When I recorded the short test Q&A on Bevis recently I had not extended my research quite far enough to be able to say with certainty that the quarter-jacks on the clock in the tower of Holy Rood church Southampton do not have a history earlier than the sixteenth century.
I can now say with certainty that in the last years of the fifteenth century Holy Rood only had a bell, it did not have a clock with quarter-jacks. In the Terrier for 1495 payments are recorded to the ‘Clerk’ of Holy Rood for ringing the ‘daybell’ and the curfew, while the Clerk of St Michael’s was paid for ensuring that the clock in that church rang the hours.
The exact moment when Holy Rood church gained its clock remains to be discovered, but the quarter-jacks and their association with the legend of Bevis and Ascupart probably form part of the town’s efforts to associate itself with the famous story. This led to the creation of the renowned panels, now residing in the Bargate, which depict the characters, but have not been certainly dated either.
This desire to buy into the famous story of Bevis and Ascupart speaks of a new interest in defining the town’s cultural history, a topic pertinent to the city of Southampton’s bid to become a City of Culture.
It has been a pleasure to be involved today in helping to try out some new technology which my colleagues at the university are developing for the purposes of outreach. In a brief interview, I was responding initially to questions about the identification of the quarter jacks on Holy Rood Church in Southampton with Bevis and Ascupart. This gave me the chance to talk about the Bevis story as well as the specific details of the relationship between the hero and the giant.
As an example of the Middle English in which Bevis was written I also read the short section in which Bevis and Josian encounter Ascupart for the first time.
It was an interesting experience and hopefully will contribute eventually to developing the outreach of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture while drawing wider attention to the rip-roaring adventures of Bevis and Josian.
My current work on pilgrimage in and around Southampton has made me think that it would be fun to have a ‘Bevis trail’ around Southampton, and beyond. Of course, he’s not a biographically ‘real’ person, but there are enough bits of medieval Southampton left to be able to evoke some of the locally-based parts of the story, although maybe throwing the Emperor’s men into the Solent would require a health and safety study!
Literary accuracy would not be the intention, but a chance to breathe life into a well-known but maybe half-remembered story and a chance to restate its popularity in the fullest sense.
I imagine the scale of the lightshow as the audience has moved around the city to end up in the new amphitheatre in front of the western walls, with Bevis and Josian in the spotlight up on Arundel Tower before descending to suitable music to enact their death at groundlevel in a setting that looks exotic, while England remains safe in the hands of one son, and the other commands the building of their chantry chapel of St Laurence (an interesting tie in with Southampton’s own church of St Laurence, and the Rules of Oleron which set out funerary conditions for those dying at sea).
I should, of course, be working on pilgrimage of Bevis instead of daydreaming!
I should also thank my colleagues in the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture at the University of Southampton for their support with my pilgrimage research which is the real focus of my time.
It may seem like a huge digression but my work on pilgrimage for the CMRC seminar and the later Study Day has been extremely helpful for my ongoing research into the logic behind the Title of Boeve de Haumtone and thus Sir Bevis of Hampton.
Strangely, it has not been plain sailing to find evidence of pilgrimage in relation to Southampton. There are plenty of references in passing to pilgrims, pilgrimage, and its financial and physical consequences. The process of putting together the evidence from previously published sources, because libraries have been hard to access during Covid restrictions, has been fascinating in its own right and I am writing it up before moving on to the next stage of the work on Boeve.
Very pleased to say that my short piece ‘The Name of the Hero in Boeve de Haumtone‘ has been accepted for publication by Notes & Queries and should appear in September, subject to the effects of Covid on the publication process.
This is my first research essay dedicated entirely to this romance. Research on the next one is in progress, and my current work on pilgrimage is proving as useful as I had hoped.
Over the last couple of weeks my research into the origins of the Boeve/Bevis story has been coming into closer focus as I worked my way towards saying what I believe about the connection between the material in the various sources. Prompted by the return for revision of my submission to Notes and Queries it has been necessary to think more boldly and state more clearly what I believe to be the connection between the story, the medieval town, and the unexpected saint.
If the revisions are accepted, then I can move on to the next stage, which is to understand the significance of the geography. I am grateful to my colleages in the CMRC for recent conversations about this as part of our ‘pilgrimage’ discussion, and for the prompt to research further into pilgrimage. It has a tangential bearing on my wider research, not least because the pilgrimage hub of St Gilles is used as a location for part of the action in the story.
The biggest problem, as always, is untangling the strands of research!
