Archive for the ‘Medieval History’ Category

York City Walls

Posted: September 12, 2018 in History, Medieval History, UK, York
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I think one of the most attractive things about York as a city is the city walls. These are almost complete except for one section to the north of the city and you are able to walk around the city upon them. It merely gives you an idea of what a medieval walled city might have been like.



One of the fascinating aspects of the city walls is that they have been refurbished and rebuilt over a number of years and as a result show a number of different styles of defensive wall building.



York Minster

The first recorded church on the site was in 627 in a record of the baptism of a King of Northumbria. This church was rebuilt and extended over the years but was finally destroyed by Danish raid in 1075. it was rebuilt in 1080 in the Norman style. The current Gothic cathedral was begun in 1220. Building continued over the next 250 years and it was eventually completed and consecrated in 1472.





Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine, who was proclaimed Emperor by the Army at York whilst he was commanding them in 306. The statue stands outside the Minster as a reminder that Constantine, as well as being proclaimed in York, was the Emperor who made Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire.


The Abbey of St Mary’s in York is built on the north side of the river Ouse about half a mile from York Minster. It dates back to 1055, but its prominence begins in 1088 when it was refounded as a Benedictine community on the permission of William the Conqueror. It quickly grew into one of the pre-eminent monastic houses in the North of England and also quickly developed a reputation or its rather lax and lavish lifestyle. In 1132 Prior Richard, together with 13 monks, left St Mary’s to join the Cistercians at Fountains Abbey as they felt that the lifestyle at St Mary’s did not fit their monastic vows. In the 12th century, the now wealthy order built a large extension to the monastery, including a new church and a crenellated enclosure wall.

Part of the Abbey's enclosure wall along the banks of the river

Part of the Abbey’s enclosure wall along the banks of the river

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

It may be that this new wall was partly built as a response to the tensions and troubles that have broken out between the monastery and the town over rights and privileges and these problems seemed to dog St Mary’s during its entire history so that when in 1539 it was dissolved by Henry VIII, it is said that there was no public outcry at its dissolution.
Initially, the buildings were used as a royal palace when the king visited in 1540, but they soon fell into disuse and disrepair.
Today the remains of this once enormously powerful abbey are found in the gardens of the Yorkshire Museum.

The Hospitium - originally either a guest house or barn in the Abbey.

The Hospitium – originally either a guest house or barn in the Abbey.



Perhaps the most famous memorial in the Cathedral is to William Shakespeare, who performed many of his plays at the Globe Theatre, a few hundred yards from the Cathedral.

The Shakespeare memorial and window which contains characters from his plays

The organ, the font and some roof bosses from the 15th-century wooden roof

In the SW corner are a fragment of the original Norman church and the memorial to the Marchioness Tragedy in 1989, which happened on the river not far from the Cathedral

Medieval tombs in the Cathedral


Last night Sue and I did an evening tour of Southwark Cathedral.


Southwark Cathedral sits at the south end of London Bridge. Its pre-Norman origins are mostly legends with very little historical proof. It has been claimed that its foundation as a church was in 606, but this seems highly unlikely. Another story claims there was a nunnery here in pre-Norman times and also a college of priests founded by a noble lady called Swithene. Some historians have actually suggested that a more likely founder was actually Bishop Swithern of Winchester, who held office from 852 to 863. Certainly, there must’ve been an established church here as the Domesday book (1086) records the ‘Minster at Southwark’, controlled by Bishop Odo of the Bayeaux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. However, it was the Bishop of Winchester who founded a Priory dedicated to the Virgin Mary on this site, close to his London Palace, in 1106. Its actual dedication is to St Mary Overie (St Mary over the water) to distinguish itself from the churches of St Mary in the city of London on the other side of London Bridge.

The Priory was damaged by fire in 1212 and 1390 and in 1496 the stone ceiling of the nave collapsed and was replaced by a wooden one. However, despite all of these calamities, repairs were carried out and in 1520 Bishop Fox installed a new altar screen, which is still present today, at the west end. The Priory closed in 1540, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, and the church was first leased to, and later granted to, the people of Southwark for use as a parish church. It seems however that the cost of upkeep was beyond the parish and by the 19th century, much of the church was in a bad state with only the west end in use. A major effort was made to restore the church to its former glory and much effort to ensure that the Victorian rebuilding was done in the style of the Medieval original. Thus today when you look at it, there is a continuity between the 13th-century elements and those added by the Victorian rebuilders. In 1905, with the expansion of population south of the river, a new diocese in the Church of England was created and the church was redesignated as The Cathedral Church of St Mary Overie and St Saviour.

Eustace the Monk

Posted: August 24, 2018 in History, Medieval History

Today is the 801st anniversary of the Battle of Sandwich, fought off the coast of Kent between the English and French navies. It also marks the day the English finally captured and killed one of their biggest characters of his age, Eustace the monk.

