London Stone as a Palladium February 20th

OLD ENGRAVING OF London stone
Old Engraving of London Stone, Cannon Street

On February 18th, I revised a post about Ravens, King Bran’s Head and other Palladiums that protected Britain (or London) from invasion. If you missed it, look here. A possible Palladiun I missed out is London Stone. To remind you, London Stone is an eponymous stone found in Cannon Street, in the heart of the City of London, It is first mentioned in the 12th Century, and no one knows why it was famous.

In 1862, an ‘ancient proverb’ surfaced:

“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”

It was made anonymously in the journal Notes and Queries. In Welsh, it was “Tra maen Prydain, Tra lled Llyndain’ This verse, if genuine, would link the Stone to Brutus of Troy, the legendary founder of London. (To be precise: by genuine, I don’t mean it would prove the stone was linked to King Brutus, I mean, if genuine, it would prove that in the medieval period the stone was linked to Brutus.)

However, the writer has been identified as Richard Williams Morgan, who was a passionate Welsh Nationalist and prolific author, who was not very scrupulous with his analysis of sources. As no earlier source can be found, it is thought Morgan made it up.

He lived in London in the 1850s and was very struck by the London Stone. Archaeologists prefer the idea that London Stone it is, likely, a milestone from which the Romans measured distance. For Shakespeare, it was the stone on which rebel Jack Cade claimed lordship of London. For the romantic, it was a coronation stone; a stone of power; the sword in the stone stone; or an ancient megalith. The truth is, we have no idea. It has been called the London Stone since the 12th Century, but why was it so named and what was it ‘for’ or symbolic of, we still don’t know.

picture of london stone from the inside
Pic by Graham Hussey pic shows the LONDON STONE which is in Canon Street, London .pic taken inside the Tech Sports shop

Morgan came to the conclusion it was the stone plinth on which the original Trojan Palladium had stood. This was a wooden statue of Pallas Athene, that protected Troy from invasion and which was stolen by Odysseus and Diomedes shortly before the successful Trojan Horse plot. It was then taken to Italy.

Morgan’s idea was that King Brutus brought it from Rome when he sailed into Exile in Britain. Brutus, was a descendent of Aeneas. Aeneas was the only Trojan leader to escape from the destruction of Troy, who found his way to Rome, after leaving Dido in Carthage. He was the ancestor of Romulus who founded Rome, but also the ancestor of King Brutus. Brutus gathered all the Trojan slaves and exiles and sailed to found a new Troy in our green and pleasant lands. His new capital he called Troia Nova, which became Trinovantum, then Lud’s Dun, and finally London.

Morgan’s theory held that the Stone was used as the altar stone of the Temple of Diana (supposedly on the site of St Pauls Cathedral) and set up by Brutus.

Morgan was the first person to link London Stone with Brutus, or so people thought and still think (see Wikipedia, until 2018.

Picture of the plinth in which London stone is rehoused recently
London Stone as recently rehoused.(Photo K Flude)

John Clark, Emeritus Curator at the Museum of London, in 2018, found a reference to a narrative poem of the 14th Century, that links London Stone to Brutus and to the future prosperity of London. Just as Morgan did. So, it makes it possible, at least, that Morgan did not just make the link-up but draw on this medieval ‘tradition.’

Brutus set up London Stone
And these words he said anon:
‘If each king that comes after me
Makes this city wide and roomy  
As I have in my day,
Still hereafter men may say 
That Troy was never so fair a city  
As this city shall be.’

From Burnley & Wiggins 2003b, lines 457–64(John Clark’s modern English version)

For the full story, see John Clark’s article.

Recent archaeological discoveries that London was the site of Late Neolithic feasting on a possibly large scale (discussed here🙂 makes the chances that the stone is a ‘ritual’ stone from prehistory slightly more likely than previously thought. At least that is my opinion.  But, of course, there is still no evidence that London Stone is prehistoric, nor that Brutus actually existed.

Written in 2023 and revised in February 2024.

Metamorphosis, Crocus and Saffron February 19th

Snowdrop, Crocus, violet and Silver Birch circle in Haggerston Park. (Photo Kevin Flude, 2022)

Violets and crocuses are coming out. Apparently, in the UK 63% say crocuses and 37% use the correct Latin plural which is croci. And last year I used the incorrect crocii. Incidently, an earth shaking decision has been made at the Financial Times who have just updated their style guide to make the plural word data (datum is the singular form) take the singular form. So it is no longer ‘data are’ but ‘data is’. For example, it was ‘the data are showing us that most British speakers use crocuses as the plural’ but now ‘the data is showing us that 37% of British people prefer the correct Latin form of croci’. In 2018 they changed it to an option, but now it is mandatory to make data singular.

