3 December 2021

Cardinals and an Emperor

What fun it always is to walk through Cardinal College and to see the Founder's Arms flying in a gigantic banner; so typically Tudor and so nouveau in their elaboration and detail. Whereas most Oxford colleges assumed their Arms, Cardinal College got a grant, in 1525, from Garter and Clarenceux. An assertion of particular dignity?

I presume that the Cornish choughs indicate that Wolsey's Patron was S Thomas a Becket. (I think Thomas Cromwell included choughs on his arms.) And the butcher's son adopted Suffolk noble motifs: a silver cross from the Ufford earls; blue leopards from the de la Pole Earls. And a lion rouge nodded cheerfully towards Pope Leo X. There is no blood connection between Wolsey and all these; sometimes the words 'of affection ' are used to describe this sort of heraldry.

 Among Bodley's treasures is a spectacular little volume - the earliest English gold-tooled binding - presented to Wolsey c1519, containing prose and verse encomia addressed to him, and with S George on the cover ... and roses ... and pomegranates! A real evocation of the Renaissance, humanist days before all went to pot. And what a European axis that would have been, England with Spain and the Empire! It reminded me of an occasion three decades ago when the then Subdean of the Chapels Royal, the admirable Fr Anthony Caesar, smuggled me past the security guards to show me the Tudor chapel in S James's Palace with all the pomegranates in the ceiling decoration. I wondered, and wonder still, what the syphilitic old tyrant thought when his eye lighted accidentally upon them in his latter days after he had repudiated his wife and betaken himself to whores. 

From the same period, Bodley has a book, also with gold tooling, which was probably given to the humanist Cuthbert Tunstall, later Bishop of Durham, during the bonanza which accompanied the Peace of Cambrai in 1529. And the next King Henry - the opposite in most conceivable ways to the Eighth - was the source of an Italian book, the red silk binding embroidered with the arms of our late Sovereign Lord King Henry IX, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati. Crown underneath the ecclesiastical hat (which only has six tassels each side: why?). 

But what really transports you back to the early centuries of English Christianity is an Evangelarium of c800, Court School of Charlemagne at Aachen, with an ivory inset of Christus Victor. It was made for the Abbey at Chelles, where Charlemagne's sister Gisela was Abbess. 

It evokes for me that earlier Renaissance, the age of Alcuin the Englishman, which was so instrumental in conveying Romanita to the Middle Ages.

I do not imply that the random visitor will find these books on display in Bodley.


Little Black Sambo said...

Not Cornish choughs; Canterbury choughs.

Little Black Sambo said...

I believe choughs used to frequent the cathedral, just as they lived on the cliffs of Dover when King Lear went there. I was at school in Canterbury and we has the three choughs in our school badge.