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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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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).

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).

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).

John Dee, Tudor Polymath

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M0010334 Portrait of John Dee Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Portrait of John Dee Stipple Engraving Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Portrait of John Dee
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

To complement the popular exhibition of Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, it seems an opportune moment to showcase the resources listed in the BBIH. John Dee was a man of many interests, and his expertise in subjects such as navigation, astronomy and mathematics is demonstrated in the wide variety of resources available.

Dee’s early interest in mathematics is established in the article On the Origins of Dee’s Mathematical Programme: The John Dee–Pedro Nunes Connection, which explores the connections between Dee and Pedro Nunes, a Portuguese cosmographer and mathematician. Although little is known of their relationship, Nunes had a great influence on Dee, who become interested in his work in the early 1550s, and may have inspired Dee to pursue his interest in the nautical sciences of navigation and cartography.

Monas hieroglyphica Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Monas hieroglyphica
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Dee is renowned for his spiritual interests and they had clearly developed by 1564, when he published a work titled Monas hieroglyphica, a treatise on a glyph he invented made up of esoteric and astrological symbols, incorporating the sun, moon, Aries and the cross. This work is widely regarded as perplexing and obscure, yet The Reception of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Early Modern Italy: The Case of Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1562-1616) demonstrates the influence that Dee’s work had on Italian scholars in 1592. Foscarini’s Scientiarum et artium omnium ferme anacephalaeosis theoretica is a booklet comprising 344 theses, some heavily drawn from the Monas hieroglyphica and placing extreme importance on Dee’s monad, citing it as a symbol of the ‘word of God’, although he does not elaborate on the extensive allusions to alchemy present in the original work.

However, the following chapter in Supernatural and Secular Power in Early Modern England titled John Dee, Alchemy and Authority in Elizabethan England provides an in-depth account of the alchemic interests of prominent Tudors, including William Cecil, Thomas Smith and even Elizabeth I. The machinations of courtly life are outlined, with Dee’s fall from grace after the reception of the Monas hieroglyphica; as a Catholic priest he was a prime target for the evangelic Protestants who surrounded Elizabeth and they orchestrated rumours that Dee consorted with the Devil. Elizabeth’s interest in alchemy inhibited Protestant reformers such as John Whitgift and Christopher Hatton from outright denunciation, but they certainly discredited Dee by using whispering campaigns to sabotage his royal patronage.

John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org

John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Fortunately, Dee was a man of many talents and in Cartography as a Tool of Colonization:Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Voyage to North America, he plays an important role in the burgeoning discipline of cartography during Elizabeth’s reign. Maps began to move from objects of symbolism to objects of function, providing important visual details to guide colonists’ ships across to North America. Dee created two nautical charts for the expedition in the early 1580s, drawing on the wide resources he had amassed in his personal library, and from gathering information from European travellers, and even pirates. It is clear from this article that Dee strongly supported the idea of colonization, as he listed over twelve British claims to the territory of North America on the back of the map, ranging from King Arthur to Frobisher’s recent voyage in 1577. The political intentions of the maps are clear, ‘fantasy’ islands were omitted and meticulous detail paid to the coastline, yet the interior of North America is left blank, to signify to Elizabeth the potential for colonization. The academic merit of Dee is certainly something to be admired; he produced these resources purely from his own research, as he was not a seaman, and never travelled to the Americas. Interestingly, Dee signed one of these charts with his personal glyph mentioned above.

Münster's map of America 1561

Münster’s map of America 1561 (Image from Wikipedia)

 

Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe is a fascinating account of magical texts that were owned by the monks at St Augustine’s of Canterbury during the thirteenth and fourteenth century, that came into Dee’s possession after its dissolution. It explores the use of these manuscripts, and the monks attitudes towards them; they were not hidden away as dangerous objects, but shelved in the main collection of the library. The monks had a positive attitude towards magic, combining it with other intellectual interests, although perhaps the somewhat sheltered environment of monastic life allowed a more liberal approach to these texts. It is apparent from Dee’s annotations in the margins that he made use of these texts after he acquired them, and even practiced some of the rituals to seek spiritual advancement, although it is emphasized that he did this for philosophical reasons. For a more thorough review, see Reviews in History.