The crocus represents many things but because they often come out for St Valentine’s Day they are associated with Love ‘White croci usually represented truth, innocence and purity. The purple variety imply success, pride and dignity. The yellow type is joy.’ according to www.icysedgwick.com/, which gives a fairly comprehensive look at the Crocus.

Ovid tells the story of Crocus and Smilax in the Metamorphoses. This poem is one of the most famous in the world, written in about 6 AD it influenced Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Bernard Shaw and was translated anew by Seamus Hughes.

The mechanicals in ‘The Midsummers Night Dream’ perform Ovid’s story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Titian painted ‘Diana and Actaeon’. Shaw wrote about Pygmalion, and we all know the story of Arachne, claiming to be better than Athene at weaving and then being turned into a spider.

The stories are all about metamorphosis, mostly changes happening because of love. But it is also an epic as it tells the classical story of the universe from creation to Julius Caesar. It is about love, beauty, change and is largely an arcadian/rural poem in contrast to Ovid’s ‘Art of Love’ which I have long used for illustrations of life in a Roman town.

He tells us ‘Crocus and his beloved Smilax were changed into tiny flowers.’ But he chooses to pass by this and other stories. So we have to look elsewhere for more details. There are various version. In the first Crocus is a handsome mortal youth, beloved of the God Hermes. They are playing with a discus which hits Crocus on the head and kills him. Hermes, distraught, turns the youth into a beautiful flower, and three drops of his blood form the stigma of the flower.  In other versions, love hits Crocus and the nymph Smilax, and they are rewarded by immortality as a flower. In one version, Smilax is turned into the Bindweed, which perhaps suggests that she is either punished for spurning him, or that she smothered him with love.

Photo Mohammad Amiri from unsplash. Notice the crimson stigma and styles, called threads

The autumn-flowering perennial plant Crocus sativus, is the one whose stigma gives us saffron. This was spread across Europe by the Romans, and was used for medicine, as a dye, a perfume. It was much sought after as a protection against the plague. It was extensively grown in the UK and Saffron Walden was a particularly important production area in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

It was grown in the Bishop of Ely’s beautiful Gardens in the area remembered by Saffron Hill (home to the fictional Scrooge). This area became the London Home of Christopher Hatton, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1. It is on the west bank of the River Fleet, in London EC1, in the area now know as Hatton Garden. The placename Croydon (on the outskirts of London), means crocus valley.

The Saffron crops in Britain failed eventually because of the cost of harvesting, and it became cheaper to import it. It is now grown in Spain, Iran and India amongst other places. But attempts over the last 5 years have been made to reintroduce it, This is happening in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Sussex – the hot and dry counties. It likes a South facing aspect, and needs to be protected from Squirrels and Sparrows who love it. (Source of information BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time.)

Saffron Photo by Vera De on Unsplash
Morning Glory or Field Bindweed photo Leslie Saunders unsplash

Bindweed is from the Convolvulus family, and I have grown one very successfully in a pot for many years. But they have long roots and according to the RHS ‘Bindweed‘ refers to two similar trumpet-flowered weeds, both of which twine around other plant stems, smothering them in the process. They are not easy to remove.’ Medically, Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal says all the bindweeds have strong purgative virtues.

Viola odorata CC BY-SA 2.5 Wikipedia

Violets have been used as cosmetics by the Celts, to moderate anger by the Athenians, for insomnia and loved because of their beauty and fragrant. They have been symbols of death for the young, and used as garlands, nosegays posies which Gerard says are ‘delightful’.

Turning down Corners

CFDinosaur> - Home

Image borrowed from cfdinosaur.weebly.com

I have a friend with whom I argue about the sanctity of the book. She believes they need to be treated like the priceless spear carriers of culture that they are. While I, read them in the bath; turn down corners to mark my place; underline interesting phrases,  mark paragraphs and commit other forms of libricide. (is there such a word?)

In my defense I note that I used to work at the Freud Museum, where they studied the marginalia in Freud’s Library to gain insight into his thought processes and influences.

I can cite other examples of exquisite marginal drawings found in medieval manuscripts. (see this  excellent article in atlas obscura https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/medieval-marginalia-books-doodles)

But I recently came across the clincher to my ongoing argument in Charles Nicholls’ marvelous book on Shakespeare’s life as a lodger (‘The Lodger’) in Silver St. just down the road from the Guildhall in the City of London.

