Henry The Young King: Part One.

When asked about the sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the two that are most often remembered are Richard the Lionheart and John, the two that lived to be kings after their father’s death. Henry and Eleanor had five sons though. The first William, died in infancy and the third Geoffrey was Duke of Brittany and died in a tournament in 1186. It was his son, Arthur, who was King John’s rival claimant to the throne of England. There was another son though, one who too often is forgotten in the annals of history. Henry was their second son, he was heir to the Plantagenet empire that Henry II and Eleanor had built and he was crowned during his father’s lifetime, a continental custom, so he was a king in his own right. He died, however, in 1183 at the age of 28 and as time went on his story was eclipsed by his younger brothers.

I first came upon Henry the Young King, as he came to be known, when I was researching William Marshal, as Marshal began his career in the royal household as Young Henry’s tutor in arms and effectively the captain of his knights (Marshal will be elucidated later in this post). The post is not going to uncover anything new about the life of Henry, there was an excellent biography written about Henry in 2016 by Matthew Strickland if you would like more information. However, as this is a blog of the odds and ends of history and for better or for worse Henry’s story has fallen a little into the cracks, I thought it was worth telling.

There aren’t really any contemporary images of Henry. His effigy in Rouen Cathedral is not contemporary, and most examples of his great seal are damaged.

Even on his effigy he is described in terms of others- the latin inscription says he was the brother of the lionheart- the inscription is not contemporary.

He was described by one of his chaplains Gervase of Tilbury as

He was tall in stature, and distinguished in appearance; his face expressed merriment and mature judgment in due measure; fair among the children of men, he was courteous and cheerful. Gracious to all, he was loved by all; amiable to all, he was incapable of making an enemy. He was matchless in warfare, and as he surpassed all others in the grace of his person, so he outstripped them all in valour, cordiality, and the outstanding graciousness of his manner, in his generosity and in his true integrity. In short, in this man, God assembled every kind of goodness and virtue, and the gifts which fortune usually bestows on single individuals of special distinction, she exerted herself to give all together and in richer measure to this man, so as to make him worthy of all commendation.

This description obviously has to be taken with a bucketful of salt as Gervase was definitely biased. Depending on which chroniclers you read Young Henry was either the hard done by heart of chivalry- though chivalry is not a contemporary term – or an ungrateful spendthrift who rose up in rebellion against his father unnecessarily, and incited incendiary war. As with most things in history the truth is probably somewhere in between. This post can not possibly cover his entire life, so I am going to focus on the key moments, in a series of vignettes. This is part one of two and will cover Young Henry up to his rebellion against Henry II. Part two will cover the last ten years of his life, his time on the tournament circuit and his death- which is an interesting story in and of itself.

Young Henry was born in 1155 in London, not long after his father was crowned King of England. It was a time of hope and relative peace after the bitter years of civil war known as the Period of Anarchy. He was baptised by the Bishop of London, and when Henry II had his barons swear fealty to his oldest son William in April 1155, he also had them swear to Young Henry if William died prematurely. Henry II had come to the throne at the end of a brutal dynastic war, so he was shoring up his succession. William died in 1156 and was buried with his great grandfather Henry I in Reading Abby, he was only 3. So Young Henry became the heir to the Plantagenet Empire.

The next key vignette was Young Henry’s marriage. This might feel like I’m jumping a bit far into his lifetime, but in fact we’re only looking at 1158. In 1158 discussions began about betrothing Young Henry, now three, to Margaret the one year old daughter of Louis VII the King of France. Betrothing children this young wasn’t that unusual. It actually had little to do with the children themselves and more to do with agreements over land and alliances. In this case it was stipulated that if Young Henry died, one of his brothers could be substituted. The two children were betrothed in c. 1160. The agreement was only intended to be a betrothal, as far as Louis VII was concerned, but Henry II wanted the land that came as part of Margaret’s dowry as well as being concerned with Louis’ new marriage (in case he produced a son), so he had the two children married in November 1160. Roger of Hoveden described the marriage as Henry, king of England, caused his son Henry to be married to Margaret, the daughter of the king of France, although they were as yet but little children, crying in the cradle. Roger of Hoveden goes on to say that Louis was indignant. There was little he could do about it though and peace was eventually restored by 1161.

Being married this young was actually very unusual, as marriage was somewhat of a rite of passage, but nevertheless Young Henry was a husband by the time he was five. Margaret was raised in Henry II’s court, though not necessarily with Young Henry. The children would still have known each-other growing up.