Eustace had been born around 1170, somewhere near Boulogne any in France. He trained as a knight, but through his extensive travels also learnt the skills of seamanship. But his life was to take an unexpected turn when he turned his back on the military life and entered a Benedictine monastery. Records do not recall any reason for this sudden about-face in Eustace’s life, but it is clear that it had little to do with the reformation of his character. Many un-monastic acts are attributed to him: encouraging his brothers to eat when they should have been fasting, cursing during the services and urging them to “fart in the cloister”. Eustace left the monastery, but the short stay earned him the epitaph by which he would be known for the rest of his life. He next took up a job in the court of the Count of Boulogne, but was soon accused of financial misdeeds and fled into the countryside where he set himself up as a bandit. He and his men pursued a life of thievery and violence. In 1206, seeing a unique opportunity, he allied himself English King, John, who was involved in a struggle with the French about control of the Duchy of Normandy. Eustace was given command of a flotilla in the channel and set about wreaking havoc in French shipping. The pirates seized the island of Sark and used this as a base to launch their raids. But Eustace soon started attacking ships of other nations including those of his ally, the King of England. In1214 King John ordered a raid on Sark and although many of Eustace’s men were captured, Eustace himself escaped. By 1215  Eustace appeared again, this time at the French court. King Philip Augustus recognised the value of Eustace’s experience and his knowledge of the English. He was appointed as the French Admiral and played a major part in the French invasion of England in 1216.

A medieval manuscript showing Eustace in a sea battle ( Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

When this invasion faltered, the following spring,  it was Eustace who broke through the English blockade to rescue Prince Louis, the king’s son, who was trapped in the town of Rye. Eustace was able to reunite the prince with the remainder of his army. The campaign continued to go badly for the French and by May, the Prince found himself trapped once again, this time in London. Reinforcements and much-needed supplies were gathered in France and Eustace set sail for England. However, on the 24th August, this large French fleet was intercepted by the English navy off of Sandwich and heavily defeated. It is recorded that Eustace died on the deck of his ship fighting the English.

Eustace the monk would be well remembered but not for his holy monastic life!

The Merchant Adventurers hall was built in 1357-61 for the Mystery of Mercers, a guild of merchants from the city. They became involved in shipping woolen and cloth goods from England and returning with cargoes from the destination ports. This trade was primarily with northern Europe, the Baltic countries and Iceland.




The name Merchant Adventurers comes from a charter granted to the guild in 1581.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall, York
Photo by Allan Harris (

Today the hall is used for weddings and conferences.

William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire in 1494. He attended Oxford University and obtained a first degree in 1512 and his master’s degree 3 years later. He began studying Theology. In 1517 he moved from Oxford to Cambridge where he remained until 1521. He then took up a post as chaplain and tutor to a family in Gloucestershire, but after 2 years left to travel to London seeking permission to translate the Latin Bible into English. Finding no support in England for his project, he travelled to Wittenberg in Germany where he began working on the translation. The first copies were printed in Antwerp and Worms in 1526 and some of these found their way back to England. Bishop Tunstall obtained some copies and promptly burnt them, although this proved to be a controversial action even amongst those who opposed the translation from Latin. In 1529, Cardinal Wolsey declared that Tyndale was a heretic and the following year Tyndale wrote an essay opposing the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Infuriated, Henry petitioned the Emporer Charles V for Tyndale’s arrest and extradition. Tyndale was eventually arrested in 1535 and put on trial at Vilvoorde near Brussels on a charge of Heresy. It is interesting to note that one person who urged the court for clemency was Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister.  Tyndale was found guilty and sentenced to execution. His last words were reported as “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England”. By 1540, Henry had commisioned the production of ‘The Great Bible’ an English language translation to be used in all churches in the new Church of England. Its core source was Tyndale’s translation.

This Bronze statue of Tyndale was erected in Victoria Embankment Gardens in 1884. Beside Tyndale is an open Bible resting on a printing press.

Norwich Cathedral has some wonderful stained glass windows.



Window celebrating Norwich’s Benedictine heritage



On a calm, warm sunny evening earlier this week, I was fortunate to go on a guided walk of the Temple area of London.

The Temple is a secluded area to the west of the city which is known today for its connections with the legal profession. It comprises two of the four Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. To the north are situated the Royal Courts of Justice and a short walk east brings you to the Central Criminal Court.


The area is first recorded in the 12th century when the Knights Templars moved here from a site in Holborn to the west and built the Temple Church. Within the site were two Templar Halls, Inner and Middle Hall. Upon the dissolution of the order in 1312 the land was granted to the Knights Hospitallers, although it took them over 100 years to fully establish their control over the site. However, the Hospitallers already had a compound and hall in Clerkenwell and so were not interested in moving to this site. They leased it to a group of lawyers and so the long association began between this area and the law. The lands passed to the crown following the dissolution of the monasteries and the lawyers became Crown Tenants (annual rent £10 per year for each Inn). They were granted a charter by James I and the lawyers gained absolute title to the land.

Today, Temple houses many chambers of barristers along with other legal organisations and is governed by a committee of leading members.

The symbols of the Inner (Pegasus) and Middle Temples (Agnus Dei)

The Temple area suffered badly during the air raids of WWII and much had to be rebuilt. The original Templars church was badly damaged and much restoration was needed to return it to an image of its original self.

One building that did survive and remains a jewel in the crown was the Elizabethan hall in Middle Temple which we were fortunate enough to be able to visit. Completed in 1572 it is a wonderful building with a fantastic hammer-beam roof, argued to be the finest still existing in London.

A great way to spend a summer evening.