And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 30. januar 2014

The Rose both white and rede

The Tudor rose, detail from a 1572 portrait of Elizabeth I
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Today I read for the first time John Skelton's (c.1460–1529) poem A lawd and prayse made for our souereigne lord the kyng, a panegyric written for the accession of the eighteeen-year-old Henry VIII, 22 April, 1509. According to Henry Woudhuysen in his notes to The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659, this is the only known autograph poem by Skelton. Curiously enough, the title is not written in Skelton's hand.

John Skelton was a poet and teacher of the future Henry VIII. His ability for verse crafting earned him a favourable reputation, and in a latter to Prince Henry from 1499, Erasmus of Rotterdam referred to him as "a light and glory of English letters". Skelton was awarded the title "poet laureate" by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge - 1490 and 1493 respectively - and is said to have used this title in reference to himself.

Skelton's corpus offer a wide variety of subject-matter and show a proficient versatility in both form and content, encompassing satires, praises, comic verse and a morality play. His most famous poem is perhaps the complaint Colin Clout,  made famous by Edmund Spenser's adoption of the name in his poetry collection The Shepheardes Calender from 1579. Here Colin Clout is a shepherd, often believed to be Spenser's poetic persona, and it is noted in the glosses that Colin Clout "is a name not greatly vsed, and yet haue I sene a Poesie of M. Skeltons vnder that title". Spenser's Colin is a mournful shepherd and piper, while Skelton's figure is a vagabond poet.

The text of Skelton's panegyric to the new king is taken from poemhunter. All pictures are from Wikimedia Commons.

The young Henry VIII, portrait from 1509 by an unknown artist

The Rose both white and Rede
In one rose now dothe grow:
Thus thorow every stede
Thereof the fame dothe blow:
Grace the sede did sow.
England now gaddir flowris
Exclude now all dolowrs

Noble Henry the eight
Thy loving souereine lorde
Of kingis line moost streight
His titille dothe Recorde:
In whome dothe wele Acorde
Alexis yonge of Age
Adrastus wise and sage:

Astrea Iustice hight
That from the starry sky
Shall now com and do Right:
This hunderd yere scantly
A man kowd not Aspy
That Right dwelt vs Among
And that was the more wrong.

Right shall the foxis chare
The wolvis the beris also
That wrowght have moche care
And browght Englond in wo
They shall wirry no mo
Nor wrote the Rosary
By extort Trechery.

Of this our noble king
The law they shall not breke
They shall com to Rekening
No man for them wil speke:
The pepil durst not creke
Theire grevis to complaine
They browght them in soche paine.

Therfor nomore they shall
The commouns overbace
That wont wer overall
Both lorde and knight to face:
For now the yeris of grace
And welthe ar com Agayne
That maketh England faine.

Adonis of Freshe colour
Of yowthe the godely flour
Our prince of hih honour
Our paves our succour
Our king our Emperour
Our Priamus of Troy
Our welth our worldly Ioy.

Vpon vs he doth Reigne
That makith our hartis glad
As king moost souereine
That ever Englond had
Demure sober and sad
And Martis lusty knight
God save him in his Right:


The Tudor rose, detail from Hans Holbein's portrait of Thomas More, 1527


McCabe, Richard (ed.), Edmund Spenser - The Shorter Poems, Penguin, 1999

Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo and Stallworthy, Jon (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Norton, 1996

Scattergood, John, ‘Skelton, John (c.1460–1529)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Woudhuysen, H. R., The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659, Penguin, 2005

torsdag 16. januar 2014

Yes, the humanities matter

Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
- The Critic as Artist, Oscar Wilde

My eminent friend Ryan Hunt, founder of the ivry twr blog, is currently launching a webseries called The Humanities Matter in order raise awareness of the importance of the humanities and counter the negative reception they are often accorded. The slogan of this enterprise is Humanities matter because people matter. This simple sentence captures very poigntantly, and precisely, the heart of the matter. The humanities are about the human experience, about the human being beyond science and an important reminder that although science is extremely important, there is more to being human than what science can tell us. The humanities matter because people matter and no further evidence should be needed. However, in this brief blogpost I will add to this statement and perhaps bring some more nuance to it, exploring another side of the issue, which might be of use for those who are not entirely convinced by the previous statement.