Young Henry’s childhood is interesting, though there is not a great deal of detail known. It is worth noting that in 1162 he was placed in the household of Thomas Becket, who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury. This was a sign of high favour to Becket, and Young Henry would have grown up in Becket’s household, which was well known for its pomp, ceremony and extravagance with Beckett at its centre. Henry II on the other hand was known to be careless of his appearance and the quality of his food and wine, though he was conscious of the importance of ceremony and symbolism. This early environment, may have had an effect on Young Henry’s behaviour in later life. Becket would later infamously fall out with Henry II and was martyred in 1170.

The site of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral.

I’m now going to jump forward to Young Henry’s coronation, also in 1170. It wasn’t an English custom to crown the heir in the father’s lifetime, but Henry II wanted to be very sure to shore up his succession. Young Henry was no longer a child, he was fifteen, and would have had his own household by this point. By now Thomas Becket and Henry II were at odds, this is pre Becket’s martyrdom, so he wouldn’t crown Young Henry as he’d exiled himself from England. This was an issue because the Archbishop of Canterbury crowning the King was an important part of the conferment of sovereignty, and the legitimacy of the coronation. After much back and forth and strife between Henry II and Thomas Becket in the end Roger the Archbishop of York crowned Young Henry in Westminster in July 1170. The Pope forbade the coronation in a letter to the bishops and archbishops of England saying We forbid you all by our apostolic authority , from crowning the new king, if the case shall occur without the consent of the archbishop and the church of Canterbury, nor shall any of you put forth his hand, contrary to the ancient customs and dignity of the church, or in any way forward the coronation aforesaid. The letter was too late as Young Henry had already been crowned. There isn’t a contemporary description of the detail of the coronation, but from descriptions of other coronations such as Richard I’s, it would have been full of ritual and ceremony. Roger of Hovden described it as He himself caused the above-named Henry, his son, to be crowned and consecrated king at Westminster, by Roger, Archbishop of York, who was assisted in this duty by Hugh bishop of Durham, Walter, bishop of Rochester, Gilbert, bishop of London, and Jocelyn, bishop of Salisbury ; no mention whatever being made of the blessed Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, to whom by right of his see the coronation and consecration belonged. You can see Westminster Abbey in the photo below.

After the coronation a grand banquet was held in the next door Westminster Hall- it had been built by Henry II’s great uncle William Rufus and was one of the largest freestanding halls in Europe. You can see it in the photos below.

There is a story from the coronation banquet, which may or may not be true but is interesting regardless. The story is that Henry II served his son personally at table to honour him (even though it could have been seen as demeaning of his kingship), Young Henry is then said to have commented that it was quite normal for the son of a count to serve the son of a king. This would have been seen as an enormous slight on Henry II’s authority as the King. It’s probable that Young Henry never said this, it is also possible that Henry II never served him directly, as most of the accounts are from later sources seeking to denigrate Henry II. What’s interesting though is that the story survived, and you can see how it is building a narrative of the diminished authority of Henry II and the flippancy of Young Henry. You can see an early 13th century depiction of the scene and the coronation in the image below. It comes from a life of Thomas Becket.

Once Henry had been crowned he was, in theory, invested with the same authority as his father. Henry II went on to have most of his barons swear to Henry Roger of Hoveden described it as The day after this coronation, the king, his father, made William, king of the Scots, and David, his brother, and the earls and barons of the kingdom, pay homage to the new king, and swear ‘fealty to him against all men, saving their fealty to himself.

The History of William Marshal described this decision as once the deed that been done, many a day afterwards that he would have readily undone it.

The problem from here on in, was the theory and the practice of the authority of a king. Henry II may have given Young Henry a crown in his lifetime, but he didn’t give him any actual authority. The Plantagenet Empire stretched across England and a lot of what is now France, and while Henry II had made his son a king, the crown didn’t result in any lands to rule or administer independently. You can see a map of the Plantagenet Empire at its height in c.1188 in the image below.

The Welsh Chronicle the Brut y tywysogion encapsulated the problem perfectly when it said In that interval, when king Henry the eldest was beyond the sea, his son Henry the younger, the new king, came to him to enquire what he ought to do; for since he was a king he had many knights, and he had no means of rewarding those knights with presents and gifts, unless he received a loan from his father; and this was in the time of Lent. And his father said to him that he would give him twenty pounds a day, of the money of that country, for expenditure and that he should not have more. And he said that he had never heard of a king being a man on pay, or under wages and that neither would he be. After the son has taken advice, he went to the city of Tours, to obtain money on loan from the burgesses of the city; and when the king heard that, he sent messengers to the burgesses to forbid them under the pain of losing all their property, to lend anything to his son. And without delay he sent trust men to watch his son lest he go anywhere without notice.

So essentially Young Henry was a king without a kingdom. This was the core of the reasons that led to my next vignette; Young Henry’s rebellion against his father.

In 1173 Young Henry rose up against his father Henry II. He escaped from his father’s watch at Chinon and rode for Chartres when he knew his father in law Louis VII was in residence. You can see Chartres Cathedral in the photo below.

