20 February 2020

Mary's Dowry and King Richard II

As we prepare for the rededication of our land to our Lady, I elucidate a piece of Latin which is circulating on the Internet in mysteriously garbled forms. Here is the line:


It is a typical medieval hexametre; forget all you ever knew about 'longs' and 'shorts' and go by rhythm. I have inserted the red bits not as letters but as metrical dividers. I divides the line into its six 'feet'. / is the 'caesura', the midline break. As so commonly in such medieval verses the syllables just before the caesura rhyme with the syllables at the end of the line, in this case -IA. Further examples of such versification occur on the tomb of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. (The term 'Leonine' is commonly attached to such verse.)

Modern punctuation might give us this:

Dos tua, Virgo pia, haec est; quare rege, Maria. 

In English:: O pious Virgin, this is your dowry, wherefore, O Mary, rule [it].  

This inscription is recorded as having been on a picture which hung above an Altar in the English College in Rome until the Napoleonic Episode. It showed a king and queen kneeling and offering England to our Lady; it is to be her dowry, and the offering is made through the hands of S John Baptist (King Richard II's patron and one of the most popular Saints until S Joseph somewhat encroached upon his cultus). The Altar above which it stood (in what had, of course, been the old royal English Hospice until it was converted into the Venerable English College) was that of S Edmund the Martyr.

[Sources: Edmund Waterton's Pietas Mariana Britannica (1879); and BL Harleian ms 360]  

The most helpful explanation I know is in Dillian Gordon's Making and Meaning THE WILTON DIPTYCH (1993; reprinted 2001). She describes that great Diptych, in our National Gallery, which also shows King Richard II dedicating England to our Lady as her dowry. In the course of investigating the Diptych, Gordon also provides the background of the now lost Roman picture which we are discussing this morning.

Gordon explains the choice of King Richard's favourite Saints; and invites us to look carefully at the orb above the white banner with the red cross. It shows, very probably, England as 'a green island with trees on the horizon and a white castle with two turrets and black windows'. It is surrounded by a sea which was originally silver leaf (I wonder if W Shakespeare ever saw this?)

You can't look at the picture in Rome because the Enlightenment so wisely destroyed it for you, but if you want to enter into the spirit of the Rededication, you can go and look at the Wilton Diptych. If yiu felt up to all the hassle of getting into Westminster Abbey, you could visit King Richard's and Queen Anne's tomb.

Gordon's book is well worth buying.


E sapelion said...

I live in the Isle of Man which, for those of us in communion with Rome, is part of the Metropolitan See of Liverpool. The Isle of Man is not a part of England, neither was it a part of England during the reign of Richard II, this having been agreed with Scotland by a treaty of Edward III, and maintained ever since.
So I am wondering whether we should regard ourselves as part of Mary's Dowry, or not.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

This inscription (admittedly with an O before Maria, which will doubtless horrify you) is inscibed over the arch of the Lady of Walsingham chapel at Corpus Christi Maiden Lane. As you rightly say, there are some truly extraordinary recent misquotations of it, even at the Shine in Walsingham.

The wonderful and late Fr Mark Elvins OFM Cap. wrote a good paper on the Dowry/English College which may be found on line.

The Dowry devotion links so much that is good within the Church today, the Shrine, the Ordinariate, the FSSP - all the bits which are growing! It is wonderful that their Lordships the Bishops are jumping on board!