Donatus writing his grammar
MS. Arundel 43, an exposition on Donatus' grammar by Sedulius Scotus
Last half of the 12th century, Germany
Courtesy of British Library

Probably every humanities student encounter the same set of questions in all its variants some time in the course of his or her studies. These questions pertain to usefulness or the ability to contribute to society, and the subtext is in many cases "how much money can you make from this, and how quickly". Being a postgraduate in history at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, I am overly familiar with this seeming disparity between what society needs and what I study. It is widely accepted that the engineer students and all the other realists are those who bring something back to the world when they emerge from their lives as students, while the humanists such as myself only garner student loans to become teachers or overqualified shop clerks.

This perception of the humanities has become so embedded at my university that even the faculty for historical and philosophical studies for a very long time seemed to have succumbed to it and given up to show its students that they, too, are important to our society, and that they don't have to limit themselves to becoming teachers or shop clerks, however invaluable those two positions are. Fortunately, in recent times there has been some attempts at boosting the student confidence, but the notion of unimportance still appears to permeate a great part of the student body at NTNU.

When such ideas are so prevalent even among humanities students, to say nothing of the science students, it is no wonder that the public perception of the humanities is slightly tarnished. Too many seem to have an idea of the typical humanist as being poorly dressed, overly fond of polysyllabic words and enamoured with weird theories that seem to have little to do with reality. There are, of course, students who fit this stereotype more than they should, but far fewer than you would think from listening to non-academics drawing word-pictures of humanists. A guy, whom I have the utter misfortune of knowing, once said to me that historians are people sitting in a room writing books to make history more unaccessible to students. Whether he actually meant this or just mocking me for not having become a medical doctor, I don't know. However, this idea is probably not too far off the mark from how many people throughout the world see historians. And for all I know there might even exist a few such historians crouching in a dust-infested corner of their once-splendid laboratoriums, putting together words in such strings that they have barely been found in the world before. Such charicatures are fortunately few and far between, juding from the ever-widening array of humanities scholars I know, and that is precisely why this public image is so damaging to the world of the humanities.

When I'm challenged about the usefulness - the noun often preferred over "value" - of the humanities, my answer is usually just as simple as that of The Humanities Matter campaign. My answer is that the humanities are useful, valuable, necessary, crucial, even, to modern society because people who do not study the humanities themselves, are preoccupied with the stuff humanists research. People outside the humanities read books, watch movies and enjoy art. People outside the humanities are interested in history, and sometimes obsessively so, either their own family history or events on a grander scale. Because these things are important to all people, it is crucial that there are some of those people who devote their time to exploring these matters in their various complexities and nuances, which are numerous. If there were no such people, no students of the humanities, we would be left with a simplified representation of these things, untouched by the humanist methodology which makes a virtue of the complexity of the world, and such an absence would render the subjects of the humanitiets open for abuse. History is perhaps the most critical of these issues, since history is intrinsic to identity and therefore more easily abused when identities are constructed or sustained. Without a critical view on such identities, they can become dangerous weapons of alienation and self-glorification.

Historians are therefore needed to rectify misconceptions about the very nature of history, to counter simplifications, to emphasise complexity and to distribute their methodology of criticism and professional skepticism among people outside their field. They same can be said for other disciplines within the humanities as well: religious studies, archaeology, art history, literary studies and so on. They need not be great, despite what Oscar Wilde said, but they are needed. The humanities matter because people matter, and because people care about the things humanities scholars research.

