A study of the Stone of Destiny, the Stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone, has revealed new information. Firstly, it has some markings which look like three X’s and something like a V – perhaps Roman Numerals or more likely, crosses.
The Stone also revealed traces of copper alloy showing that a metal object had been attached to the Stone for a considerable time. The most obvious suggestion would be a relic associated with a Saint, and a Bell is one possibility.
Traces of gypsum suggested someone sometime made a plaster copy of the stone. No one knows when or why, and it has not been found.
Historic Environment, Scotland has released this fascinating 3-D scan of the stone for the public to view – it is annotated too.
You can read more at the links below, and thank you to Jean Kelly of the Britarch mailing list for alerting me to this.
The Stone has been moved from its permanent home at Edinburgh Castle for the first time since 1996, to be placed under the Coronation Chair for Charles’s May 6 Coronation at Westminster Abbey.
The Stone was kept at Scone before it was stolen by Edward 1 of England, who placed it under the Coronation Chair, at Westminster, to sanctify English Kings and to make the point that he was the overlord of the Scottish. In the 1950’s Scottish students stole it back, hid it for a few weeks and then left it at Arbroath Abbey. They did this because the so-called Declaration of Arbroath (1320) is a letter to the Pope asking for his endorsement of Scotland’s claim to be independent of England. The Pope agreed.
The Stone was recovered from Arbroath taken back to Westminster. The Labour Party under Tony Blair, granted Scotland back their own Parliament and as a symbol of their regained independence, the Stone of Destiny was taken back to Scotland.
To my mind it should be in Scone, which is where Macbeth and most other Scottish Kings were crowned, but perhaps they thought it should be in the Capital and in the safety of the Castle. At Scone, the Stone was placed on a mound of earth which was said to be made up of the dust from the feet of those attending Coronations symbolising the consent of all of Scotland for the new King.
As May Eve approached, which like Halloween, was considered a particularly uncanny time, people were warned to guard against witches stealing their babies:
He (the Devil) teacheth the witches to make ointments of the bowels and members of children, whereby they ride in the air and accomplish all their desires. So as, if they be any children unbaptized, or not guarded with the sign of the cross or orisons: then the witches may and do catch them from their mother’s side at night, or out of their cradles. …. and after burial steal them out of the graves, then seethe them in a cauldron until their flesh been made possible.
Reginald Scott ‘The Discovery of Witchcraft’ 1594 (from ‘The perpetual Almanack of Folklore’ by Charles Kightley)
(and please remember I am doing a May Eve Walk on April 30th and a May Day Virtual Tour on May 1st see here).
Ways to keep witches away were various, but baptising your children early was the best method. As you will have seen in previous posts children were normally baptised as soon as three days after birth in the early modern period.) Saying prayers (orisons), hanging garlic, bread, rowan-leaves, around the cradle were among many other methods that could be used in those days of a homicidal fear of witchcraft.
In archaeological surveys of timber framed buildings increasing numbers of reports of marks have been discovered. They are now so ubiquitous that it seems most people felt they need to deploy them to secure their houses. It was believed that witches gained entry where there was in inlet of wind, so doors, windows, chimneys, and anywhere there was a draft. These were be marked by pentagons which represent the five wounds of Christ, as well as a variety of other marks ‘chequerboards, mesh patterns, peltas (a type of knotwork design) and circle’. This quotation is from https://theartssociety.org/arts-news-features/ancient-symbols-once-used-ward-away-witches which is an excellent read and gives more detail.
Robert Burns poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ gives a graphic, fictional, account of a witches’ coven presided over by the Devil (auld Nick) himself which features ‘wee, unchristen’d bairns‘:
And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight! Warlocks and witches in a dance; Nae cotillion brent new frae France, But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels, Put life and mettle in their heels. A winnock-bunker in the east, There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast; A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large, To gie them music was his charge: He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl, Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.— Coffins stood round, like open presses, That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses; And by some devilish cantraip slight Each in its cauld hand held a light.— By which heroic Tam was able To note upon the haly table, A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns; Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns; A thief, new-cutted frae a rape, Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape; Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted; Five scymitars, wi’ murder crusted; A garter, which a babe had strangled; A knife, a father’s throat had mangled, Whom his ain son o’ life bereft, The grey hairs yet stack to the heft; Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awefu’, Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.