The final article John Dee’s Ideas and Plans for a National Research Institute provides another aspect to Dee’s life. Concerning his desire to established academic institutions at his home in Mortlake and St Cross, the plans are analyzed and explore Dee’s ideas on shaping the social and intellectual role of natural philosophers. The article surmises that Dee’s plans differed from other projects of the time, and compares his proposal to Francis Bacon’s.

The exhibition Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee portrays Dee as a man of many talents, with a wide-ranging intellect and interests in many fields. From examining the recent resources featured in the Bibliography, John Dee’s far-reaching accomplishments are represented and provide yet more fascinating aspects to a much misunderstood man. Visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History to explore more:

Advanced search screen shot for John Dee

Figure 1: Advanced search screen shot for John Dee

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 16.30.04

Figure 2: Screen shot of resources for John Dee

For a review of the exhibition, see Reviews in History 1925

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New reviews: Roosevelt and China, witchcraft, Irish sport and medieval paradise

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rooseveltFirst up this week is Gregory Moore’s Defining and Defending the Open Door Policy: Theodore Roosevelt and China, 1901-1909. Michael Cullinane and the author disagree over an analysis of Theodore Roosevelt’s influence within the longue durée of US-Sino relations (no. 1939, with response here).

Next up is Witchcraft, Witch-hunting and Politics in Early Modern England by Peter Elmer, as Imogen Peck recommends an essential read for all scholars of early modern witchcraft (no. 1938).

Then we turn to Paul Rouse’s Sport and Ireland: a History, which Brian Griffin finds to be a treat for both specialists and non-specialists alike (no. 1937, with response here).

Finally we have From Eden to Eternity: Creations of Paradise in the Later Middle Ages by Alastair Minnis. Brian Murdoch reviews a fascinating, original and impressive contribution to the field of paradise studies (no. 1936, with response here).

The Origin of the Student Species

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Modern students study their early modern predecessors

This post has been kindly written for us by Dr Adam Crymble. Adam is a Lecturer of Digital History at the University of Hertfordshire and an Editor of the Programming Historian. He was also the Project Manager of British History Online in 2014.

Where did Oxford University’s 60,149 students from 1500-1714 come from in the first place? Thanks to British History Online and a talented group of students, we’re beginning to understand for the first time.

For many people, the extremely carefully digitized volumes in British History Online are a fantastic way to read about the past. The project calls itself a ‘digital library’, and I think that’s apt. For my undergraduate digital history students at the University of Hertfordshire, it’s also much more. It proved to be a source of digital data that we could map and experiment with.

This past year, a group of 18 students studying history were challenged with mapping the point of origin of all 60,000 students who studied at Oxford in the Tudor and Stuart eras. The task would be impossible if the records weren’t already available. We have two groups to thank for that. Firstly, mini-biographies of each of these students were compiled in the nineteenth century by Joseph Foster, and published in hardcopy, known as the Alumni Oxonienses. Secondly, and much more recently, and with the great care that we’ve come to expect from British History Online, those mini-biographies have been digitized and are fully-text searchable on the site.

For anyone related to one of these individuals, this proves to be a great resource to get some specifics on a life lived. But because British History Online’s texts are easy to download with a bit of cutting and pasting, I was able to convert the volume into a spreadsheet for my students to work with. They then extracted the place of origin from each entry using a step-by-step tutorial at The Programming Historian before mapping them using a free tool called Google Fusion Tables.

Alumni Oxonienses Dataset

Figure 1: The Alumni Oxonienses Dataset

All steps used free tools and free texts, so if you’re curious about the resultant map, I’d challenge you to have a go and find out for yourself using the steps above. You can see a teaser in Figure 2, which shows the origins of a subset of individuals who were knighted later in life.

