The pleasures and pains of research are not unlike those of the childbirth I’m working on at present! Excitement soon gives way to a more realistic appreciation that there is a long haul ahead involving hard work, anxiety, tiredness, and even backache – from sitting too long engrossed in research. But it is so stimulating to be working on both Boeve and Bevis and reviewing their treatment of childbirth in relation to the highly dramatic presentations of the Nativity in some of the later biblical plays. It is delightful to have a reason to revisit the drama, and the work I did some years ago on the female networks that focused on childbirth. in this present context these are shedding a good deal of light on the way Josian is depicted, although the real illumination is shed on the Countess. In both cases the hegemonic agendas of the romances might be accepted as driving the depictions but to my mind the plight of both female characters is highlighted through the literary treatment of their childbearing.

I have much more background reading to investigate, but I have been interested to find how often the biblical plays, though later than many of the romance MSS are used for comparisons. I feel that some acknowledgement of the time difference is required.

It is also going to be interesting inverting the reading of status on two levels, to consider the emotional engagement, or lack of it, between husbands and fathers in the romances, in comparison to the depiction of childbirth presented in the Towneley Secunda Pastorum, in which Gill only pretends to have given birth. It is a rare instance of a woman of the ‘labouring estate’ shown in childbed. This social definition may be questioned, of course, since she is the wife of a man pretending to the status of a liveried man but who is in fact as sheep-stealer, but their declared circumstances suggest considerable impoverishment. The difference between Gill, who has at least one child a year, and the noble (foreign) ladies of the Boeve/Bevis story, is enormous. What can be said to be shared is the experience of pain whether or not it is acknowledged.

I am already beginning to take issue with some of the opinions I have encountered in light of what can be seen in Boeve and Bevis, and I look forward to expanding the perception of the use of childbirth in the roamnces for purposes other than showing the need for heirs, and the relationship between nature and nurture.

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October – good news

After many weeks of trying to settle on the best way forward for my Boeve/Bevis research, it has been an exciting start to the day! My proposal for a paper on Childbirth in Sir Bevis has been accepted for the session on Birthing in Mind and Memory at the 58th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in May 2023.

The full and rather unwieldy title of my paper is ‘Complications in Childbirth: Status and Patriarchal Fantasy Governing the Childbirth Episode in the Middle English Sir Bevis of Hampton’. I shall refer to other instances of the depiction of childbirth in the medieval biblical plays to consider the way in which the mother’s rejection of aid serves a range of patriarchal purposes even while it seems to proclaim the agency of women. This is of relevance to my ongoing work on Perilous Spaces in Sir Bevis, but has potential to move beyond existing views on the presentation of the exotic Other, to examine childbirth as a metaphor for the assertion of culture in specific historical contexts.

There is still much work to do, and other things will be shifted down the list or research priorities, and I hope this morning’s enthusiasm will survive the struggles ahead!

I do, however, have work ongoing to seek out a reason for our hero to have always been linked to Southampton. I am convinced there is no reason to suppose Haumtone/Hampton was ever intended to be understood as anything but ‘Southampton’, and I am increasingly convinced that the original composition of Boeve was linked to historical events and people connected with and living in the town. I hope to find additional sources, but those I have consulted so far still suggest a local focus before the story was developed more explicitly to suit the remote and unconnected Arundel earls.

My usual mode of research is to have 2 projects to alternate between, and this is not always 2 related to Boeve/Bevis, but that is now the case. I hope to be able to report progress on these as it happens, given that my other submissions during the summer have not born fruit. Just as well, perhaps, as Childbirth is such an exciting project.

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For as much of July as was available for work, I have attempted to revise my essay on Perilous Female Space in Sir Bevis. Rereading the readers’ comments from last year’s submission to the online Medieval Feminist Forum has made me realise how much work needs to be done to sharpen up the focus of the paper. It is slow going but will hopefully be worhwhile in the end.

The problem is in part that so many areas of research keep opening up, which are attractive, but I must focus. However, I have begun to consider one of the issues arising from female spaces, which is the effect of childbirh in teh romance. Much reading lies ahead, and some likely expense if I am to read 2 of the most pertinent essays so far.