I talked more about Tam O’Shanter and the Cutty Sark here and to read the whole poem see below. Please do have a look and when you read it read it quick and don’t worry about how to pronounce it or understand it, just enjoy the ride!
I have updated my May Day post following a very enjoyable May day walk yesterday. Follow this link to read about May Day.
I am doing a virtual May Day tour this evening (May 1st 7.30 to book follow this link.)
On the 28th of April until the Kalends (15th) of May the Romans, according to Ovid in the ‘Fasti’ Book IV, celebrated the Florialia dedicated to Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowering, blossoming, budding, planting and fertility. She was one of the 15 Roman Deities offered a state-financed Priest. Her home, in Rome, was on the lower slopes of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus.
Celebrations began with theatrical performances, at the end of which the audience were pelted with beans and lupins. Then there were competitive games, and spectacles. The latter, in the reign of Galba, including a tight-rope walking – wait for it – elephant!
Incidently, Galba only survived for 7 months as Emperor – a little longer than Liz Truss’s 44 days but then she was not murdered by a rampaging mob at the end of her reign. It was the year known to history as the year of the 4 Emperors. (great description by Tacitus here:)
Juvenal records that prostitutes were included in the celebration of Flora by dancing naked, and fighting in mock gladiatorial battles. (there is a raging debate about the existence of female gladiators: a burial in Southwark has been said to be one such and Natalie Haynes has her say on the subject here🙂
Hares and goats were released as part of the ceremonies, presumably because they are very fertile and have a ‘salacious’ reputation! (Satyrs were, famously, obsessed with sex and were half man half goat. A man can still be referred to, normally behind his back, as an ‘old goat’).
I went to New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon to see the First Folio Exhibition on the anniversary of its publication in 1623. It was a very small exhibition, and, at first sight quite disappointing. Almost everything in it I had seen before. But, I came away quite excited, because it had a much better explanation of the Signet Ring than the one in its previous display.
In 1810 someone found this gold ring in field near the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried. It has a lover’s knot and the initials WS. It could ofcourse be anyone’s with those initials. But it certainly excited comment at the time as the display makes clear:
I did not know about the ring until New Place was refurbished a few years ago and the ring went on display. The new display gives more of an explanation as well as the delightful quotation above from Hayden to Keats.
Michael Wood suggested that Shakespeare might have lost the ring on the occassion of his daughter, Judith’s, marriage to Thomas Quiney in February 1616. Shakespeare made his Will a month later, and it is marked by three of his signatures. The Will says ‘whereof I have hereunto put my seale’. The word seale has been crossed out and the word ‘hand’ put in in its stead. So, he was intending to seale his approval of the Will, but changed his mind and put his signature instead? Why? Because he had recently lost his seal ring? Shakespeare died a month or so later.
Judith was the twin of Hamnet who died at age 11 and the Church has recently planted a couple of trees as a memorial to the twins, who are not buried, like their older sister, Suzanna, next to their mum and dad by the altar in the Church. Judith’s husband was a bit of a rogue, as he was called to the Bawdy Court and accused of debauchery with a local women who he made pregnant, and who died in childbirth. He is not mentioned in the Will.
But Shakespeare did leave money in his will to buy gold rings for his fellow actors, John Heminges and William Condell, who are buried in St Mary Aldermanbury in London. They outlived Shakespeare and collected his plays together in the First Folio. A Remembrance Ring is also in the display.
The other main item in the display is this tiny 7.8 cm high notebook in which its unknown owner copied out his favourite quotes from the First Folio. It contains material from all 38 plays, and internal evidence shows it must have been made from the First Folio. It is about the size of the minature books the Brontes made. The tiny writing of the book must have been written with a quill from a small bird.
The display shows that a lot can be made of a few objects, if they are well chosen and with an excellent explanation.
By the way the rings and the Folio are clear evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays as his friends put together his plays in a volume with introductory information which makes it absolutely clear he wrote them. Also in the Church the memorial to Shakespeare compares him to King Nestor in judgement, Socrates in wisdom, and Virgil in art. Nothing can be clearer, and why people continue to say Shakespeare was simply an actor who copied out the plays is beyond me.
By tradition, Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day April 23rd 1564, 457 years ago. He died on the same date in 1616 at age 52. Cervantes died on the same day.