He quotes Shakespeare’s Cymberline where Iachino finds a book by Imogen’s bed and says:

‘She hath been reading late:
The Tale of Tereus. Here, the leaf’s turn’d down.

I rest my case.

Daffodils & the Fabulous Boy February 11th

Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé; Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz — in Wort und Bild für Schule und Haus

In 2023, I saw my first Daffodil in Hackney in a Council Estate on 12 Jan 2023) and see them popping up around and about. Mine were not yet more than green leaves, but they are now coming out. My first daffodil in 2024 was outside my first floor window a week ago, but now Daffodils are appearing in the south-facing front of my house, but not yet in the North facing, canal side garden.

12 Jan 2023. Hackney, London, the first Daffodil.

Their formal name is Narcissus. The Roman natural historian, Pliny tells us that the plant was ‘named Narcissus from narkē not from the fabulous boy.’ Narkē is the Greek word from which we derive the word narcotic, and this is a reference to the narcotic properties of the narcissus. An extract of the bulb when applied to open wounds produced numbness of the whole nervous system and paralysis of the heart. The flowers are also slightly poisonous, which led to their use as an emetic – to bring on vomiting when it was felt necessary that the stomach be emptied. It was used to treat hysteria and epilepsy; treating children with bronchial catarrh; and epidemic dysentery; among Arabian doctors it was used to cure baldness and as an aphrodisiac. (A Modern Herbal by Mrs M Grieve.) Please remember these are not recommendations for use medicinally, but are historic uses and may be dangerous.)

The fabulous boy, mentioned by Pliny, was Narcissus. Narcissus, according to the Roman Poet Ovid, met the nymph Echo, and she fell in love with the beautiful boy. He spurned her, and she faded until all that remained of her was her voice – the echo we hear.

Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge (the one with the fiery sword) decided on revenge upon the handsome boy. She lured the thirsty youth to a fountain, where he saw an image of a breathtakingly handsome boy and fell in love. It was an image of himself, and he faded from life realising he would always be unfulfilled in his love, He eventually metamorphised into a white and yellow flower which was named after him.

Daffodils are mentioned in a list of Spring Flowers by Shakespeare in the pastoral play The Winter’s Tale:

(Please note that as you read Shakespeare’s words below that Prosperpina is the wife of Pluto, the God of the Underworld, Dis, is another name for him, Cytherea is the Goddess of Beauty and Love. Phoebus is the Sun God. And the Spring Flowers are Daffodils, violets, primroses, oxlips(primula), Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), Lilies, flower-De-luce (Iris)

Perdita to Camillo

Out, alas!
You’d be so lean that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through.
(To Florizel)
I would I had some flowers o’th’ spring, that might
Become your time of day –
(to the Shepherdesses)
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing. O Proserpina,
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses,
That die unmarried ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength – a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one: O, these I lack
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend
To strew him o’er and o’er!

WT IV.iv.110.2

The reference to Daffodils suggests that for Shakespeare they are around to withstand the March Winds before the Swallows arrive in April. With selective breeding, early flowering species have been developed and now February and even January are within the scope of the glorious bulb. (here is a post on winter flowering varieties)

Below is the text of Ovid’s Echo and NarcissusTranslated by Brookes Moore

NARCISSUS AND ECHO, THE HOUSE OF CADMUS

Once a noisy Nymph, (who never held her tongue when others spoke, who never spoke till others had begun) mocking Echo, spied him as he drove, in his delusive nets, some timid stags.—For Echo was a Nymph, in olden time,—and, more than vapid sound,—possessed a form: and she was then deprived the use of speech, except to babble and repeat the words, once spoken, over and over. Juno confused her silly tongue, because she often held that glorious goddess with her endless tales, till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove’s embrace, had made escape adown a mountain. But for this, the goddess might have caught them. Thus the glorious Juno, when she knew her guile; “Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense, shall be of little use; your endless voice, much shorter than your tongue.” At once the Nymph was stricken as the goddess had decreed;—and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds of others’ voices, or, perchance, returns their final words.