His flight had been somewhat precipitous though, as it took his allies, including his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, his brothers Richard and Geoffrey, Louis VII, and various French and English barons by surprise. It was none the less a formidable coalition facing Henry II. There was one very unusual factor about this rebellion, Eleanor of Aquitaine. While sons rebelling against their fathers was not unheard of in this period and there had been other rebellions by Henry II’s barons already, a rebellion partly instigated by a queen was almost unheard of. But then Eleanor of Aquitaine was definitely a woman who stood outside the norm for her time. She’s one of my favourite historical figures but I won’t go into detail about her here. I have written about her before and you can see that post here. You can see Eleanor’s effigy from Fontevraud Abbey in the photo below.

Henry II’s other sons rebelled for similar reasons to Young Henry, he wouldn’t share authority. They were given then trappings of power rather than any actual ability to exercise it, and in many ways were supplicants to their father the same way Young Henry was.

So at the age of 18 Young Henry was a king and undertaking a rebellion against his father. As a rebellion it began promisingly enough with Roger of Hoveden hyperbolically stating:

The whole of the kingdom of France, and the king, the son of the king of England, Richard his brother, earl of Poitou, and Geoffrey, earl of Bretagne, and nearly all the earls and barons of England, Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou, and Brittany, arose against the king of England the father, and laid waste his lands on every side with fire, sword, and rapine : they also laid siege to his castles, and took them by storm, and there was no one to relieve them.

Hoveden continued on to compare the rebellion to a prophecy of Merlin’s

The cubs shall awake and shall roar aloud, and, leaving the woods, shall seek their prey within the walls of the cities ; among those who shall be in their way they shall make great carnage, and shall tear out the tongues of bulls. The necks of them as they roar aloud they shall load with chains, and shall thus renew the times of their forefathers

Henry II was beset on all sides and Young Henry was in the middle of it all.

The beginning of Young Henry’s rebellion, marked another milestone, his knighthood. Ordinarily Young Henry would have been knighted before his coronation, and although there is no record of it occurring, normally we would assume that he would have been knighted as a key part of his transition to manhood. In this case though, we have a relatively contemporary source which tells a different story. The History of William Marshal is a near contemporary biography of William Marshal, (who I mentioned at the beginning of this post). Marshal was one of the key figures throughout this period. He was born the fourth son of a not hierarchically important baron, and rose to become Regent of England by his death in 1219. He served five kings, but he began his career in Young Henry’s household. You can see Marshal’s effigy in the photos below.

So the History records Marshal knighting Young Henry in 1173 as he is about to take up arms against his father at the head of a large force. “But there is this, my dear lord,” they said: “you have still not been knighted, and that is not to everyone’s liking, we feel. We would all be a more effective force if you had a sword girded on; that would make the whole of your company, more valorous and more respected, and would increase the joy in their hearts.” The young King replied: “I will willingly do that, and I can tell you that the best knight who ever was or will be, or has done more or who is to do more, will gird on my sword, if God please.” At this the sword was brought before the King, and, once he had it in his hand, he went straight up to the Marshal, brave man that he was, and said to him: “From God and from yourself, My lord, I wish to receive this honour.” The Marshal had no wish to refuse him; he gladly girded on his sword and kissed him, whereupon he became a knight, and he asked that God keep him most valerous, honoured and exalted, as indeed he did.”

Now the History is very biased towards Marshal, but it is unlikely that it would put this story front and centre, if it was completely untrue. Therefore it is most likely that Marshal knighted Young Henry, an important step on Young Henry road to manhood and military leader.

Young Henry’s rebellion started promisingly, and the fighting continued, with neither side really gaining the upper hand. Henry II sued for peace at the end of 1173 offering his sons lands. Roger of Hoveden records that he offered Young Henry: a moiety of the revenues of his demesnes in England, and four fitting castles in the same territory ; or, if his son should prefer to remain in Normandy, the king, the father, offered a moiety of the revenues of Normandy, and all the revenues of the lands that were his father’s, the earl of Anjou, and three convenient castles in Normandy, and one fitting castle in Anjou, one fitting castle in Maine, and one fitting castle in Touraine

It could be argued if Henry II had made this offer before the rebellion Young Henry may have rebelled. It was not enough however, Henry II’s offer was spurned and the fighting continued. It looked like the rebels might have been successful, but Henry II was a formidable military commander and with some luck and, according to the church, intercession from Thomas Becket who was a saint by this point, Henry II prevailed by late 1174.