Shakespeare’s death date is given by the burial register at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon where he was buried. His baptismal record also survives at the same church and is on April 26th 1564. but we don’t actually know when he was born, but christening were held soon after birth for fear of the high infant mortality rates, so the 23rd April has been assigned to be Shakespeare’s birthday.
Anne Shakespeare would have ‘taken to her chamber’ about four weeks before the due date. The windows or shutters would have been fastened as fresh air was thought to be bad for the birthing process. Female friends and relatives would come round, and the room would be decorated with fine carpets, hangings, silver plates and fine ornaments. It was felt that external events could influence the birth, and any shocks or horrors were thought to be the cause of deformities and anomalies, so a calm lying-in room was clearly a good idea.
When labour began female friends, relatives and the midwife were called to help out. A caudle of spiced wine or beer would be given to the mother to strengthen her through the process. Today the maternal mortality rate is 7 per 100,000. An estimate for the 16th Century is 1500 per 100,000. So most women would have heard of or attended the birth of women who had died during or following children birth. There were also no forceps so if a baby were stuck and could not be manually manipulated out, then the only way forward was to get a surgeon to use hooks to dismember the baby to save the life of the mother. Doctors were not normally in attendance, but could be called in emergency,
Immediately after washing, the baby was swaddled. The swaddling was often very tight and could affect the baby’s growth, and might have affected the learning process as movement of hands are now considered very important in the early learning process. Swaddling lasted eight to nine months, and only went out of fashion after Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote against the practice.
Puerperal fever killed many women after successful childbirth for example Queen Jane Seymour who died after 5 days. During these dangerous early days the mother was kept in a dark room, and then, perhaps three days after birth friends were invited to celebrate ‘upsitting’ when the mother was no longer confined to bed. This is when christening would take place. Edward VI was christened to a huge audience in the chapel at Hampton Court three days after his birth.
Licensed midwives could baptise newborn babies provided they used the correct wording and informed the Church so that the registration could be properly reported. Thomas Cromwell was responsible for the law in 1538 which insisted on a parish register to record weddings, christenings, and funerals. The law was reaffirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and registers had to be stored in a locked chest in the Church. (In 1597, the records had to be on parchment not paper, and in 1603 the chest had to have three locks!).
If the Christening were in the church the mother might not be there as she was expected to stay in her chamber for another week or so.
A week or a few weeks later the mother would be ‘churched.’ This was a thanks-giving ceremony, although Puritans did not like the idea that it could be considered a purification ceremony.
Breast feeding would last a year or so but many high status women choose to use a wet-nurse, but there was a real concern that the wet nurse was suitable as it was believed that the breast milk was important for the babies development both physically and temperamentally. Poor children who lost their mothers were very unlikely to survive as, without breast milk, the baby would be fed pap – bread soaked in cow’s milk.
On Sunday I led a Chaucer’s London Walk in the morning and a Canterbury Tales Virtual Pilgrimage in the evening. I choose the day is it was the closest to the 18th April which is when Chaucer’s pilgrims leave London to ride to Canterbury.
At the begining of the prologue he gives clues as to the date. They go when April showers and Zephyrus’s wind is causing sap to rise in plants, engendering flowers and when Aries course across the sky is half run.
The pilgrims are accompanied by Harry Bailly who is the landlord of the Tabard Inn in Southwark and was a real person and a fellow Member of Parliament of Chaucer.
He is jolly and quite knowledgeable and in the Man of Laws prologue we get a glimpse of Harry time telling in the days before clocks.
Chaucer mentions ‘artificial day’ and this is a reference to the way days were divided into hours. There were twelve hours in the daylight part of the day day, and twelve hours in the dark night. So in the winter daylight hours were short, and in the summer long.
Romans used water clocks, King Alfred used candles marked into hours and Harry Bailly knows how to tell the time by the height of the Sun. Harry tells the pilgrims it’s about time they got underway. Here is an extract:
Essentially he is telling the time by the length of the shadows. The illustration of the mass clock at Jane Austen’s Church at Steventon is another example of how the sun can be used easily to tell time.
The first mass clock I noticed was at the church in Kent which Dickens used for Great Expectations where Pip’s brothers and sisters were buried. Once you find one mass clock you suddenly discover them everywhere!