One day, when she observed Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods, she loved him and she followed him, with soft and stealthy tread.—The more she followed him the hotter did she burn, as when the flame flares upward from the sulphur on the torch. Oh, how she longed to make her passion known! To plead in soft entreaty! to implore his love! But now, till others have begun, a mute of Nature she must be. She cannot choose but wait the moment when his voice may give to her an answer. Presently the youth, by chance divided from his trusted friends, cries loudly, “Who is here?” and Echo, “Here!” Replies. Amazed, he casts his eyes around, and calls with louder voice, “Come here!” “Come here!” She calls the youth who calls.—He turns to see who calls him and, beholding naught exclaims, “Avoid me not!” “Avoid me not!” returns. He tries again, again, and is deceived by this alternate voice, and calls aloud; “Oh let us come together!” Echo cries, “Oh let us come together!” Never sound seemed sweeter to the Nymph, and from the woods she hastens in accordance with her words, and strives to wind her arms around his neck. He flies from her and as he leaves her says, “Take off your hands! you shall not fold your arms around me. Better death than such a one should ever caress me!” Naught she answers save, “Caress me!” Thus rejected she lies hid in the deep woods, hiding her blushing face with the green leaves; and ever after lives concealed in lonely caverns in the hills. But her great love increases with neglect; her miserable body wastes away, wakeful with sorrows; leanness shrivels up her skin, and all her lovely features melt, as if dissolved upon the wafting winds—nothing remains except her bones and voice—her voice continues, in the wilderness; her bones have turned to stone. She lies concealed in the wild woods, nor is she ever seen on lonely mountain range; for, though we hear her calling in the hills, ’tis but a voice, a voice that lives, that lives among the hills.

Thus he deceived the Nymph and many more, sprung from the mountains or the sparkling waves; and thus he slighted many an amorous youth.—and therefore, some one whom he once despised, lifting his hands to Heaven, implored the Gods, “If he should love deny him what he loves!” and as the prayer was uttered it was heard by Nemesis, who granted her assent.

There was a fountain silver-clear and bright, which neither shepherds nor the wild she-goats, that range the hills, nor any cattle’s mouth had touched—its waters were unsullied—birds disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs that fall so often from the trees. Around sweet grasses nourished by the stream grew; trees that shaded from the sun let balmy airs temper its waters. Here Narcissus, tired of hunting and the heated noon, lay down, attracted by the peaceful solitudes and by the glassy spring. There as he stooped to quench his thirst another thirst increased. While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool—and loves; loves an imagined body which contains no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade a thing of life to love. He cannot move, for so he marvels at himself, and lies with countenance unchanged, as if indeed a statue carved of Parian marble. Long, supine upon the bank, his gaze is fixed on his own eyes, twin stars; his fingers shaped as Bacchus might desire, his flowing hair as glorious as Apollo’s, and his cheeks youthful and smooth; his ivory neck, his mouth dreaming in sweetness, his complexion fair and blushing as the rose in snow-drift white. All that is lovely in himself he loves, and in his witless way he wants himself:—he who approves is equally approved; he seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt. And how he kisses the deceitful fount; and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck that’s pictured in the middle of the stream! Yet never may he wreathe his arms around that image of himself. He knows not what he there beholds, but what he sees inflames his longing, and the error that deceives allures his eyes. But why, O foolish boy, so vainly catching at this flitting form? The cheat that you are seeking has no place. Avert your gaze and you will lose your love, for this that holds your eyes is nothing save the image of yourself reflected back to you. It comes and waits with you; it has no life; it will depart if you will only go.

Nor food nor rest can draw him thence—outstretched upon the overshadowed green, his eyes fixed on the mirrored image never may know their longings satisfied, and by their sight he is himself undone. Raising himself a moment, he extends his arms around, and, beckoning to the murmuring forest; “Oh, ye aisled wood was ever man in love more fatally than I? Your silent paths have sheltered many a one whose love was told, and ye have heard their voices. Ages vast have rolled away since your forgotten birth, but who is he through all those weary years that ever pined away as I? Alas, this fatal image wins my love, as I behold it. But I cannot press my arms around the form I see, the form that gives me joy. What strange mistake has intervened betwixt us and our love? It grieves me more that neither lands nor seas nor mountains, no, nor walls with closed gates deny our loves, but only a little water keeps us far asunder. Surely he desires my love and my embraces, for as oft I strive to kiss him, bending to the limpid stream my lips, so often does he hold his face fondly to me, and vainly struggles up. It seems that I could touch him. ‘Tis a strange delusion that is keeping us apart. Whoever thou art, Come up! Deceive me not! Oh, whither when I fain pursue art thou? Ah, surely I am young and fair, the Nymphs have loved me; and when I behold thy smiles I cannot tell thee what sweet hopes arise. When I extend my loving arms to thee thine also are extended me—thy smiles return my own. When I was weeping, I have seen thy tears, and every sign I make thou cost return; and often thy sweet lips have seemed to move, that, peradventure words, which I have never heard, thou hast returned. No more my shade deceives me, I perceive ‘Tis I in thee—I love myself—the flame arises in my breast and burns my heart—what shall I do? Shall I at once implore? Or should I linger till my love is sought? What is it I implore? The thing that I desire is mine—abundance makes me poor. Oh, I am tortured by a strange desire unknown to me before, for I would fain put off this mortal form; which only means I wish the object of my love away. Grief saps my strength, the sands of life are run, and in my early youth am I cut off; but death is not my bane—it ends my woe.—I would not death for this that is my love, as two united in a single soul would die as one.”

