Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Research Roundup 2018-19

18 Dec 2019

A roundup of 2018-19 news and events in the University of Winchester's Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Research

medieval local history at Winchester: Winchester Cathedral vault wide angle photo

Wide angle image of the Winchester Cathedral vault; photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

2019 News


Early medieval expert explores role of central places in rebellion and contested power

On 27 November, Ryan Lavelle, our newly appointed Professor of Early Medieval History, delivered his Inaugural Lecture Seizing Power, Keeping Power, and Kicking up a Fuss in Early Medieval England and France. In a packed Stripe Auditorium, he delved into the complex world of early medieval contested power, and the role of central places in the plotting, scheme and usurping aimed at seizing power and holding onto it.

"Kicking up a fuss in a crowded supermarket is far more effective than in an empty field"

Both in England and in France, the early Middle Ages are full of episodes of rebellion and opposition by many parties with an axe to grind, whether disinherited royal sons or sidelined aristocrats. Royal estates and castles, and their position in the landscape, were actively used in these power struggles to make political points, like a language of legitimacy. Prof. Lavelle, whose two young sons were in the audience, had a vivid way of bringing this to life for his audience: "Some places are more effective than others if you want to get a point across. A stroppy child will instinctively kick up a fuss in a crowded supermarket - far more effective than an empty field."

Medieval history at Winchester: Professor Ryan Lavelle's inaugural lecture, Nov 2019

Professor Lavelle has built up an impressive public engagement track record since his initial studies at the University of Winchester on royal estates in Wessex, with frequent media appearances, popular articles, public lectures and conferences. He is also engaged in consultancy, as historical consultant for the BBC hit TV series The Last Kingdom, about the rise of King Alfred and the kingdom of Wessex, of which Winchester was the capital. He is the author of the award-winning Alfred's Wars; his forthcoming book Places of Contested Power will be published in 2020.

The lecture will be available on the University's Talks and Lectures YouTube playlist, alongside our other Inaugural Lectures.

Image: Professor Ryan Lavelle (second from left), flanked by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Marriott, Vice-Chancellor Professor Joy Carter, First Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Stuart and Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange Professor Kate Adams.


Winchester Heritage Open Days

Like in previous years, our medieval historians played a prominent role in the Winchester Heritage Open Days, which this year took place from 13 to 22 Sept and celebrated its 25th anniversary. From walks and talks to guided tours, once again there was something for everyone. Find out more


Winchester medieval historian presents a tale of two Matildas at King Alfred Weekend

The King Alfred Weekend is organised annually by local community heritage group Hyde900. This year's Keynote Lecture was given by Winchester medieval historian Dr Katherine Weikert. In The descandants of the House of Wessex at war, Dr Weikert examined the crucial events during the 'Anarchy' in Winchester in 1141, when two 7x-great-granddaughters of Alfred the Great, the Empress Matilda and Queen Matilda, fought on opposite sides for the control of the country. Dr Weikert's new book, Authority, Space and Gender in the Norman Conquest Era, c. 900-c. 1200, will be published by Boydell & Brewer in 2020. Find out more about the King Alfred Lecture 2019.


Investigations resume of England's grandest medieval royal palace

After many years, work has resumed at Clarendon, the grandest western royal residence in England during the medieval period, located near Salisbury. It was the country retreat of kings and queens, where they could indulge their passion for hunting, and the site of the start of the quarrel between Henry II and Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Supported by Heritage Lottery funding, the new investigations are a collaboration between the Friends of Clarendon Palace, the Clarendon Park Estate, Historic England and a host of universities, including Winchester.

On Sunday June 16th, there was an Open Day in nearby Pitton, showcasing the latest finds from the first phase of the excavations.

To find out more Clarendon and our investigations of this fascinating and important site over the decades, click HERE or HERE.

Medieval history and archaeology at Winchester: Emeritus Professor Tom Beaumont James at Clarendon medieval palace

Photo: Winchester's Emeritus Professor Tom Beaumont James, co-author of the seminal Clarendon: Landscape of Kings (2007) and Clarendon Palace: the History and Archaeology of a Medieval Palace and Hunting Lodge near Salisbury, Wiltshire (1988). The reconstruction drawing on the interpretation board was done by Dr Phil Marter.