Telling the time, before mechanical clocks, was not complicated. The basic unit is the day and the night, and we can all tell when the dawn has broken. The Moon provides another simple unit of time. The month’s orbit around the Earth is roughly every 29 days and the new, the crescents and full moons provide a quartering of the month. For longer units, the Earth orbits around the Sun on a yearly basic, but divided into four, the winter solstice; the spring equinox, the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.
But there were other ways of marking days in the calendar, with natural time markers marked by, for example, migrating birds, lambing, and any number of budding and flowering plants such as daffodils and elm leaves:
When the Elmen leaf is as big as a mouse’s ear, Then to sow barley never fear; When the Elmen leaf is as big as an ox’s eye, Then says I, ‘Hie, boys” Hie!’ When elm leaves are as big as a shilling, Plant, kidney beans, if to plant ’em you’re willing; When elm leaves are as big as a penny, You must plant kidney beans if you mean to have any.’
In my north facing garden I have my very own solar time marker. All through the winter the sun never shines directly on my garden. Spring comes appreciably later than the front carpark which is a sun trap. But in early April just after 12 o’clock the sun peeks over the block of flats to the south of me, finds a gap between my building and the converted warehouse next door and for a short window of time a shaft of a sunbeam brings a belated and welcome spring.
Easter is time for a tansy! The plant is awesome, not least in that the flowers display a classical Fibonacci spiral, which is two counter-rotating logarithmic spirals. But Mrs Grieve in her Modern Herbal repeats the belief that their name derives from the Greek word for immortality ‘Athanaton’, and this might be because they grow so well that in some areas they are proscribed they are so prolific. But Tansy was supposed to have been given to Ganymede by Zeus to make him immortal, and according to Ambrosius, through their use for preserving dead bodies from corruption. Tansy was placed in coffins and winding sheets and tansy wreaths placed with the dead.
Its toxicity means that it repels many insects, particularly, flies and ants, and so it was used as a medieval and early modern strewing herb. And yet there are other insects that love Tansy – it seems to have a dark side and a light side.
It was collected in August (along with meadowsweet or elder leaves) and strewn on the floors of houses (and the ‘thresh’ was held in by the threshold). But it was also placed between mattresses to keep away bugs. People rubbed meat with Tansy to keep flies off. It is now used as a natural protection for crops from insects to reduce the amount of artificial pesticides.
It was an important medical and culinary herb, said to be a substitute for nutmeg and cinnamon, and the leaves, shredded, as a flavouring for puddings and omelettes. At Easter ball games a Tansy Cake was the reward for the winners. It was symbolic of the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites at Passover. Tansy was thought to be a very wholesome ingredient to eat after the sparsity of Lent and Winter, and voiding the body of the worms caused by eating too many fish. It was used for expelling worms from the stomachs of children. Interestingly it contains thujone, which is also in Wormwood, the other main herb for expelling intestinal worms. Thujone can cause convulsions, liver and brain damage if too much is taken.
In the 14th Century it was used for treating wounds. It was thought to be useful both to induce abortions but also to help women conceive and to prevent miscarriages. Culpepper and Gerard suggests the root was a cure for gout.
Take three pints of Cream, fourteen New-laid-eggs (seven whites put away) one pint of juyce of Spinage, six or seven spoonfuls of juyce of Tansy, a Nutmeg (or two) sliced small, half a pound of Sugar, and a little Salt. Beat all these well together, then fryit in a pan with no more Butter then is necessary. When it is enough, serve it up with juyce of Orange or slices of Limon upon it.
Sir Kenelm Digby was a Catholic and a natural philosopher of some reputation. After his death an employee published his cookery book. His father was executed after the Gunpowder Plot, and he supported Charles 1st but found a way to work with Oliver Cromwell. He made a great success of his idea of the ‘powder of sympathy’ – 29 editions of his book on the subject were sold. He found the powder in France and it was made with precise ‘astrological’ techniques. The most famous example of a suggested application for the powder was to win the competition for a method of working out longitude (in the 18th Century). Basically, a working method meant knowing the time, normally noon, in two different places. This allowed a triangle to be created between the two points and the Sun which allowed the distance between the two places to be discovered by triangulation. Clocks were not accurate enough (yet) to help so Digby’s famous powder of sympathy was suggested.
A wounded dog would be taken on board a ship, and a bandage from the wound would be left in London. At noon in London it would be sprinkled with the powder of sympathy. The dog on the ship would, perforce, yelp when the powder was administered on the bandage in London and so the Captain would know when it was noon in London! Digby was long dead when the application for the prize money was made and rejected.