Heatmap

Figure 2: Heatmap of place of origin of knighted Oxford Students, 1500-1714. Dataset compiled by Corey Albone, Jack Dunne, Namiluko Indie, Bethany Reid, ‘Oxford Knights’, The Oxford Knights Archive (2014-15).

These students were not like our university students today. Many were men of the gentry and upper classes, and probably include a large number of second sons, who would not have inherited the family fortune as would their older brother. University in the early modern era was largely a place for would-be clerics, but also lawyers, scientists, and a growing number of merchants. It’s where you got your religious or legal training before heading off for a life in the monasteries, or preaching the word of God, or as a lawyer in the Inns of Court.

In order to understand what the maps showed us, the class learned about the origins of the English gentry, clergy, and legal professions (among others of a similar sort), and were able to see first-hand what the digital nature of the records makes possible. Digital mapping, like graphing, provides us with a heads-up way to understand patterns in our historical records. It’s a way to see the forest for the trees, in a way that’s just not possible with Foster’s original printed volumes. Thanks to British History Online for making this resource available in a format that we could easily reuse. It’s been a great learning experience for us all.

Digitising the Calendars of Inquisitions post mortem

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This post originally appeared on the Mapping the Medieval Countryside blog and is reposted here with permission from Michael Hicks

Work has continued on making the published inquisitions post mortem freely accessible in the sixteen months since funding ceased, and we are pleased to announce that another major target of the Mapping the Medieval Countryside has now been achieved. Volumes 1-20 of theCalendars of Inquisitions post mortem and 2nd series volumes 1-3 for Henry VII are now freely available on British History Online at
www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/inquis-post-mortem
(Volumes 21-26 are of course already available on the [Mapping the Medieval Countryside] website).

This means that the whole of this massive series of records, covering the periods 1236-1447 and 1485-1509, are now accessible free of charge to anyone in the world with access to the internet. Not only academic historians, archaeologists and geographers, but local and family historians will find them a key source for their own researches.

This is the product of the collaborations between the University of Winchester and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, of British History Online based at the Institute of Historical Research, and of course the funder the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Especial credit for the final preparation of the digitised text is due to Dr Matthew Holford of the project and Sarah Milligan and Jonathan Blaney at BHO.

New reviews: enemy intelligence, slave narratives, Georgian militia and Clementine Churchill

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intelligenceWe start this week with The Image of the Enemy: Intelligence Analysis of Adversaries since 1945, edited by Paul Maddrell. Charlie Hall and the author debate an excellent collection of meticulously researched and lucidly presented studies (no. 1935, with response here).

Then we have review article by David Anderson on two books of slave narratives, Slave Culture: A Documentary Collection of the Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project (edited by Spencer Crew, Lonnie Bunch and Clement Price) and Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantations: From Interviews of Former Slaves (edited by Lynette Ater Tanner). The reviewer believes both these books will prove to be useful research tools and references for historians and students of slavery (no. 1934).

Next up is Matthew McCormack’s Embodying the Militia in Georgian England. Kevin Linch praises a work which champions an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the military in this period (no. 1933).

Finally Bradley Hart and Sonia Purcell discuss the latter’s First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill, a well-researched book of Churchill scholarship (no. 1932, with response here).

New reviews: London crime, American government, the Medici and the NHS

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shore2First up this week is London’s Criminal Underworlds, c. 1720 – c. 1930 by Heather Shore, as Robert Shoemaker and the author debate a fascinating study of the discursive power of ‘the underworld’ (no. 1931, with response here).

Then we turn to Gary Gerstle’s Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present. Thomas Rodgers praises a fine and satisfying work on the paradox of liberty and coercion in the American state (no. 1930).

Next up is The Medici: Citizens and Masters, edited by John Law and Robert Black. Nicholas Scott Baker and the editors discuss a multi-faceted, kaleidoscopic view of the 15th-century Medici regime in Florence (no. 1929, with response here).

Finally Julian Simpson recommends Contagious Communities: Medicine, Migration, and the NHS in Post War Britain by Roberta Bivins, an intriguing exploration of the ways in which particular aspects of policy and practice were shaped by a range of evolving factors (no. 1928).

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