New medieval archaeological research project launched

Funded by the London Society of Antiquaries and led by Reader in Medieval Archaeology Dr Simon Roffey (photo), The Archaeology of Medieval Hermitages Project will provide the first ever archaeology of medieval hermitages and anchorite cells across Britain and Ireland. Find out more.


Notre-Dame has burnt - but not burnt down

This month the world watched in shock as the iconic medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris was rapidly engulfed in flames. In a heartfelt blog, medieval buildings expert Dr Katherine Weikert shares her thoughts and emotions. Read on.

Notre Dame ablaze (image AP, Michel Euler)

Notre-Dame ablaze - image AP/Michel Euler


Spotlight on foremost bishop of medieval Winchester in CMRR annual public lecture

On 20 February, the CMRR hosted its annual public lecture. This year it was presented by Prof. Chris Given-Wilson, one of the leading scholars of late medieval England and the author of many influential books. In his lecture, titled William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester 1367 – 1404, he discussed one of the foremost bishops of Winchester in the late Middle Ages. Also Chancellor of England, he was deeply involved in politics during the turbulent period of the reigns of Edward III and Richard II.

2018 News


Winchester Early Medieval Power and Faith Symposium

Centre members Dr Ryan Lavelle, Dr Eric Lacey and Dr Katherine Weikert were among the speakers at the high-profile Winchester Early Medieval Power and Faith Symposium, a one-day event on 20 Oct. dedicated to exploring the great churches of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Winchester. The symposium, organised by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, was chaired by Dr Ryan Lavelle; the speakers' panel also included Professor Barbara Yorke, Professor Emeritus of Early Medieval History.

The event built on last year's conference 'Winchester, a Royal City', to which conference organiser Dr Ryan Lavelle welcomed Martyn John, production designer for the hit TV series The Last Kingdom. Dr Lavelle, author of the award-winning Alfred's Wars, has been acting as historical consultant for the series, which is based on Bernard Cornwell's books about Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, who made Winchester his capital.

BBC History Weekend 2018

BBC History Weekend returned to Winchester for its third year on 5-7 October. Four of our medieval historians presented talks alongside celebrity historians like Michael Wood and Lucy Worsley. There was also a History Fringe, where our research students and academics packed new ideas into 15-minute talks at the ‘fringe’ of the festival.

Dr Ellie Woodacre, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History, discussed the challenges that women faced as rulers in the male-dominated political landscape of the Middle Ages. Looking at strong queens and failed female claimants, she revealed how women came to the throne and what prevented their access to power. Read an interview with Dr Woodacre (on www.historyextra.com/winchester-history-weekend).

Dr Ryan Lavelle, Reader in Early Medieval History, highlighted the impact of the death of king Cnut in 1035 at a time of crisis. Ryan, whose latest book is titled Cnut, the North Sea King, shows what the crisis tells us about the English kingdom at the end of the Viking Age by examining the reactions of his children, his two wives and other royal claimants.

Ryan and Ellie also revealed the Anglo-Saxon and royal history of Winchester respectively in two walking tours.

The bold aspirations and forward-thinking strategies of Richard III were explored by Professor Emeritus Michael Hicks, a renowned expert on Richard III. Winchester PhD student and historical novelist Nicola Tallis discussed the life of Lettice Knollys, a rival of Elizabeth I. Lettice began the queen’s reign in her favour. However, in 1578 she made a fateful decision and was forced to live with the consequences of this for the rest of her life.

“It was wonderful being able to talk to such an engaging and enthusiastic crowd about a subject about which I'm passionate”, said Nicola. “I always enjoy being a part of the History Festival - it's such a brilliant platform and you're surrounded by people with similar interests. I had a fabulous time!”

Dr Ellie Woodacre said: “We were delighted to be back at the BBC History Weekend this year and to be presenting the History Fringe Festival. Our fantastic selection of talks really highlighted the breadth and diversity of history research at Winchester. The Fringe Festival is also a great way for our PhD students and early-career researchers to get their research ‘out there’ to history enthusiasts.”