He spoke; and crazed with love, returned to view the same face in the pool; and as he grieved his tears disturbed the stream, and ripples on the surface, glassy clear, defaced his mirrored form. And thus the youth, when he beheld that lovely shadow go; “Ah whither cost thou fly? Oh, I entreat thee leave me not. Alas, thou cruel boy thus to forsake thy lover. Stay with me that I may see thy lovely form, for though I may not touch thee I shall feed my eyes and soothe my wretched pains.” And while he spoke he rent his garment from the upper edge, and beating on his naked breast, all white as marble, every stroke produced a tint as lovely as the apple streaked with red, or as the glowing grape when purple bloom touches the ripening clusters. When as glass again the rippling waters smoothed, and when such beauty in the stream the youth observed, no more could he endure. As in the flame the yellow wax, or as the hoar-frost melts in early morning ‘neath the genial sun; so did he pine away, by love consumed, and slowly wasted by a hidden flame. No vermeil bloom now mingled in the white of his complexion fair; no strength has he, no vigor, nor the comeliness that wrought for love so long: alas, that handsome form by Echo fondly loved may please no more.

But when she saw him in his hapless plight, though angry at his scorn, she only grieved. As often as the love-lore boy complained, “Alas!” “Alas!” her echoing voice returned; and as he struck his hands against his arms, she ever answered with her echoing sounds. And as he gazed upon the mirrored pool he said at last, “Ah, youth beloved in vain!” “In vain, in vain!” the spot returned his words; and when he breathed a sad “farewell!” “Farewell!” sighed Echo too. He laid his wearied head, and rested on the verdant grass; and those bright eyes, which had so loved to gaze, entranced, on their own master’s beauty, sad Night closed. And now although among the nether shades his sad sprite roams, he ever loves to gaze on his reflection in the Stygian wave. His Naiad sisters mourned, and having clipped their shining tresses laid them on his corpse: and all the Dryads mourned: and Echo made lament anew. And these would have upraised his funeral pyre, and waved the flaming torch, and made his bier; but as they turned their eyes where he had been, alas he was not there! And in his body’s place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.

First published in February 2023, revise and republished in February 2024

Greater Cycles & the Ages of Man December 19th

Capella Palatina Palermo 12th Century Mosaics God is shown creating the firmament. ‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’

We are coming up to the key days in the year. And so will be looking at calendars and counting days. But what about ages and aeons?

‘Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition’ reports that there are seven ages of the world:

The life of a yew tree is 729 years, and there are seven ages from the creation of the world until its doom.

Three wattles are the life of a hound – 9 years
Three hounds are the life of a steed – 27 years
Three steeds are the life of a man – 81 years
Three men are the life of an eagle – 243 years
Three Eagles are the life of a yew. – 729 years

The life of a yew is one age, and there are seven ages from the creation until doom, giving a life for our world of 5, 103 years.

Archbishop Usher of Armagh (1581 – 1656) calculated that the world was created in 4004 BC by counting the begettings in the bible. If we accept his date, and apply the seven yew tree ages rule, then the world should have ended in AD 1099 (give or take a year). However, it doesn’t make sense to me to have a factor of 3 for the smaller divisions, and then to switch to a factor of seven . So, if there were nine (3 *3) ages of the world, then it would survive for 6561 years, which is in approx. 535 years time. This calculation has the advantage of not yet being proved wrong! (Please note cult owners, I have copywrite on this date). It’s notable that when a Cult declares the imminent end of the world, and they trudge up to the top of a high eminence to observe it (normally Hampstead Pond in London). They seem quite happy to trudge back down again, and are soon up and running again with the same enthusiasm for the next ‘end of the world’ date.)

By the way, the Capella Palatina, illustrated above, is a marvel of gold mosaics and absolutely stunning. It makes a trip to Palermo a must. It’s also strange to find a Norman state so far south.

