Friday, 20 May 2022


Poet, academic, Abbot of Tours and recruited into the court of Charlemagne who wanted to retain “the most learned man anywhere to be found,” Alcuin of York (previously) is feted as a blessed man on this day on the occasion of the anniversary of his death in 804 (*735, actually a day prior but upstaged by the veneration of Dunstan). A prolific writer and scholar, Alcuin, styled in Latin Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, contributed to the creation of and standardisation of Carolingian minuscule—that is, mixed case script, credited with the invention of the question mark and among his teaching materials is a collection of maths word problems and logic puzzles called Propositiones ad acuendos juvenes (Problems to Sharpen Youths—see also) which includes the first written mention of the wolf, goat and cabbage problem wherein a farmer is challenged to get himself and his purchases to the opposite bank of a river with everything intact.

Thursday, 19 May 2022


With a wildly popular cult following until eventually being overshadowed by the martyred Thomas Becket, Saint Dunstan, cleric, scribe, artist, blacksmith, brewer and advisor to many kings is feted on this day on the anniversary of his death in 988 (*909). Entering monastic life in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in the company of Irish monks who occupied the site, young Dunstan excelled at all forms of craftsmanship and scholarship and was soon appointed to the court of Athelstan. Palace intrigues ensued and other courtiers grew jealous of the noviciate’s influence and sought to disgrace Dunstan with accusations of witchcraft. Distaste for politics caused Dunstan to return to Glastonbury and build a small hermitage and during this interlude before eventually being recalled to London and then acclaimed archbishop of Canterbury as he got to know God, Dunstan reportedly developed a relationship with the Devil as well, rebuffing temptation several times, arranging for the late frosts of Franklin Nights (to fall around his future feast day) to spoil the cider harvest so his own beer might be more in demand and at the Devil’s request shod and unshod one of his hooves. The ill-advised experience turned out to be too painful for the Prince of Darkness and is apparently an enduring trauma as he cannot pass through a threshold under a horseshoe—the origin supposedly of the lucky symbol.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

mise of lewes

Reviewing the chronicle of historic events that happened on this day, I was reminded of something spotted on our 2016 trip across England and this marker in the town of Lewes that commemorated the settlement (a rare English term from legal French, the past participle of mettre—to put) struck on this day during the
Second Barons’ War in 1264 between embattled Henry III and the rebellious gentry under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. On the brink of civil war, displeased with high taxation and tribute and foreign influence in the royal court, landholders and king negotiated a series of reforms that placed policy decisions in a council of magnates but was soon diluted and returned to status quo ante bellum, particularly after arbitration by Louis IX, a champion of royal prerogative and who certainly didn’t want a revolt on his hands, fighting broke out again at the fields of Lewes. Though with his victory,
Simon de Montfort was effectively made ruler of England, he was not able to hold power or maintain a stable government was was himself killed one year later during the Battle of Evesham. The monument to the battle and peace treaty was erected in 1964, the seven hundredth anniversary.  It was a nice occasion also to revisit some impressions (which I think we’ve not shared before) of this ancient town in Sussex with castle ruins and venerable brewery.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

scunthorpe dilemma

In tribute to a dear friend recently deceased, one individual has pledged to make a sojourn on moped across a circuit of UK settlements and in some cases streets with what’s generally deemed the rudest toponyms and odonyms to be found on the map in order, we learn via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump, to raise funds to combat the cancer his friend succumbed to.

