Another Tower, Another Number

Tower in Poland exterior

The ducal tower of Siedlęcin, Lower Silesia, Poland. Photo courtesy of Artur Wosz – see link below for origin

I was struck by this interesting post about wall paintings in Poland.

Part of our training at Longthorpe as volunteers includes telling visitors about the significance of numbers to the Medieval mind.

We have the Three Living and the Three Dead:DSC_0044


The Wheel of the Five Senses:

King with Wheel of five senses, boar

and the Seven Ages of Man.  We also have the Twelve Apostles, and the Twelve Labours of the Month.  What we don’t have is the Nine Worthies.

The blog from Freelance History Writer explains that the Nine Worthies were a group of nine powerful rulers and the greatest conquerors who ever lived. They included three classical pagan heroes (Alexander the Great, Hector, and Julius Caesar), three Jews (David, Joshua and Judas Maccabeus), and three Christians (Charlemagne, Arthur and Godfrey de Bouillon). In medieval art, architecture and illuminations the Nine Worthies motif became enormously popular. Some of the finest examples have survived until today, most notably in Italy, but also in Central Europe.

The blog explores some sites in Poland. One is a Medieval Tower, dating, we are told, from 1313 – 1316.  This is almost contemporary with Longthorpe Tower.  It’s grander, though, since it was “probably built by Duke Henry I of Jawor.  In the 1320’s/1330’s, the said duke commissioned what is considered its greatest treasure. According to recent research it was then that the southern wall of the Great Hall was adorned with paintings depicting the marvelous exploits of Sir Lancelot of the Lake.”

The addition of the wall paintings follows a similar timeline to the addition of the wall paintings at Longthorpe.

Our timeline explains that Longthorpe Tower was built by Robert Thorpe, Steward to the Abbey of Peterborough in about 1309/10, and the paintings were added somewhere between 1320-1340.  Extremely close in dates!  Could it be that this was an international fashion trend?

Even more exciting – the ducal tower has a window seat inside which reminded me of the window seats on our upper floor.  I wonder, could the enlarged Jacobean window behind our till on the first floor have once looked like this?

Tower in Poland

The Great Hall of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin with the unique set of the wall paintings depicting the marvelous exploits of Sir Lancelot of the Lake.   Photo courtesy of Artur Wosz

Window seat April 2018 1

A similar window on the upper floor of Longthorpe Tower.  Photo author’s own.

I was very excited to see how similar these windows are in construction and outline.  It appears that there was an international fashion for this type of construction.

Paintings, too, seemed to be the height of fashion and a mark of status.

Were these decorative features following a trend set at a Royal level?

The Painted Chamber, Westminster was commissioned by Henry III (reigned 1216 to 1272) and the paintings took place over a lengthy period.

More information can be found here,

and here.


Labours Of the Month – January and February

January calendar page

Extracted from British Library Medieval Manuscripts site,with annotations:

Calendars with illuminations and other miniatures are often found in manuscripts from the medieval era.

Along with listing  important dates, many medieval calendars (particularly later ones) include a miniature of the relevant sign of the zodiac, as well as a scene of the ‘labour of the month.’  These ‘labours’ were fairly standardised, and would have been instantly recognisable to a medieval audience, although they can often require a bit of explanation for the readers of today. Each month depicts a different endeavour appropriate to that particular time of year, and these images are often some of the best evidence of the work and leisure activities of the non-nobility.

An excellent illustration of a medieval calendar can be found in the British Library’s ‘Isabella Breviary,’ created for Queen Isabella of Castile (1451 – 1504).  Isabella is perhaps better known as the mother of Catherine of Aragon, buried here in Peterborough Cathedral.   A breviary is a book of prayers, hymns, and other readings designed to be read daily in accordance with the canonical hours. BL says “This magnificent example was produced in the late 1480s in Bruges, with illustrations by a number of prominent artists of the time.”

Here is the manuscript page the British Library published for January.  At the bottom is a picture associated with the labour of the month for January – sitting warming oneself by the fire, as shown in Longthorpe Tower.  (But showing as February on the font at St Mary’s Church, Burnham Deepdale).  The picture also shows feasting,  (shown as December on the church font.  There are 300 years between the Norman font and these beautiful late 15th century manuscripts.  The Tower pictures, circa 1320 -1340, fall in between.

February’s manuscript picture:

attribution BL: February, from a geographical collection, England (Canterbury? Glastonbury?), mid-11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, f. 3v

February Labour of the Month

It shows workers clearing away vines. Above, their tools are depicted in detail and may reflect actual 11th-century agricultural practices. The men wield curved knives. Below, the man on the furthest left holds a bigger, curved blade attached to a longer handle.

Pruning vines took place in April in the stone font carvings at St Mary’s Church.

Footnote to The Pastons

I wrote last year about the 600th anniversary of The Paston Letters, which will be celebrated in 2018.

The Pastons – how do they connect with Longthorpe Tower?

An ideal introduction to this medieval family can by found in a post on a Norfolk medievalist’s blog, in a post entitled “The Pastons in Norwich”

The blog is beautifully illustrated, and contains ample reference material.  To whet your appetite, here’s the opening paragraph, with illustration:

“The story starts with Clement Paston (d1419), from the village of Paston about 20 miles north-east of Norwich. He was “a good, plain husband” whose lowly station in life was illustrated by the fact that he had to ride, “to mill on the bare horseback with his corn under him” [quote from The Paston Letters]. Clement’s humble origins, probably as a bondman not entitled under feudal law to own land, were to be used against his descendants as they rose to prominence.

Paston peasant from another Blog

Lovely, isn’t it!

The post goes on to illuminate how the Pastons rose to great heights from humble beginnings, only to fall again in later centuries.

In similar fashion, the Thorpe family achieved eminence, only to fade away. The Thorpes died out in 1392, when the Tower passed to a cousin.  By 1502, this branch of the family sold the Tower in 1502 to the Fitwilliam family.

Image: Courtesy BL Harley 3244