The Jewish tradition was for six or seven ages of 1000 years. The seventh didn’t really count because it was the age of the messiah when there was a 1000-year sort of super sabbath. Or it was an age that ran parallel with the other six? So the world was to be 6000 years long.

With the coming of Christianity, dating the Creation, and therefore the Day of Judgement, became more important. (the Romans dated from the foundation of Rome, and the Greeks from the First Olympiad, but they had a whole mythology and creation myths about a Golden Age, preceding their base Iron age and the preceding Bronze Age.)

An early Christian attempt is the Anno Munda‘s arrangement of the Year. This is pretty complicated and is based on a Talmudic tradition. A late Roman version uses ‘the Diocletian Years’, which is when the persecution of Christians began. It held that the world was created 5500 years before the Birth of Christ. So we are 5500BC plus 2023 years ago, so 7523 Before the Present was the date of the creation. And it was supposed to have ended in 500AD, 6000 years after the Creation.

St Augustine of Hippo took the tradition of six ages and brought it into the Christian canon. These are the six ages:

  • The First Age “is from the beginning of the human race, that is, from Adam, who was the first man that was made, down to Noah, who constructed the ark at the time of the flood“, i.e. the Antediluvian period.
  • The Second Age “extends from that period on to Abraham, who was called the father indeed of all nations”.
  • The Third Age “extends from Abraham on to David the king”.
  • The Fourth Age is “from David on to that captivity whereby the people of God passed over into Babylonia”.
  • The Fifth Age is “from that transmigration down to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • The Sixth Age: “With His [Jesus Christ’s] coming, the sixth age has entered on its process.”

Wikipedia.

As each age is 1000 years, then you can see why so many people were worried about it in as 1000 AD approached.

Of course, six is not such a magical number as seven, and so Shakespeare ran with the idea in the Seven Ages of Man spoken by Jacques in ‘As you like it’. If there are seven ages of human life, and we have a span of six score and ten, then each age is ten years.ten,ten,

The Seven Ages of Man

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with a good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
(Jacques, Act 2, Scene 7)

Now, the Kalendar of Shepherds has a similar idea, but it calculates it differently. The Kalendar, based on a 15th Century French original, says there are 12 ages of man, corresponding with the 12 months of the year. Each age is 6 years long, and so our likely lifespan is 72.

Kalendar of Shepherds

Each month is allocated to one of the ages, and each month has an insight into human life for that span. So for the first 6 years, if you read above you will see we have no ‘wit, strength or cunning, and we may do nothing that profiteth’.

A little harsh, and as a fond grandfather, it, I refute it, except maybe the first 6 years should not be down to profit.

How Old is a Yew Tree/Eagle

A comment by a reader has prompting me to write the following lines on the discussion of the ages given above:

‘Practical magic’ says the poem is ‘Ancient’ so it’s folklore and not science, so the ages are opinion not scientific fact.

As I understand it Yew trees live a long time but not quite as long as many people think. I base this on the Yew Tree at Steventon, Hampshire where Jane Austen was born, which has/had a plague on it saying it was 1200 years old. I used to visit it regularly and. On one visit, was told that an expert opinion suggested it was more like 700 years old (if memory serves). I do not have the details, but my source would have been one of the people associated with the Church.

The Woodland Trust (says Yew Trees get old at 900 years and cites a few which are ‘said to be’ over 2000 years old. But are they? The scientific sites I have looked at suggest that Yew Trees should be described as ‘ancient’ from 400 not 900 years, and there are problems with dendrochronology dating of yew trees, and so most methods depend upon an estimation from the width of the tree trunk. But that, itself, depends upon how much you believe in the claims for the ancient trees. So, I think it’s best to take the extreme cases with a very large pitch of salt. So 729 years is probably not so far off the mark for a Yew tree.

As to Eagles, this website on eagles says they can live to 30ish in the wild and 68 years in captivity, so the claim for 243 years is way off the mark!

First Published on December 18th 2022, revised and republished in December 2023

‘There’s Rosemary, that’s for Remembrance’ December 7th

Rosemary flowering in december
Rosemary flowering in December

According to the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly, this is the time when Robins are much to be seen singing their winter song, and when it is time to protect plants, particularly Rosemary, against winter frosts.