søndag 12. januar 2014

The Early Cult of Canute Lavard

jagar jula ut
- Old Norwegian saying

Despite the fact that Norway became officially Lutheran, as part of the kingdom Denmark-Norway, in the 1530s, several vestiges of the Catholic past remained as a part of folklore and tradition. One such remnant was the name of certain dates from the sanctorale. Candlemas (February 2) and Peter's Chair (February 22) and Michaelmas (September 29) were all important reference point even to my grandparents' generation, and Michaelmas remained a holy day in Norway until 1770. (1) Another Catholic leftover was twentieth-day Canute, a name given to Canute Lavard (c.1096-1131, can.1169), and the old Norwegian saying - often quoted to me by my grandmother - claimed that "twentieth-day Canute chases the Christmas out", putting an official end to the celebrations at January 13, the twentieth day of Christmas. I'm a bit at a loss to understand how Canute Lavard was given this name, especially since his feast day traditionally was January 7. However, because of this Norwegian tradition, I will today give a quick presentation of Canute Lavard, duke of southern Jutland and martyr.

Wall painting of the enthroned Canute Lavard, St. Bent's Church, Ringsted, early 14th century
Courtesy of Danske leksikon
Copyright Nasjonalmuseet, Copenhagen

Canute was the son of King Eric Ejegod (the Good) of Denmark and was brought up in part at the Saxon court of Lothair who later became emperor. As a second son, he was a duke whose territory served as a bulwark against the Slavic Wends, whom he also encouraged Bishop Vicelin of Oldenburg to convert. His power in the Wendish march grew, to the anxiety of his uncle King Niels, especially as he was recognised by Lothar as the king of the Wends.(2) Whether Canute himself had any royal ambitions can not be ascertained, but he was hailed as a just and peaceful man, and his name suggests he was viewed, either by contemporaries or posthumously, as a lord. His cognomen, Lavard, means bread-giver, and is related to the Old English word "hlaford", "loaf-giver", from whence "lord" is derived. If this name was appended in his lifetime, it must certainly have made King Niels worried about his nephew's aspirations, and he feared Canute sufficiently much to have two of his sons murder their cousin near Ringsted in 1131.

Some decades later, Canute's son and king of Denmark, Valdemar I requested his father's canonisation. This was in the 1160s and royal saints had very recently become something of a vogue of Western sainthood, and this must be seen in light of the schism which divided Western Christendom at the time. Although theological considerations should not be underestimated in these proceedings, the canonisations of royals were procured in large part due to the support from the saints' royal successor. The first of these canonisations was that of Edward the Confessor in 1161, a canonisation that had been pending for some time, but the support of Henry II given to Pope Alexander III must certainly given added impetus. This canonisation was countered by Antipope Paschal III in support of Frederick Barbarossa, and although King Valdemar I had supported Barbarossa during the schism, Alexander decided to grant Valdemar's request in 1169. At this time the antipope was dead and the schism healed, so the canonisation might be to welcome Valdemar back into the fold, or perhaps as a reward for Archbishop Eskil who had remained loyal to the pope. Interestingly, the canonisation bull from 1169 was modelled on that of Edward the Confessor, (3) suggesting very clearly that the "royal saint" was now becoming a type of its own.

Evidence for Canute's sanctity was brought to bear by the archbishops of Lund and Uppsala, and on June 25 in the year after the canonisation, Canute's relics were translated at Ringsted, presided over by Archbishop Eskil. Although Canute was a Danish martyr, and an important rallying point for a Denmark torn by years of civil strife, the most important impulses to his cult might have come from abroad. As stated, the papal bull was in essence a recycling of that used for Edward the Confessor, and this might have had ramifications for how he was formulated by the liturgists at Ringsted. Furthermore, his hagiography, Vita sancti Canuti ducis, had been composed by the Englishman Robert of Ely shortly after Canute's death in the 1130s. The office for Canute Lavard hailed him for his mildness and his Christlike suffering, and he was depicted as shepherd and the light of his people. It has been suggested by Professor Nils Holger Petersen that this non-military representation might stem from a desire to depict Denmark as a Christian nation as a contrast to the decades of civil unrest. (4)