The charity tour begins in the ancient hamlet of Shitteron in Dorset whose name means “farmstead on a stream used as an open sewer.” Be sure to check out the links above to see the entire itinerary and explore a global map of unfortunate, purple place names, including Fucking, Austria and how you can support their cause. The title refers to the over-zealous censorship of internet traffic monitors flagging substrings of text (the above and others) out-of-context.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

terra nullis

Via Super Punch, we learn about the Debatable Lands, a tract along the English and Scottish border whose ownership or allegiance was questionable (and doubtful either kingdom could or would want to stake a claim) whose name, despite aptly suggesting disputed grounds comes from the Old English word battable—that is, pasture land suitable for fattening up cattle. Between the rivers Esk and Sark, people could act with impunity in this place beyond the reach of the law and outside the jurisdiction of either England or Scotland under conditions that spanned three centuries until finally annexed by James VI of Scotland in 1590.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

popish plot

Promoted and promulgated by English priest Titus Oates, born on this day in 1649 ( †1705), the ungrounded conspiracy theory gripped England and Scotland with an anti-Catholic hysteria from its 1678 circulation and was not easily dispelled despite, Oates’ eventual arrest and conviction of perjury for giving false testimony that led to the execution of twenty-two individuals. Capitalising on fear and suspicions—and guilt by affiliation, real or attributed—of the foiled Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and fuelled by the Thirty Years’ War, framed as a Hapsburg effort to stamp out German and British Protestantism, Oates’ sermons accused one hundred Jesuits and their supporters of plotting an assassination attempt against Charles II. Owing to the recent restoration of the monarchy, the government took any accusation with gravity and led to legislation excluding Catholics from the throne with the Act of Settlement of 1701, further giving rise to two political party factions, the Tories who were opposed and the Whigs in favour of prohibiting Catholics from rule.

Monday, 15 June 2020

magna carta libertatum

On this day in a meadow near Windsor, the Archbishop of Canterbury mediated a peace treaty between a contingency of rebellious barons and John, the unpopular king of England, signed and sealed with the promise of swift justice, a statutory limit on fealty to the Crown by the landed-gentry, a council for arbitration and restraining the monarch by rule of law.
As much as the document is romanticised and mythologised, neither party kept their ends of the bargain, leading to the decision to be overruled as moot and void by the pope in Rome, Innocent III, precipitating the First Barons’ War. John’s successor reissued the charter, albeit with some of its more radical provisions removed to win an uneasy peace and setting the precedent for subsequent monarchs to renew the deal at the start of their reigns until the Civil War and the execution of Charles. No correspondence is implied though certainly some would be willing to unyoke themselves from the tyranny of science—even if the disburdening of the tiresome proves ultimately uneconomic—but this anniversary greets England (again disunited, fortunately) approving the opening of non-essential retail. Most things don’t just end once we’re fatigued or told we’ve had enough and time to move on. I wish Lisa had been allowed to finish her mnemonic device—I wonder what the next verses would be.

Monday, 25 May 2020


With the act of union adopted by the recalled Rump Parliament on this day in 1659 following the resignation Richard Cromwell after the chaotic death of his father Oliver Cromwell, England and Wales were declared a republican Commonwealth, a maneuverer that set in motion the restoration of the monarchy from exile in 1660 with the proclamation one year to the day later that heir Charles II had been the lawful regent since the death of his predecessor, constitutionally the undoing of all that had transpired in the preceding nineteen years.
In May of 1649, the original Rump Parliament (also called the Long Parliament) took power after the trial and execution of Charles I and this sitting legislature was dissolved in 1653 with executive powers vested in the Army Council, which then elevated Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of a united British isle—Scots and Irish resistance finally suppressed at the time during what was referred to as the third civil war that ushered in this second, brief republic—Cromwell’s government itself became untenable after a term of five years, punctuated by rampant purges, Irish genocide, cronyism (with political succession an afterthought and apparently a dynastic one was acceptable), harmonisation with religious authorities and the shuttering of the theatres.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

crypt and call-box

From Public Domain Review comes a retrospective look at the life and times of influential early nineteenth century collector and architect Sir John Soane, who build structures sacred and profane and defined the layout of one particular sort of place of worship and wonder—museums and art galleries. Appointed Clerk of Works with responsibility for renovations of Whitehall, Westminster and Saint James’ Place, Soane also went on to design the Bank of England, the Bank of Ireland and the dining rooms of 10 and 11 Downing Street, respectively the official residences of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Soane also designed the mausoleum where the earthly remains of his wife, himself and one son were entombed, which served as further inspiration decades after his departure.
Located in the churchyard of Old Saint Pancras, Giles Gilbert Scott, apprentice architect who would go on to build the iconic Battersea Power Station, whilst studying his father’s construction of St. Pancras Station, was much impressed with Soane’s grave and the younger Scott would return to that rounded, neoclassic capstone when it came to tendering his entry for what would become another ubiquitous and iconic design, the telephone kiosk.

