, with an inscription on the front cover of the pamphlet of ‘Mrs Baillie of Drylaw’, written in the same handwriting as the notes interspersed throughout the text. Baillie owned Drylaw House in Edinburgh until her death in 1842.

Library staff would welcome any further information or resources concerning the background of both the pamphlet and marginalia. Please email ihr.library@london.ac.uk.

For more information on the Library’s Scottish Local Collections, please consult the Library’s collection guide: http://www.history.ac.uk/library/collections/scottish-history 

For further highlights from the Scottish Local Collections: http://blog.history.ac.uk/2016/04/highlights-from-the-scottish-local-history-collections-in-the-ihr-library/

Women entrepreneurs and Bronze Age man added to Oxford DNB

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Houghton_EC8.Ed377.Y800g_-_Mrs._Guppy's_Dialogues_for_Children,_1800_-_coverThis post has kindly been written for us by the ODNB’s Philip Carter.

The May 2016 update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography adds biographies of nearly 100 men and women active over 4000 years of British history.

May’s update provides a special focus on eighteenth and nineteenth-century women entrepreneurs and industrialists. New additions include the Bristol inventor, Sarah Guppy (1770-1852), whose many patents include a suspension bridge crossing the River Avon—years before Telford and Brunel; the Derbyshire colliery owner Ellen Morewood (1741-1824), and the domestic servant and autobiographer, Mary Ann Ashford (1787-1870).

Early modern religious biographies include Anne Hooper (d. 1555), one of the earliest wives of a bishop in the post-Reformation period. Hooper’s letters chart a period of intense religious and personal uncertainty.

Modern salon culture is captured in the lives of Caroline Jebb (1840-1930), a leader of academic life in Cambridge, and Mary Jeune, Lady St Helier (1845-1931) whose influential political circle brought together Winston and Clementine (Churchill).

The earliest new addition is Racton Man (fl. c.2200 BP), the skeleton of a Bronze Age warrior at The Novium Museum, Chichester, whose ‘biography’—based on forensic science—can now be written. May’s update also includes two pioneers of tattooing: George Burchett (1872-1953) and Sutherland Macdonald (1860-1942). Macdonald coined the term ‘tattooist’ (‘tattoo’ + ‘artist’) to better convey the artistry of his work, and both men numbered members of the aristocracy and royalty among their clients.

The new edition also extends the ODNB’s coverage of historical groups and networks. Essays include the members, works, and legacy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Erasmus Circle of scholars who championed the great Dutch humanist from the early 1500s; and participants in the Northern Rising (1559-70). Essays on more than 320 historical groups—early medieval to late modern—are now available in the ‘Themes’ area of the Oxford DNB online.

Finally, 4000 new links have been added from ODNB entries to online resources providing alternative perspectives on an individual. These include links to 850 English Heritage Blue Plaques, 650 monuments in Westminster Abbey, 200 person records in Queen Victoria’s Journals, 200 Poetry Archive and BBC recordings, and 2500 correspondence records created by the Oxford history project, ‘Early Modern Letters Online’.

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