This non-military representation can be seen for instance in the 12th repertory of the Canute office, where he is rendered in monkish terms, a helper of the poor, rather than a military leader (as would be natural considering his title "dux", which has military implications). (5) Other characteristics menitoned are Canute's exile and noble heritage. (6) Such a representation might suggest inspiration from the cult of Edward the Confessor, whose characterisation was markedly non-military, and where exile and heritage is referred to, but this might also be a consequence of the typology of martyrdom. However, it is interesting to note that Roskilde Cathedral used to celebrate Edward the Confessor's dies natalis on January 7, the very feast which a few years later became the dies natalis of Canute Lavard. Whether this had implications for the cult of Canute is not known, but it is an interesting thing to note anyway. (7)

Wall painting from Vigersted Church near Ringsted, c.1450
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The cult of Canute Lavard was a Benedictine cult, embracing the peaceful aspects of the saint, and although the expansionist ambitions of Denmark was performed in the name of Canutus Dux, his iconography was never militarised, not even by the late 12th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus.(8)



2) Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford, 2005

3) Bergsagel, John, "Between Politics and Devotion: the Canonizations of Knud Lavard and Edward Confessor", printed in Hankeln, Roman, Political Plainchant? Music, Text and Historical Context of Medieval Saints' Offices, Institute of Mediaeval Music, Ottawa, 2009: 54 and Bergsagel, John, The offices and masses of St. Knud Lavard (Kiel, Univ.Lib. MS S.H. A. 8 ), Copenhagen, 2010: xviii-xix

4) Petersen, Nils Holger, "Theological construction in the offices of St Knud Lavard", seminar presentation given at Hell, Norway, August 16 2012

5) Petersen 2012

6) Hope 2012: 49, n363 and XIX

7) Bergsagel 2009: 54

8) Petersen 2012


Bergsagel, John, "Between Politics and Devotion: the Canonizations of Knud Lavard and Edward Confessor", printed in Hankeln, Roman, Political Plainchant? Music, Text and Historical Context of Medieval Saints' Offices, Institute of Mediaeval Music, Ottawa, 2009

Bergsagel, John, The offices and masses of St. Knud Lavard (Kiel, Univ.Lib. MS S.H. A. 8 ), Copenhagen, 2010

Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford, 2005

Hope, Steffen, The King's Liturgical Image - the representation of Edward the Confessor in historiography, hagiography and liturgy, MA-thesis, Trondheim, 2012

Petersen, Nils Holger, "Theological construction in the offices of St Knud Lavard", seminar presentation given at Hell, Norway, August 16 2012


søndag 5. januar 2014

Dies Natalis Sancti Ædwardi

Here Edward king,
of Angles lord,
sent his stedfast
soul to Christ.
In the kingdom of God
a holy spirit!
- Entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1065, Whitelock, Dorothy, David, Douglas C., Tucker, Susie, I. (eds.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Revised Translation, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1962

On this day, the eve of the Epiphany, in 1066 Edward king of England died in sickbed only a few days after he had witnessed the consecration of Westminster Abbey. Edward died childless and was succeeded by Harold Godwinson, and he was revered by the new Norman overlords as a good and pious king. In 1161 he was canonised by Pope Alexander III and became known as Edward the Confessor. The cult was centred at Westminster and was initially embraced by King Henry II, who orchestrated the moving of his relics to a new tomb on October 13 1163. On this occasion, Henry was presented with a new vita of the Confessor, written by Aelred of Rievaulx, and this became the primary source for all subsequent renditions of Edward's life. In this blogpost, I aim to present an overview of this feast in liturgical sources from the High Middle Ages.

Edward the Confessor carrying book and sceptre
MS. Royal 20 A II, historical miscellany from England, c.1307-27
Courtesy of British library

When Edward's cult was established in 1161, there was only one celebration for the ministrants of Westminster Abbey, namely his dies natalis, January 5. The dies natalis meant the heavenly birthday of the saint, the day when, through dying, he or she entered the registers of the saint and was born into holiness. In the beginning of any cult, this day is the most important feast day, and so it was for Edward the Confessor up until the mid-13th century.

