This week we really are at home, here at Oxford, in the Divine Office. Yesterday, I wrote about S Edmund of Abingdon, here both as an undergraduate and later as a don; and I quoted the old Breviary Mattins reading, written by that admirable example of the Anglican Patrimony, Nicolas Harpsfield. Harpsfield's Historia Ecclesiastica was written while he was imprisoned by Henry Tudor's bastard daughter Elizabeth. A (Wyccamical) member of this University, and a protege of S Thomas More, he spent the bad days at Louvain and flourished (and was very effective) as Cardinal Pole's Archdeacon of Canterbury. He was elected Prolocutor of the "Great Convocation" of 1559, which, in the very days when Elizabeth Tudor's Parliament in Westminster was busy 'abolishing' the Mass and the Pope, met down the river in London and courageously upheld in its Five Articles both the Mass and the Petrine Ministry. In a typical final stroke of public witness, Harpsfield held a last Corpus Christi procession through Canterbury in 1559, surrounded by vast crowds of the devout (on June 9; a fortnight before the Act of Uniformity took effect on June 24). He was not part-time either as a Catholic or as a scholar.
Today, we have S Hugh of Lincoln (which diocese medieval Oxford lay within); who certainly consecrated the church of S Giles in this city in 1200. On the occasion of this visit to Oxford, he instituted the Giler*, still the largest fair in England, which at the beginning of September occupies the whole of the broad thoroughfare called S Giles' Street, North of the North Gate.
S Hugh is best known among the narrators of 'romantic' tales because he noticed that the body of Henry II's paelex [the word used in today's old rite Mattins readings] Rosamund Clifford, had been buried in the sanctuary of Godstow Priory and had become something of a flower-covered popular shrine (this mob adulation post mortem of an unchaste royal glamour-puss is curiously redolent of the bizarre cultus of Diana Spencer). Accordingly, he ordered that it should be removed and reburied outside in loco profano**.
Happy times ... when ecclesiastics were willing to mark their disapproval of the public adultery of kings and magnates. Nowadays, nobody is much surprised if a Prince of Wales actually goes through a form of marriage with his paelex. An Archbishop of Canterbury will even grace such an event with his presence. And who can blame him, given the compliance of Dr Cranmer in every royal whimsy?
The 'romantic' can still visit the ruins of Godstow Priory, opposite the Trout, a favourite undergraduate pub in our days but now unhappily devoid of either 'character' or 'romance'.
*Giles = Giler; traditional Oxford slang. Cf. Proctor = Progger; Breakfast = Brekker; Queens = Quaggers; Jesus College = Jaggers; etc.. Soccer (for AsSOCiation Football) and Rugger survive nationally.
** I wonder if S Hugh wrote Latin Elegiacs? Some phrases survive of an inscription in that metre on her tomb, which I will very loosely paraphrase in English: "Rosa munda is supposed to mean clean rose, but this specimen was distinctly filthy. She used to have a very nice smell, but now she just ... smells".
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a learned lady ... I wonder if she had a reason for giving the name Rosamund (interpreted by Sayers as rosa mundi) to the sexually unwholesome murderee in Thrones, Dominations?