In December, rosemary flowers with a delicate blue flower. Rosemary was one of the most important plants, metaphorically and medically. Mrs Grieve, in her ‘Modern Herbal’ says it is used in medicine for illnesses of the brain and was thought to strengthen the memory. And as rosemary helps the memory, they are symbolically/metaphorically associated with friendship, love, worship and mourning. A branch of Rosemary was given as a gift to wedding guests, so they would remember the love shown at the ceremony. It was entwined in the Bride’s wreath;

Shakespeare uses Rosemary in his plant lore in Hamlet.

OPHELIA: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s
for thoughts.

LAERTES: A document in madness:
thoughts and remembrance fitted.

OPHELIA: There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me.
We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference.

There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets,
but they withered all when my father died. They
say ‘a made a good end.

(sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.

Ham IV.v.176

Rue is the herb of grace and has the sense of ‘regret’. Pansies are also for remembrance, and their heart shaped flowers are for love and affection. Fennel represents infidelity and Columbines insincerity or flattery. Daisies are for innocence. Violets are associated with death, particularly of the young. As to how Orphelia means them all to be understood is not clear particularly, Fennel and Columbine. Some think they are directed towards Claudius and/or Gertrude.

https://study.com/learn/lesson/flower-symbolism-hamlet-william-shakespeare-overview-examples.html

Being evergreen, Rosemary was associated with religion and everlasting life, and called the rose of the Virgin Mary. Lying on a bed of rosemary, the Virgin’s cloak was said to have been dyed blue, which is how she is mostly depicted in Renaissance paintings. And so Rosemary is especially important for Christmas. At Christmas, it was used to bedeck the house and used at funerals to remember the dead.

The Virgin Mary Googled.

Its strong aroma means it was used as an incense and also used in magic spells

Thomas More let it ‘runne all over my garden walls’ because bees love it and as sacred to remembrance, therefore to friendship.

I mostly use Rosemary for the very rare occasions when I cook lamb, but it is much more versatile than that, or so the SpruceEats website tells me:

‘Rosemary is used as a seasoning in various dishes, such as soups, casseroles, salads, and stews. Use rosemary with chicken and other poultry, game, lamb, pork, steaks, and fish, especially oily fish. It also goes well with grains, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes, and spinach. ‘

https://www.thespruceeats.com/all-about-rosemary-3050513
Flowering Rosemary
Flowering Rosemary in the author’s garden

William Shakespeare’s First Folio 400 Years Old Today 8th November

Droeshout Portrait of Shakespeare from the First Folio
Droeshout Portrait of Shakespeare from the First Folio

Four Hundred Years ago, on this day, 8th November in 1623, the First Folio was registered at Stationer’s Hall near the publishing district around St Pauls Cathedral in London. It was actually called

Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

Sketch of the First Folio by William Shakespeare

It was put together by his actor friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell seven years after his death, and they wanted to replace all the corrupt editions of his plays and poems that had been

“stol’n and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by frauds and stealths of injurious impostors”.

The true texts of his plays and poems “are now offer’d to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them.” Wikipedia

In fact, the plays were ready early as they entered in to the catalogues for the Frankfurt Book festival to appear between April and October 1622,- and how amazing is it that, that festival is still the dream of any aspirant writer?

The First Folio offers plenty of proof that Shakespeare was the author of the plays. He left gold rings of remembrance to Heminge and Condell in his Will. They were part of his Players Company, and had worked together on many of the plays. The Folio has forewords by people extolling the virtues of the writer. Enough proof for any reasonable person.

Heminge and Condell are commemorated in the Garden of St Mary Aldermary behind the Guildhall, where they were Churchwardens, and not far from where Shakespeare was living in 1611. True friends.

St Mary Aldermany monument to Shakespeare, Heminge and Condell and the First Folio.
St Mary Aldermany monument to Shakespeare, Heminge and Condell and the First Folio.

There is a wonderful BBC festival of Shakespeare on at the moment. Have a look at it here:

October Going to the Mop in Stratford-upon-Avon & Henley-in-Arden

Stratford-upon-Avon Mop Festival

On my way to Stratford-upon-Avon Railway station, I saw this sign, but had no idea what on earth a Mop was.

So I put it to the back of my mind as I took the train to Henley-in-Arden. My interest in the town began, as Shakespeare was born in Henley St in Stratford, and his mother was called Mary of Arden. So, naturally, I wanted to find out about Henley-in-Arden. To turn curiosity to action it took our Tour Coach Driver telling me he lived there and that it was a pretty but small town.

