Emmanuel Macron agrees to loan Bayeux tapestry to Britain

President to allow Battle of Hastings embroidery to leave France for first time in 950 years

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux tapestry will be loaned to Britain after Emmanuel Macron agreed to let it leave France for the first time in 950 years.

The president is expected to announce at an Anglo-French summit on Thursday that the artefact depicting the the Norman buildup to, and success in, the Battle of Hastings in 1066 will be loaned to the UK, probably in 2022.

 

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An Emperor’s Christmas at Eltham in 1400

The south London suburb of Eltham today seems an improbable location for a Medieval Christmas celebration involving kings and emperors, but the area was, in the Fifteenth Century, in open countryside, just a day’s ride from London, but sufficiently distant from the polluted Thames and from the frequently plague-ridden capital, for a King of England to entertain his guests in style and to enjoy, with them, the favoured pastimes of the time and season, notably hunting and jousting.
Eltham Palace: the Medieval great hall is on the right; the buildings on the left
were added in the 1930s, as the private home of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.
Photo: Nick Blackburn (licensed under CCA).

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Illuminating the medieval Nativity

One of the British Library’s newly digitised manuscripts is well worth a look this Christmas-time (Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1). It was made somewhere in North-East France or Flanders in the 12th century, and it contains eight sumptuous scenes from the early life of Christ. This cycle of images presumably once served as the preface for either a Psalter or a gospel-book.

Here we take a closer look at three key scenes in this manuscript: the Nativity, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi. Each illuminated page has a luxurious golden background and the artist has used a gorgeously vibrant palette. The miniature of the Nativity has three distinct parts. In the main compartment, Mary is shown resting with the swaddled infant. Below, the midwives bathe the new-born, and beside them Christ is shown in the manger, overseen by an ox and an ass.

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The Nativity: Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1, f. 5r

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Christmas at the Medieval Court

Though Christmas was very different in the Middle Ages, many of the pastimes and activities that we associate with it would have been familiar to medieval people. Feasting, playing games, singing, drinking around a fire, decorating the house with evergreens, and giving gifts, are just some of the traditions enjoyed in the medieval festive season.

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The Tudor Christmas of 1487

Although Christmas traditions in the UK appear set in stone, for example the tree, the songs and the food, it’s very much been an evolving process since the earliest days we started marking the birth of Jesus Christ. The way the Tudors celebrated Christmas, quite literally ‘Christ’s Mass’, was quite different to the way we do today, although the core concepts of family and feasting are still very much visible.

So how did Henry VII mark the Christmas period in 1487, 530 years ago? Thanks to the antiquarian John Leland (1503-1552), who transcribed a collection of manuscripts in his work Collectanea (1533-1536), we do have some insight into how Christmas was celebrated that particular year. The key thing to note is that, unlike today, the Christmas festivities truly began on Christmas Day, and lasted until  6th January (the Feast of Epiphany), hence the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Tudors definitely weren’t preparing for Christmas as early as October as we do today.

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Christmas Coronations

Throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas was a season of festivities and celebrations, just as it is today. 25 December was certainly a high point of this festive season, beginning the twelve days of Christmas which would last until Epiphany. On three occasions in the early medieval period, the Christmas Day celebrations may have been more extravagant than usual: on Christmas Day in 800, 855 and 1066, merrymakers also celebrated the coronations of the very first Holy Roman Emperor and two English kings with interesting legacies.

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Blessing for Christmas Day in the ‘Anderson Pontifical’: British Library Additional MS 57337, f. 104r.

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Nails, needles, chains and angels: the pain and joy of ‘In dulci jubilo’

Woodcut self-portrait by Heinrich Suso (Inkunabel K. 7, Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg), c. 1365.

In dulci jubilo is one of the most recognisable and joyful melodies of the middle ages, but it carries one of the most shocking and astonishing stories. The song is first mentioned in 1328, sung and danced by an angel in a vision of Heinrich Suso, German Christian mystic of the 14th century, extreme practitioner of Christian self-mortification.

This article tells Heinrich Suso’s disturbed and disturbing life, and the continuing life of In dulci jubilo, its words repeatedly reworked over the centuries, from the original Latin and German into many vernacular languages, and its music transformed with new musical arrangements from the 14th to the 21st century.

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