To Burlington House to hear Terry Jones smash a few misconceptions about the middle ages. A man after my own heart. With his usual style he asked: did they believe the earth was flat? No. Did they believe in witches? No. Were women forced to wear chastity belts? No. And so on. He produced plenty of evidence, excellent footnotes, and a lot of laughs. If history was taught like this in school every child would be an historian. And if you want to know who brought in the idea of witches it was bloody Henry VIII. If you want to know who organised the first public burning it was Bolingbroke, Richard II’s murderous cousin. and if you want to know about chastity belts, it was meant as a joke. I was also delighted to hear him mention a little known fact about Anne of Bohemia. After being crowned as Queen of England, she asked her young husband, Richard (they were both just sixteen years old) to stop the judicial killing of anyone involved in the rising of 1381. This official bloodbath was the brain child of the duke of Lancaster, Bolingbroke’s father. Not many people mention the civilising Plantagenets. Presumably not enough gore for 21st century taste. If you get chance to hear Terry Jones do his thing, don’t delay. I guarantee your enjoyment.
I was delighted to be at a conference of Crime Writers in Oxford recently, especially as the college I stayed in is named after one of my heroines, St Hilda of Whitby – a distant namesake of my medieval detective and spy, Hildegard of Meaux. St Hilda convened the synod of Whitby in Saxon times, establishing the calendar we use to this day. She also ran a double monastery and no doubt kept the brothers in order. She also fostered the work of the first English poet, Caedmon, and is therefore much to be praised. St Hilda’s college is idyllically placed on the river, punts langorously passing and the bells of Magdalene clearly ringing over the meadows. A great weekend.