The History was written in the early 1200s under the reign of Henry III, Henry II’s grandson, so it does not dress up the rebellion as desirable. The spin it put on it however, is that Young Henry was badly advised saying “Dear lord, you should not show your anger to your son or those in his company, but to those who advised him to act as he did. The ones to suffer for it should be those who advised him to turn traitor, and they should be considered more base for what they did.” This is the picture that is often painted of Young Henry, easily led. It seems that Henry II took this advice as he forgave his sons and most of the rebels eventually. The exception was his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who remained his prisoner (in reasonably salubrious circumstances) for 16 years until his death in 1189.

To return to Young Henry though. After his rebellion failed in 1174, he stayed with his father in England for more than a year. The History records when he got sick of this saying So, the young King Henry, who did not find it the slightest bit amusing to be so long confined in England, acted upon the advice and counsel of his companion and approached his father, a man who loved him very dearly. He said “if it did not incur your displeasure, it would be most welcome and pleased to me to go over the Channel for my sport, for it could be a source of much harm to me to stay idle for so long, and I am extremely vexed by it. I am no bird to be mewed up; a young man who does not travel around could never aspire to any worthwhile thing, and he should be regarded as of no account.”

So Young Henry, with his father’s permission, travelled with his knights, including William Marshal, to the continent where he commenced his time on the tournament circuit. This brings me to my next vignette; the young king’s career on the tournament field. And that is where I will begin part two of this post, which will deal with the last ten years of Henry’s life, his time on the tournament field and his death at the age of only 28. I’ll leave part one with an image from Matthew Paris’ Historia Anglorum from the mid 13th century that depicts Henry the Young King in a little archway between Henry II and Richard I. You can see the close up of Henry in the first image, then the whole page in the second. See you soon for part 2.

This is the link to explore the whole book http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=royal_ms_14_c_vii_f008v

References:

Anonymous. History of William Marshal. (ed.) AJ. Holden. (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volumes I, II & III. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. 2002.

Aurell, Martin. The Plantagenet Empire 1154-1224. (trans.) David Crouch. Harlow: Pearson Education. 2007.

Strickland, Matthew. Henry The Young King 1155-1183. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2016

https://archive.org/details/flowershistorye03parigoog/page/n75/mode/2up

https://historicalragbag.com/2014/11/14/marriage-alliances-of-noble-women-1180-1250-part-2-eleanor-of-aquitiane/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:The_Becket_Leaves_(c.1220-1240)_-_BL_Loan_MS_88#/media/File:Coronation_of_Henry_the_Young_King_-_Becket_Leaves_(c.1220-1240),_f._3r_-_BL_Loan_MS_88.jpg

http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_14_c_vii

https://archive.org/details/brutytywysogiono00cara/page/220/mode/2up

The photos that aren’t medieval manuscripts are all mine.

The Basilica of Saint Denis and the Kings and Queens of France

My post on the burial places of the kings and queens of England has been the most popular post I have ever written. This is despite the fact that, although I visited all the sites, I was not allowed to take photos in either St Georges Chapel in Windsor or Westminster Abbey where the majority of them are buried. With this in mind and from a desire to write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with COVID, I thought I’d have a look at the Basilica of Saint Denis- the burial place of most of the Kings of France. Now unfortunately I don’t have all my research material with me at the moment, so rather than an examination of each monarch, I’m going to look at the church itself and highlight some of the more interesting monuments. Saint Denis gets overlooked for the more popular Notre Dame by most people visiting Paris, but for my money it is the more interesting church, even before Notre Dame burnt down. It is pretty spectacular; inside and out:

I wanted to start by looking at what makes the church a basilica rather than just a church. The title of basilica is granted by the Vatican, but it can also be the style of the church. In the case of Saint Denis it is old enough that the designation of basilica dates back to 5th century, when it was given the label because it had a floor plan that was the same as a Roman civic building, that is three naves that were used for administration of justice. Although the church was significantly rebuilt by Abbot Suger in the 12th century the designation remained. Typically of a basilica Saint Denis is built on the bones of a saint, was a key site for pilgrimage and became the centre of a town. Saint Denis might now be in Paris, but it definitely wasn’t when it was built and the town of Saint Denis sprang up around it. In 1966 the church was given cathedral status as the seat of the diocese of Saint Denis.