Nothing is going to happen quickly, and there is no news to date of my submission of the Bevis translation to the Leeds Medieval Journal. I expect similar lengthy revisions, if indeed it is considered to have any merit at all worthy of publication in such a prestigous publication.

Plenty to be getting on with, apart from this, so I shall be back haunting those perilous spaces as soon as time permits.

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Late May


My research into the relevance of the Vita of St Bovo in a story about a hero whose patrimony is Hampton/Haumtone/Southampton has gone about as far as it can go in a presentation limited to 10 minutes, but now I am really looking forward to being able to expand the arugments more fully because there is a great deal more to say, and some new directions to explore and include. However, there is only a week to go before the CMRC Study Day at the University of Southampton for which I have written the presentation, so there is not long to wait for the disapproval that I am rather expecting. What I have to say rather subverts the received wisdom about the intended audience for Boeve de Haumtone, or rather, I have set out to be more precise and aware of wider social and cultural possibilities, but even now there are sharper distinctions and further historical details that need to be examined, but not in 10 minutes!

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A slight change of plan

Having resolved to try out my next research arguments in a paper for the CMRC study day, it was a surprise to discover that my name had already been mentioned, together with that of esteemed local historian Dr. Cheryl Butler, in connection with a possible collaborative presentation on the developing significance of the Bevis story. I’m happy to say this collaboration is in the planning stage. Whether it will be accepted in the end rermains to be seen, but it is giving me the spur to move on into the next aspect of my research, which is ultimately the politics, and consequences for local geography, of the change in language exposed in the story of Boeve de Haumtone.

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Next stages

Bevis proved a useful comparison for some of the points I wanted to make in the plenary lecture I gave to the Ars Memoriae Culturae conference organised by the English Department at the University of Warsaw. Although I was discussing aspects of Tolkien’s work, this was from the perspective of his knowledge of medieval romance, and of course Bevis was my preferred option for romance references.

It has also reminded me that I really do want to work on the similarities between Tolkien’s work and the Bevis story, but that is not my immediate focus. First, there is a proposal for a cfp from the CMRC. I will propose looking at Boeve, rather than Bevis, but this will feed into the changing political focus of the romance as it is adapted to the early 14th century.

And I still have to revise my work on ‘Perilous Spaces’ in Bevis, but the possibility of putting in a book proposal constantly wanders through my head, as there is certainly value in the idea of a monograph on Bevis.

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Updated access

My piece on the Name of the Hero has now appeared on the Notes and Queries website:

Notes and Queries, Volume 68, Issue 3, September 2021, Pages 251–253,
It was a pleasure to meet someone else with an interest in the Bevis story, and I look forward to seeing where his interest now leads. He is also in touch with other members of the local community who may be able to help him take his interest in new, perhaps dramamtic, directions.
Meanwhile I shall continue investigating the possible reasons why Boeve was created with Southampton as its primary focus and Arundel merely as a secondary location.

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is now in print in Notes and Queries: Volume 68 Issue 3.

I am looking forward now to getting on with the next stage of this research.

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On to the next stage

Yesterday I began work on the matter of why Bevis/Boeve has always had Southampton/Hampton/ Hamtune etc. as his patrimony. Hopefully this will be a concise note, but it has several elements to the argument. The complexities of ‘Southampton’ ably untangled by Hill and Rumble in 1996 appeared to be the answer when the source came to light, but it may not be so easy. The connection with Arundel is less complicated and maybe they need to be separate essays. But the work is started, and so far the argument turns on why the two places should be associated. There were connections between them before the fourteenth century, and these need to be considered. So too the Norman efforts to impose their own identity on the landscape.

Meanwhile, it has come to light that Southampton City Council has no firm, let alone organized, plans yet for the bid for City of Culture. I had hoped that something focusing around Bevis might have been considered as a means of asserting the city’s earlier interest in its culture – the Bargate panels and the Holy Rood quarter-jacks are evidence of this. In the absence of local interest in the local hero, I shall press on with my research.

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Further information

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.

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