‘Longitude’ by Dava Sobel tells the story of the discovery of a clock-based method of calculating longitude.
Easter is a Germanic name, and, the only evidence for its derivation comes from the Venerable Bede, who was the first English Historian and a notable scholar. He says the pagan name for April was derived from the Goddess Eostra. The German name for Easter is Ostern probably with a similar derivation. But this is all the evidence there is for the Goddess, despite many claims for the deep history of Easter traditions.
Philip A. Shaw has proposed that the name of Eastry in Kent might derive from a local goddess, called Eostra and that the influence of Canterbury in the early Church in England and Germany led to the adoption of this local cult name for the Holy Week in these two countries. Otherwise, the name for Easter in Europe derives from Pascha which comes from the Hebrew Passover and Latin. In French it’s Pâques’ in Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua; Dutch Pasen, Swedish Påsk; Norwegian Påske and so on.
Eleanor Parker in her lovely book ‘Winter in the World’ gives a lyrical insight into how the dates were chosen because of the belief that God would only choose the perfect time for the Creation and the events of Easter. The Creation began with the birth of the Sun and the Moon, so it was fixed to the Equinox, when the days were of equal length, and the fruits of the earth were stirring into life. But Holy Week also needed to be in harmony with the Moon and so was tied, like Passover, to the first full moon after the Equinox, which is also when the events take place in the Gospels.
The quotations Parker uses from early English religious writing and poetry shows a deep interest in nature and the universe which is very appealing. It seems to me that this is something the Church, to an extent, lost in later times, and replaced with fixation with dogma and ‘worship’ of the Holy Trinity.
At the time fixing the date of Easter was very controversial as the kingdoms in Britain had a different calendar to the Roman Catholic Church and therefore Easter fell on a different day. The King of Northumberland, for example, celebrated Easter on a different day to that of his wife. Oswiu was exiled to Ireland where he was influenced by Celtic Christianity while his wife, Eanflæd, while also being from Northumberland, had been baptised by the Roman Catholic missionary, Paulinus.
Oswiu, became the ‘Bretwalda’ of all Britain, and encouraged a reconciliation, culminating at the Synod of Whitby (664AD), between the two churches where the Celtic Church agreed to follow the Catholic calendar and other controversial customs. After her husband’s death Eanflaed became Abbess of Whitby.
King Alfred’s law code gave labourers the week before and after Easter off work, making it the main holiday of the year. Ælfric of Eynsham gives a powerful commentary on the rituals of the Church over Easter, which was full of drama and participation including Palm leaf processions on Palm Sunday, feet washing and giving offerings to the poor on Maundy Thursday. Then followed three ‘silent days’ with no preaching but rituals and services aiming to encourage empathy for the ordeal of Jesus. Thus the night time service of Tenebrae, when all lights were extinguished in the Church while the choir sang ‘Lord Have Mercy’. The darkness represented the darkness and despair that was said to cover the world after Jesus’ death. Good Friday was the day for the adoration of the Cross in which a Cross would be decorated with treasures and symbolised turning a disaster into a triumph.
It seemed to me that I saw a wondrous tree Lifted up into the air, wrapped in light, brightest of beams. All that beacon was covered with gold; gems stood beautiful at the surface of the earth,….
The Dream of the Rood quoted in Eleanor Parker’s ‘Winter in the World’
The days before Easter Sunday are known as the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ which was a very popular theme in the medieval period (featuring in Piers Plowman for example). Jesus went down to hell to free those, like John the Baptist, who had been trapped because the world had no saviour until the first Easter. The Clerk of Oxford Blog provides more information on the Harrowing of Hell on this page, including that the name ‘Harrowing’ comes from ‘Old English word hergian ‘to harry, pillage, plunder’ which underpins the way the event is depicted as a military raid on Hell.
I have just realised that the Clerk of Oxford Blog is by written by Eleanor Parker, and started ‘in 2008, whilst an undergraduate student at Oxford. The blog won the 2015 Longman-History Today award for Digital History‘.
The above is but a very poor précis of Eleanor Parker’s use of Anglo-saxon poetry and literature to bring Easter to life. So if you are interested to know more or would like to have a different viewpoint on the Anglo-Saxons please get a copy of her book.