So, regardless of whether you call it a church, a basilica or a cathedral, Saint Denis is very old. The first church on the site built in the 5th century would have been part of a wider abbey and is thought to have been built on a Roman church yard, where the bones of Saint Denis were buried. It was extensively rebuilt under the Norman rule and in the 12th century Abbot Suger remodelled it to the gothic masterpiece you see today. However, not all of it is original. While it was added to over the centuries, especially under Louis IX in the 13th century, over the years in began to fall into disrepair. By the French Revolution, it became a symbol of the power of kings, and was thus badly damaged. The lead from the roof was melted down and some of the royal tombs were destroyed. The remains of the kings and queens were removed and mixed with lime and thrown in a mass grave, but many of the monuments on the royal tombs were preserved for the new national museum. The church was then used as a warehouse. French writer François-René de Chateaubriand in his work Génie du Christianisme, described this ruin: “Saint-Denis is deserted. Birds fly in and out, grass grows on its smashed altars and all one can hear is the dripping of water through its open roof”. Restoration began under Napoleon who thought about being buried there and restoring a line of emperors, and then when the monarchy was restored, for a short period of time anyway, restoration continued. The royal tombs were resorted to the church in the 19th century, in what was at least close to their original positions. Over the 19th century Saint Denis became a trialing ground for conservation and restoration, a process that has in some ways continued to the present day. The most recent restoration was the facade which took place between 2012 and 2015. Although not all that you see is original, this is a building that is at the heart of the history of France and its patchwork reflects the chequered history of its country. You can see what it would have looked like as an abbey in the photo below.

That is a bit of a background to the church itself. I would now like to turn to some of the kings and queens who were buried there. This post is not going to go into immense detail about every monarch interred in Saint Denis, but I will have a look at some of them. To begin though, how did Saint Denis become the burial place for the Kings and Queens of France? It wasn’t until the 10th century that it became the key site for royal burial. Up until this point Saint Denis was competing with several other cemeteries. Royal burials were popular because they attracted visitors and in some cases pilgrims, which brought in revenue for the religious institutions where the member of the royal family was buried. They were also more likely to receive largess for other members of the family. When the Capetians ascended the throne at the end of the 10th century, they made Saint Denis their royal necropolis, and from then on most kings and queens were buried there until the 19th century- though there were of course exceptions.

There’s simply too many royal burials at Saint Denis to examine each of them. During the period of time it was used as the royal necropolis 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 men of the kingdom were interred there. Today there are just over 70 effigies and monumental tombs in Saint Denis. One day I might revisit this, and look at the burial places of the all the Kings and Queens of France. But at the moment I’m going to explore a few.

I want to begin with the end. Louis XVIII was the last king to be interred in Saint Denis. Starting at the end might seem like an odd way to tell this story, but in many ways he exemplifies Saint Denis as a royal necropolis as he worked to restore it as a symbol of the monarchy. Louis XVIII was Louis XVI’s younger brother and once Louis XVI was executed, he declared himself regent to his nephew and then when his nephew died he declared himself Louis XVIII in 1795. Now as this was in the middle of the French Revolution-the declaration was somewhat of a moot point. Louis wandered around Europe for a bit, but he did eventually manage to become King of France (actually residing in the country) in 1814 and was the last monarch to be interred in Saint Denis. You can see his grave in the image below.

I want to continue with the king and queen who are, arguably, the best known of the French monarchy, and are inextricably linked to Louis XVIII. Louis XVI and Marie Antionette. There are two monuments to them in the church. You can see both in the photos below.

Neither of the effigies are contemporary. The black graves are where the remains of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were reinterred by Louis XVIII. The other statue was completed in c.1830 at the behest of Louis XVIII. It shows Louis XVI and Marie Antionette in prayer- most likely as a way of rehabilitating the monarchy and tracing Louis XVIII back to them- legitimising his claim to the throne. As people and monarchs in their own rights hundreds of books have been written, movies have been made and the story of French Revolution told and told again. I’m not intending to retell their stories in this post (it would make it incredibly long for one thing). I will say one thing. Marie Antionette does receive a fair amount of flack in popular culture for being a Queen so completely divorced from the fate of her people that when they ran out of bread she famously said “let them eat cake.” Like most famous sayings, it didn’t happen. There is absolutely no evidence that she ever said it. It wasn’t attributed to her until 50 years after her death; and was applied tongue in cheek more generally for out of touch monarchs. I will leave my discussion of Marie Antionette and Louis XVI there, except to say that Louis was executed first on the 21st of January 1793 and Marie Antionette on the 16th of October 1793. They probably weren’t the worst monarchs France had ever had, but their idea of monarchy could not stand up against the changing times.

So I started at the end, now I’m going to go back to the start Saint Denis and Dagobert.

In the crypt of Saint Denis are remains of the structures that would have been below the site of the church- this is roughly where the tomb of Saint Denis would have been. Saint Denis was possibly the first Bishop of Paris, he was martyred in c.285 CE and is the patron saint of France. You can see the archaeological tombs in the photo below.