13-16 Sept. 2018: Winchester Heritage Open Days

A cornucopia of free talks, guided walks, tours and more, featuring many of our academics and PhD students. From a walking tour through the lens of the Battle of Winchester with Dr Katherine Weikert to a medieval queens workshop for children with Dr Ellie Woodacre and a talk on a forgotten queen by PhD student Gabby Storey, there was something for everyone. Find out more.

The Legacy of Alfred - The Anglo-Saxons and the Birth of England

On 12 Sept., Centre members Dr Katherine Weikert, Professor Emerita Barbara Yorke and Dr Ryan Lavelle joined forces with historian and broadcaster Michael Wood at the Winchester Discovery Centre for The Legacy of Alfred - The Anglo-Saxons and the Birth of England. The event, which focussed on the important role played by Anglo-Saxon women, was a fundraising event for the Winchester Heritage Open Days. 

University of Winchester research and public engagement: our medieval historians in conversation with Michael Wood during Winchester Heritage Open Days 2018

Left to right: Dr Katherine Weikert, Dr Ryan Lavelle, Em. Prof. Barbara Yorke and Prof. Michael Wood. Photo: Mike Hall.

Linking with the Heritage Open Days’ theme of ‘Extraordinary Women’, the group also nominated some favourites: Barbara suggested Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred and ruler of the midland kingdom of the Mercians until her death 1100 years ago in 918; Ryan ran through the twists and turns of the life of Emma of Normandy, who was married first to Æthelred ‘the Unready’ and later to Cnut ‘the Great’ (subject of Ryan's latest book), and who was the mother of two English kings in the 11th century; Katherine nominated one of the most important women of the 12th century, the ‘Empress’ Matilda, who drew on her links to the Anglo-Saxon royal family to emphasise her right to rule the English kingdom in a bloody civil war.

Dr Lavelle looks back on the evening:

"Michael Wood opened proceedings with his thoughts on the long legacy of the Anglo-Saxon world, its cultural richness and its diversity. Since his BBC series In Search of the Dark Ages hit TV screens in the late 1970s and 1980s, Michael has held a reputation for making the deep past come alive to an audience, and this was certainly apparent in the discussion. 

Michael asked us about what makes us passionate about this period, drawing down to how this links to our research specialisms—for me this is the way the landscape beneath of feet links to a dramatic historical record; for Katherine it is the way the stories of the period are told and retold, helping form the identities of generations during the medieval period across what is sometimes wrongly seen as a ‘dividing moment’ in 1066.

Though we had been more than a little nervous about the prospect of ‘chatting’ in front of a packed house with such a learned and well-respected host and in the company of the wonderful Barbara Yorke, the evening proved to be relaxed and enjoyable. We received great feedback from the audience who had been entertained but who had, we are told, also learned much about an early medieval period of English history. We learned much too, both about ways of thinking about history itself, and about the ways in which an expert such as Michael can make even obscure details accessible and enjoyable beyond the academy."


Early Tudor Court Culture Conference

A conference on 29/30 Aug. to celebrate the launch of the digital edition of the Chamber Books of Henry VII and Henry VIII (1485 - 1521).


On 12 July 2018, best-selling historical novelist and History PhD student Nicola Tallis joined Dr Ellie Woodacre and other academics for 'Royal lovers and rivals in Renaissance England and France', an evening of engaging discussion about the intense rivalry in love and politics in the Renaissance courts of England and France. This talk formed part of this Year's Kings and Queens conference, titled Ruling Sexualities; find out more.


Centre launch

The Centre launch on 10 May 2018 featured Keynotes by two eminent Winchester historians: Emerita Professor Barbara Yorke and Emeritus Professor Michael Hicks. Prof. Yorke spoke about Early Anglo-Saxon kingship from recent archaeological discoveries, including the famous Staffordshire Hoard, while Prof. Hicks, an expert on Richard III, delved into the politics of late medieval England. Find out more about the launch of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Research.

Also, in May, Dr James Ross, Reader in Late Medieval English History, appeared on In Our Time, in an episode about Margaret of Anjou, a powerful 15th-century queen and one of the key figures in the Wars of the Roses. Catch up on the programme.

Further information

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