It was also interesting to see a major post on Facebook concerning Bevis – it was only the 14th century story retold in modern English, but it was so much better than many versions I have seen.
And the lions are back! After a long period of refurbishment, the lions guarding the Bargate in Southampton are back on their plinths and painted to look as they did when first placed there in the 18th century. They are the colour of lions, and their vexillae are painted to show up the cross of St George. All rather splendid and not at all like the black beasts we all grew up with.
After a long period of uncertainty, I have taken another leap of faith and submitted my research paper on female space in Sir Bevis to an online journal and await a decision. This is a fully developed version of the paper I gave at the Castles Conference, held a few years ago under the auspices of the CMRC and the Art Gallery, Southampton, which was hosting an exhibition of images of castles. The paper might be considered to engage with Foucault’s theory of ‘heterotopia’, but that seemed to impose modern theoretical approaches too heavily onto the medieval social contexts.
The year so far has been busy with research which is consolidating my theories about the origins of Boeve/Bevis. Currently, work on pilgrimage through Southampton and beyond is offering a breadth of information that relates to my original ideas, and and I hope to be in the position quite soon to begin work on synthesising the new research with the old paper that was unsuccessfully submitted to Medium Aevum. From this perspective, I am hopeful of being able to argue more assertively for a solid connection with Southampton itself, right from the start, without needing to contest the long-established historical contexts. My work will simply extend the perception of origins to take account of those aspects of history and text that have remained unexplained or contentious. Pilgrimage is one of those new contexts.
In view of my work on historicising the story, it was so provocative to see someone on Facebook asserting that Bevis was a Saxon warrior. This is another of the fondly (and I mean that in the medieval sense!) held local beliefs concerning Bevis. There are so many, mostly dating back to the antiquarians Leland and Camden, with accretions from later fantasies, and these are deeply ingrained as solid fact. I am beginning to think that I must take this on as another research project, to write it all up and publish it. There is certainly a significant strand of local belief that is legitimate in its own right as a sign of the value placed upon the story along the south coast. But the elements of this strand, though deriving its major names, at least, from the literary tradition, have a separate existence and should be acknowledged for what they are, so that the literary tradition is not muddied or muddled with the fantasies of those who wished to claim Bevis for their own ends.
2020 was not a year many people will want to remember, but it will not be easy to forget. In spite of feeling that I made no progress with my Bevis research last year, a little distance and an innate determination that I’m not going to give up on my own ideas, has prompted to me move on to new ways of dealing with all the research I have done.
My current work on pilgrimage may seem unrelated, but it is clarifying my perception of why the composer of the Anglo-Norman work may have chosen the places he seems to specify. There was a great deal of political significance bound up with the landscape between (South)Hampton and Arundel in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The composition of a poem, for whatever reason, by a poet/minstrel at this time may have been no more than an evening’s entertainment, but if that was the case, why was it considered worth recording? The fact of its transmission implies its significance. It names no patron, however, and to date its only historical associations have been with the d’Albini earls of Arundel. Why then, if we take Guy of Warwick as a model. is the hero ‘of Hampton’, not ‘of Arundel’?
There are more questions than answers remaining from previous studies, and my intention is to go back to my earlier theories and tighten them up, adding in my new research. In addition, I am currently working again on the piece I wrote for the Castles colloquium, when I looked at ‘Perilous Spaces’ in the 14thC version of the poem, having had my interest re-awakened when I was introduced to Foucault’s theory of hetertopia by colleagues at the CMRC. I am most grateful to all concerned for reawakening my love of research!
After all the work I got through during last summer, it has been rather crushing to find that only two colleagues found the proposed collection of essays for Cambridge Scholar Press stimulating enough to respond to the cfp. This means that my own work on Bevis is languishing on an editor’s computer, getting nowhere.
I shall refocus the cfp for CSP in the New Year to see if it can attract more interest. Meanwhile I await judgement from N&Q on my short piece relating Boeve de Haumtone to the hagiographical account of Beuve de Noyers (St. Bovo) in the Acta Sanctorum. The work I have done on these matters so far has now led to thoughts about how the hagiography and the Anglo-Norman verse narrative relate to the strange occurrance of the name Bovo as that of an historical person connected with Southampton. This will, of course, require consideration of Hampton as a generic name, as well as some major rewriting of an older (unsuccessful) essay on the matter. In fact, I can hardly wait to get started on it, but other matters intervene. Once they are out of the way, I hope to have something more to say on Boeve.