With a free afternoon from my duties as Course Director on the ‘Best of England’ Road Scholar trip, I found myself on the very slow train to Henley-in-Arden. One of the first stops was Wilmcote, where Mary Arden’s House is. I visited last year, when I was astonished to find it was a different building to the one I had visited in the 1990s. In 2000, they discovered they had been showing the wrong building to visitors for years! Mary Arden’s House was, in fact, her neighbour Adam Palmer’s. And her house was Glebe Farm. On that visit, I walked from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage to Mary Arden’s House and back to Stratford along the Stratford Canal – a lovely walk if you are ever in the area.

The train route to Henley was through what remains of the ancient forest of Arden. The forest features in, or inspired, the woody Arcadian idylls which feature in several of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the Comedies. ‘As You Like It’, for example, is explicitly set in the Forest of Arden, as this quotation from AYL I.i.107 makes clear:

Oliver: Where will the old Duke live?

CHARLES: They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world.

Henley-in-Arden turns out to be a quintessentially English little town full of beautiful timber framed buildings and a perfect Guildhall.

Guildhall, Henley-in-Arden

Further down the road is a lovely Heritage Centre full of old-fashioned and DIY Information panels. And that is not a criticism, it provided a very enjoyable visit full of interesting stuff and which gave me a couple of snippets of information I have not seen anywhere else.

So, to get back to the signpost for the Mop, I was delighted to find a panel dedicated to the Henley Mop. A mop turns out to be a hiring fair. Think of Gabriel Oak in Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. His attempt to become an independent farmer destroyed when his sheepdog runs amok and sends his sheep over a cliff to their doom. So he takes his shepherd’s crock to the hiring fair or Mop as they are known in the Midlands. There, potential employers can size up possible employees and strike mutually agreed terms and conditions. And Gabriel becomes the shepherd for the delightful and wilful Bathsheba Everdene.

So, a shepherd would take his staff, or a loop of wool; a cleaner her mop (hence the name of the fair), a waggoner a piece of whipcord, a shearer their shears etc. Similarly, in the Woodlanders, the cider-maker, Giles Winterborne, brings an apple tree in a tub to Sherborne, to advertise his wares.

The retainers thus employed would be given an advance and would be engaged, normally, for the year. So there was quite a widespread moving around of working people to new jobs and often new housing. Not quite how we imagine the past?

The perceptive among you will have noted the bottom of the sign in Stratford which advertised the ‘Runaway Mop’. This was held later in the year, so that employers could replace those who ran away from their contracts, and where those who ran away could find a better, kinder or more generous boss.

Henley Mop – panel from the heritage centre

Also of interest to me was the panel about Court Leets and Barons. These were the ancient courts which dealt with, respectively, crime and disorder, and property and neighbourhood disputes. Henley still has its ancient manorial systems in use, at least ceremonially. The Centre shows a video of a cigar-smoking Stetson-wearing large rich American arriving at the Guildhall to take over duties as lord of the manor after purchasing the title.

There was another panel of great interest to me as it told the history of Johnson’s Coach Company which was taking my group around England. And it was a delight to discover that it has a history that can be traced back to 1909 in Henley. I conveyed this information to our group on the following day as we toured the Cotswolds. Curtis, our driver, was able to update the panel and told us that the family were still involved with the firm, which is still operating from the area. He said the two brothers who run the company come in every working day and do everything they require of their drivers to do; i.e. they drive coaches, clean coaches, sweep the floors and generally treat their staff like part of a big family. I should have asked him whether he got his job at the Mop, while holding a steering wheel in his hands!

Johnson’s Coach Company -Panel from Henley Heritage Centre

Object of the Day – Shakespeare’s Signet Ring?

Signet Ring which mayu be Shakespeares
Signet Ring with Lover’s Knot and initials WS

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:

Photo of display at New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon of a comment by BEnjamin Hayden to John Keats about the finding of signet ring which might be Shakespeares.

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.

Photo of display photo of the Ring that maybe Shakespeare's
Photo of the display photo of the Ring that maybe Shakespeare’s

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.

Handwritten notebook written in the 1620s full of quotations from the First Folio
Handwritten notebook written in the 1620s full of quotations from the First Folio

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.

Pylium is a reference to King Nestor of Pylos. Maronem is Virgil. The last line means ‘The earth buries him’ the people mourns him, Olympus posesses him’.

April 23rd St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s Birthday & Tudor Birth

shakWilliam Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio
William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout from the 1st Folio

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.

Detail of tomb of Alexander Denton and his first wife Anne Willison, and her baby dressed in swaddling clothes Photo Wikipedia Hugh Llewelyn

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.

Thanks very much to Alison Sim’s book ‘The Tudor Household’ for a lot of the above.