The other beginning at Saint Denis is Dagobert- the first French King to be interred in the church. You can see the monument to him in the photo below

It’s not contemporary and was constructed in the 13th century, but it depicts the king’s soul making its way through the afterlife. Due to his transgressions towards the church, he appropriated quite a lot of church property, he is first sent to hell but in the top panel you can see Saint Denis, Saint Martin and Saint Maurice seizing his soul from the hands of the demons and taking it off to paradise. His recumbent effigy is facing where the relics of Saint Denis would have been, showing Saint Denis as the protector of the monarchy. Dagobert himself, was an interesting figure. He was buried in Saint Denis in 639 CE and actually technically wasn’t a King of France, mainly because France as we know it today didn’t exist. The Kingdom of the Franks was a loosely held together group of smaller territories most of which are included in what we would now consider to be France. Dagobert inherited a partly held together kingdom from his father Chlotar II, Chlotar had pulled together Burgundy and Austrasia (Austrasia covered what we would now see as north eastern France, Belgium and parts of Western and Central Germany). Dagobert managed to hold this together and called himself King of the Franks from 629 until his death in 639, he pre dates Charlemagne who was the first king to hold the majority of what is now France. For our purposes the most interesting thing Dagobert did was be the first king to decide to be buried at Saint Denis. The church was already sacred, because it held the relics of Saint Denis, but Dagobert’s decision put the church on the path to becoming the necropolis of the French monarchy and Saint Denis on the path to being the protector of the royal family.

So those are our book ends. The first and the last kings to be interred in Saint Denis. I thought I would include a king somewhere in the middle- who was also responsible for much of the 13th century work on Saint Denis that you see today. Louis IX is someone I’ve written about before- in passing mainly in relation of Angers, but I want to discuss him briefly here. His effigy has not survived in Saint Denis, though the effigies of two of his children who died in infancy have, and they’re very rare examples of metal tombs. You can see them in the photo below.

Louis IX actually died in Tunis on crusade in 1270 and the flesh was boiled from his bones so they could be sent back to be interred in Saint Denis (this was not an unusual occurrence) his relics didn’t arrive back in Paris until 1271. Louis IX didn’t only refashion Saint Denis, he also collected holy relics including (apparently) a piece of the crown of thorns and a piece of the true cross and his personal chapel Sainte-Chappelle in Paris is a true jewel-box of medieval architecture (you can see it in the photo below)

Louis IX came to the throne at the age of 11, and his mother Blanche of Castille ruled as regent for his minority, she was the grand daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. He married Margaret of Provence, whose sister Eleanor of Provence was married to Henry III of England so there was a close relationship between the two royal families. Louis was a pious, but strong king and France held an important place on the European stage during his reign. He led two crusades, somewhat successfully, and expanded the inquisition, so as far as the church was concerned he was an excellent king, he was supported by the people of France as well and they canonised him unofficially after his death in 1270. He was officially canonised by Pope Boniface in 1297 in the reign of his grandson Philip IV, partly in attempt to appease Philip in the ongoing conflict between the papacy and the French king. Philip IV was interred in Saint Denis, and his son Charles IV had his effigy constructed in c. 1327. You can see it on the far left in the photo below.

So that brings me to the end of my discussion of Saint Denis and some of the kings interred within. One day I might come back and write a post more specifically about the Kings and Queens of France, but for now I hope this post has given you some insight into a magnificent church and its funeral monuments. I’m going to conclude with some final photos of some of the monuments I haven’t discussed but will hopefully one day return to.

References:

Site visit 2012

Saint Denis Basilica Cathedral booklet

France in the Middle Ages 987-1460 by Georges Duby

http://www.saint-denis-basilique.fr/en/Explore/History-of-the-monument

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/recumbent-statues.html

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/tomb-of-dagobert.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Denis

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Merovingian-dynasty

https://www.britannica.com/place/France/The-failure-of-reunification-613-714#ref237300

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dagobert-I

https://www.britannica.com/place/Austrasia

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-IX

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/philippe-iv-le-bel.html

https://study.com/academy/lesson/basilica-of-st-denis-architecture-history.html

http://www.gcatholic.org/churches/data/basFR.htm

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-XVIII

https://www.britannica.com/story/did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake

The photos are all mine

Time

Time might seem an odd topic for a blog about history. Time, however, and the keeping and tracking of it, does have a history, and reflections on this can perhaps lead us to some insight into how we manage time now. So, this post will be a little divergent from my norm, for a start there aren’t going to be a lot of pictures, time is hard to photograph, and it is a bit more, well reflective than my posts usually are.

The first reason I decided to write this post, is because of a GLAMR (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Records) group called New Cardigans, who have a blog theme for each month and August’s was time. I’ve never written to it before because it’s never matched closely enough with my historical bent. In this case though, I’ve taken it as inspiration to do some research. The second reason is, at the moment time is a fickle beast. I live in Melbourne, which has just gone into stage 4 restrictions. This means we can’t leave the house without specific reasons, most work (including libraries) are not included in the reasons. So, I’ve packed up a significant quantity of books, journals and the like and taken them home. These restrictions are new, and while we are settling into them the best word I’ve heard to describe the experience of time is liminal. The way the sea shore is both land and sea- time has become liminal, it’s at a threshold as we wait until we can all begin moving again- and it’s a nicer word than purgatory.