Despite Henry II's initial enthusiasm for Edward the Confessor's cult, it appears he never achieved any widespread popularity in England, and when Thomas Becket was canonised in 1173 the late archbishop's cult gained an overshadowing prominence in the realm. Becket's feastday was December 29 and thus his octave fell on the eve of Epihany, January 5, and in churches where Becket was the more important saint of the two, it is probable that Edward the Confessor was not celebrated with a complete office, but rather included in a minor memorial service.

Shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster
MS. Egerton 3028, Roman de Brut with continuation, England, 2nd quarter of 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

We have today very little liturgical material left from the repertoire of Edward the Confessor. In my MA work I have been able to date one text snippet to the timeframe 1161-66, and this text is a part of an office material that most likely was performed on January 5 at Westminster. The text in question is a responsory referred to by Aelred of Rievaulx in a sermon for January 5, held sometime in the aforementioned timeframe. Today, this responsory survives only in MS. Rawlinson liturg. g. 10 (c.1400), and its only translation into English can be found in my MA thesis and below. A responsory is a liturgical item that follows a reading, such as a lection in an office, and responds to the theme of the preceding text.

Responsum: Edwardus domino se vidit esse ditatum.
repetenda: A primis annis studuit vitare reatum.
Verse: Omnia contemnens que carni dant famulatum.
repetenda: A primis annis studuit vitare reatum.

R. Edward saw himself enriched by the Lord.
[r.] And from his earliest years on strove to avoid sin.
V. Avoiding all that could subject him to the flesh.
[r.] And from his earliest years on strove to avoid sin.

Material for Edward's dies natalis can also be found in a few liturgical books that do not follow the Westminster Use, i.e. liturgical formulae of Westminster and its related houses. Two of these antiphonaries are from the early 13th century (one from the Sarum Use, one from the Worcester Use), and what is more interesting is that they both only have material for October 13, not January 5. I don't know why this is, but I allow myself to speculate that this might be a consequence of the veneration of Thomas Becket's octave. Edward's lack of popularity around 1220, when these books were put together, can be seen in by Archbishop Stephen Langton's plea to Pope Gregory IX that he must command the English clergy to improve their veneration of the Confessor. The pope issued a bull to this effect in 1227.

Another interesting detail, however, is that a 14th-century antiphoner from Aberystwyth, following the Sarum Use, does indeed contain material for January 5. Why this is, I don't know, but it is interesting to note that a Westminster Missal finished prior to 1386 under the auspices of Abbot Lytlyngton, where January 5 is the most important feast, holding the same rank as Christmas.

The translation of Edward the Confessor
MS. Ee.3.59, La estoire de seint aedward le rei, 13th century
Courtesy of Cambridge Digital Library

By the middle of the 13th century Edward's long-suffering popularity received a boost from Henry III who embraced Edward as his particular saint, and who refurbished Westminster in his honour and had his corpse translated once more on October 13 1169. It is possible that Henry III saw a greater royal symbolism in the translatio, owing perhaps to the fact that it was Henry II who had overseen the translation of 1163, and this became now the most important feast, replacing January 5, the aforementioned importance of this date in the Lytlyngton Missal notwithstanding.

The final result of Henry III's initiated refurbishment of Westminster


Carpenter, D. A., "King Henry III and Saint Edward the Confessor: the Origins of the Cult", printed in English Historical Review, Vol. CXXII, No. 498, Oxford University Press, 2007

Hope, Steffen, The King's Three Images - the representation of Edward the Confessor in historiography, hagiography and liturgy, Trondheim, 2012

Legg, John Wickham, Missale ad usum Ecclesie Westmonasteriensis, Henry Bradshaw Society, London, 1891 (Vol. I), 1893 (Vol. II) and 1897 (Vol. III)

Luard, Henry Richard (ed.), Flores Historiarum, London, 1890

Raciti, Gaetano, Aelredi Rievallensis Sermones LXXXV-CLXXXII, Corpus Christianorum Continu-atio Medievalis IIC, Brepols Publishers, 2012 Vol. 4