Friday, 21 December 2018

twelfth night

Driving home for the holidays, we really enjoyed listening to this Royal Christmas Special from Rex Factor (previously) that examines the celebration, traditions and historical happenstance—births, coronations, etc.—from a courtly point of view. We think you’ll like this entertaining and informative episode as well, travelling or otherwise.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

house-arrest ou le chรขteau d’olรฉron

The settlement that has grown over the centuries around Le Chรขteau d’Olรฉron is arguably most famous as the place where Henry II held his troublesome but otherwise irreproachable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine captive for sixteen years for conniving to replace him as sovereign of England and outremar with their eldest son.  

Surely not the worst of places to wile away one’s sentence, but it turned out to be all the more endearing to us with the hindsight of nine hundred years that we’d visited this place (at least the Vauban fortifications and harbour) a mere five years hence and had forgotten about it—like the Wizard Gandalf said, “I have no memory of this place,” but being as function follows form for citadels, certain patterns start to emerge that tend to blur together.
Happily we had not remembered as we got to discover more, including the rows of former oyster-mongers bright water-colour shacks that had been conserved and converted to boutiques and studios—which reminded me of the laboratories and dwellings of the court alchemists of Prague whose workshops around the castle were resigned to a similar fate but didn't cost an extra entry fee to see—strongholds of Protestantism where the Huguenots had refuge given the island’s remote location, the Jesuit abbey converted into the Mairie, the city hall and chamber of commerce, and the historic square with a fountain that marked in neo-Renaissance style the inclusion of รŽle d’Orรฉlon on the circuit of the Tour de France, acknowledged some ninety years after a jibe with competing publishers of a bicycle and a car magazines decided to put rubber to the road.  
Our bike trekking here, though no where near epic, took us through some really amazing landscapes of the island.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

carry on, constable

There’s something remarkably indulgent about having the campus of well looked after ruins to oneself, imagining how history marched on and then by an inaccessible accord, time stopped and there was a general agreement to stave off both progress and decay. On our trip across England, we experienced this many times over, and the Restormel Castle outside of Lostwithel in Cornwall really typified the romance. This circular fortress was built in the times just after the Norman Conquest and bastions like these transformed and solidified the occupation and displacement and civilised the art of warfare, turning unsheltered carnage and plunder into something more strategic and potentially less violent.
Exchanged several times between the high sheriff of Cornwall and Simon de Montfort (of Crusade fame and infamy), eventually it was ceded to the crown, under Henry III, the residence boasted plumbing (some innovation eight hundred years ago—reaching back to Roman times) and profited off of the local tin trade. Another sight was the Old Sherborne Castle in Dorset (an intact castle is just up the road).
Queen Elizabeth I relinquished this twelfth century estate to Sir Walter Raleigh after the courtier, poet, historian and explorer became enamoured with it, whilst returning from an expedition to the New World and landing at nearby Portsmouth. Raleigh, between searching for El Dorado and the Seven Cities of Gold, was instrumental in the English colonising of North America and popularised tobacco and potatoes in the Old World. An unsanctioned marriage and political intrigues, which may have beckoned the Spanish Armada (over incursions into lands claimed by that crown), led to Raleigh’s unfortunate beheading.
His faithful wife and accomplice, according to some, kept her husband’s head in a velvet bag for nearly thirty years before expiring herself, both unable to retire to the castle that had become a rather frustrated property.