The water meadows at Runnymede were deliberately chosen as a liminal space for the sealing of the Magna Carta.

Time has become to odd, dragging like a troll’s knuckles, then you look back and wonder where all the days went. The lack of definitive routine and structure is shaping how we all think, feel and experience not only the world, but the concept of time itself. It’s ironic that in this era where we can all measure time down to the millisecond, where we pride our selves in our hectic lifestyles, rushing from one thing to the next, that time seems to have ceased to have real meaning. We stand on this threshold and instead of letting it pass, I wanted to have a look at what time is and what it has meant to those in the past, to see what bearing it can have on our experience and the future.

It’s actually one of the issues I’ve had writing medieval fiction. They didn’t measure time to the second the way we do. So I had to find a heap of other words to designate small periods of time, because you can’t say ‘she waited a second’ or ‘a minute later’, or the like. I usually settled on words like ‘heartbeat’ and ‘moment,’ but I still had to go back to do a global search and remove the few that I’d missed because they were so automatic. Time also has a key role in history- as in the way we see the past. We tend to parcel it out into eras or periods, especially when looking at the Western concept of history, where one era begets another, in an inexorable linear fashion. The Ancient Greeks beget the Romans, who beget the medieval period (the ‘dark ages’ a term that is now outmoded still seem to get left by the wayside), which begets the Renaissance, which begets the Enlightenment, which begets the Industrial Revolution, which begets the modern period. This is a gross generalisation, and as I said very much a Western view- as there was plenty going on in the rest of world that this dominant historical narrative discounts completely. It also simplifies how fluid time and history are, they don’t fit neatly into little boxes. For the most part, ages and epochs tend to be named by scholars looking back- I can guarantee people weren’t wandering around Florence in the 1600s thinking- Ohh I’m living in the Renaissance (the term was probably coined by Jacob Burckhardt in the 19th century- he certainly popularised it). These broader historical narratives, that shape our idea of how time has passed in the past, also tend to discount small stories- so the history that becomes ‘fact’ is often only a facet. This leads me to consider what our ‘era’ will be, what will our ‘narrative’ be? Because, I don’t think anyone can deny that at the moment we are living history- a mainstream narrative history that will be taught in schools- the same way the Spanish Flu and the Black Death are today.

But, even living through something that we can all see is history with a capital H, it isn’t all that we experience everyday. There is so much deeper nuance to each lived day, and at the moment time is a big component of that. For me it’s been finding ways to fill it, when I’ve spent so much time not having enough time. There’s been baking, writing (including this blog), reading, walking, riding, tv show watching, much the same as everyone else. But, with this new lockdown, time seems to be spooled out in front of us, offering hope but also frustration, as the desire to fill it marks our days. So I’m turning to the past, to see how time was understood in eras where it couldn’t and wasn’t marked to the second, when it perhaps had less concrete everyday meaning.

The Ancient Greeks, did measure time, they did measure hours- in fact it was a novel concept to them. There were complaints about the introduction of the sundial because people stopped eating when they were hungry and started eating as prescribed times. Herodotus reported that the Greeks had taken the concept of the hour- splitting the day into 12 hour divisions- from the Babylonians. The night didn’t have a division for civilians, but for the military it was broken down into segments, though the length varied with the seasons. A specific division of a day was only possible with time measuring devices, such as sundials and water clocks and public variants of these were produced. It also meant that measuring time was largely an urban phenomenon.

I realise that in skipping forward now to the medieval period- which is the historical era I am most familiar with- that I am following the same prescribed historical past that I discussed earlier. However, as this is a blog about time, not a thesis or a book, some era jumping is necessary. The medieval concept of time, was very much driven by the Church. Especially in the cities where the canonical hours, could in some cases be heard in the ringing of the church bells. The church divided time into seven periods of prayer as reminders of the Passion of Christ; Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. They were roughly divided up with daylight- Compline was usually sunset, Matins sunrise, and sext midday. These ‘hours’ shifted over time and again time was measured with physical devices such as sundials and water clocks.

You can see what is thought to be an early Irish sundial in the photo below- the stick is not contemporary.

The canonical hours were by no means exact, but they were a beginning of a structure of a day. It is also worth noting that church bells rang for just about everything, and each city and in fact each church in each city would have had a different way of ringing the hours.

Time wouldn’t begin truly dictating life until a more accurate form of measurement could be invented. Where and when the first mechanical clocks were invented is a matter for debate. In looking at England, mechanical clocks definitely existed by the 1300s because Norwich Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedrals had them installed between 1321 and 1324, you can see Lincoln Cathedral in the photo below.

Prior to mechanical clocks, time measuring relied either on weather dependant devices like sundials or water clocks, which worked by water (or another liquid) pouring from one container to another and in some cases lifting a weight- these were not workable long term. There is, however, no specific time when a mechanical clock was invented. There sadly isn’t a surviving chronicle proclaiming ‘eureka- today we invented the mechanical clock’- we do know a little about how they worked though. The earliest worked on a system of cogs, didn’t have a face and were simply made to strike the hour. In the video below you can see the rediscovery of what is thought to possibly be the earliest surviving mechanical clock in Salisbury Cathedral

You can see Salisbury Cathedral in the photo below. It is incidentally home of one of the original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta.

So, with the introduction of the mechanical clock, time began to be able to to be more measured, and therefore it began to have a tighter control on our lives. As time went on, pardon the pun, the big shift in time measurement becoming a civil rather than church concept was driven by the rise of the merchant classes. Being able to account for time, became valuable monetarily and by the 15th century clocks were moving from the public sphere into the private sphere. Towns also began to exert control on populaces through time. Municipal signal systems operated through bell towers, denoting things such as curfews (another concept we are becoming uncomfortably familiar with), town assemblies, proclamations and the like. Town bell towers began to take on civic identity with towns being known by their bell towers, and to destroy a bell tower was to destroy part of the identity of the town. So time played out on the civic and the individual stage.

A more modern concept of time keeping, began with the recognition of the monetary value of time, but also as time began to standardised, especially across public clocks in the cities and towns. As clocks became for accurate, time became more standardised and smaller measures of time could be recorded and adhered to. Clocks themselves also became smaller- it is possible that Richard III owned something that resembled what we would now see as a watch. It is also possible that he had a clock at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, which would have chimed the hours- how useful it would have been on the field of battle I’m not entirely sure, it certainly didn’t bring Richard III victory.

The tomb of Richard III

Once time became money, it became important in guilds, determining who had spent more time doing what and if we jump rapidly through the epochs we hit the concept of world time. Up until the 18th century time had been standardised geographically, lots of areas had their own times because there wasn’t such wide communications that broader standardisation was needed. Towns having their own times, known as burgher times, clung on in some places until the international Meridian Conference in 1884. The purpose of The Meridian Conference, held in Washington, was to set a universal day and fix the prime meridian. The need for this world wide consensus came about because of the industrial revolution, with shipping and train travel meaning that consistency in time was essential for commercial and personal purposes. The resolutions that the conference adopted were:

  1. That it is the opinion of this Congress that it is desirable to adopt a single prime meridian for all nations, in place of the multiplicity of initial meridians which now exist.
  2. That the Conference proposes to the Governments here represented the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude.
  3. That from this meridian longitude shall be counted in two directions up to 180 degrees, east longitude being plus and west longitude minus.
  4. That the Conference proposes the adoption of a universal day for all purposes for which it may be found convenient, and which shall not interfere with the use of local or standard time where desirable.
  5. That this universal day is to be a mean solar day; is to begin for all the world at the moment of mean midnight of the initial meridian, coinciding with the beginning of the civil day and date of that meridian; and is to be counted from zero up to twenty-four hours.
  6. That the Conference expresses the hope that as soon as may be practicable the astronomical and nautical days will be arranged everywhere to begin at midnight.
  7. That the Conference expresses the hope that the technical studies designed to regulate and extend the application of the decimal system to the division of angular space and of time shall be resumed, so as to permit the extension of this application to all cases in which it presents real advantages.

This is where Greenwich Mean Time was adopted, as the standard starting point for every time zone on the time zone map. I’m not going to go into detail about Greenwich Mean Time, you can find out more about it here https://greenwichmeantime.com/what-is-gmt/

So, we began with musing about liminal time in a Pandemic, and we have ended with the standardisation of time on an international scale. We now all have phones, or watches or even smart watches that let us know exactly what time it is all the time. We might find our lives governed by time, but it is worth remembering that time is a concept that took a conference to agree on international standards. So in this odd space, where time seems to both stretch and to snap, to be infinite and meaningless, but also corralled into minutes and seconds, that ultimately time is a human concept that we could, in theory, let go. Maybe a pandemic where we can’t run around and live our hectic lives, is a good spot to take a step back and see time as something to be appreciated rather than to be filled. Regardless, this has not been by any means an exhaustive history of time, but I hope it has given you something to think about, and that you’ve had the time to think it.

References

History of the Hour: Clocks and modern temporal orders by Gerhard Dohrn-Van Rossum

Time and Clocks in the Middle Ages http://www.r3.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2007_03.pdf

https://greenwichmeantime.com/what-is-gmt/

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17759/17759-h/17759-h.htm

The photos are all mine.