Yesterday evening I spoke at West Stow Hall, Suffolk on the subject of ‘The Development of the Monastic Complex at Bury St Edmunds’. The talk was given in aid of the restoration of West Stow church. Drawing on my book The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds: History, Legacy and Discovery, I gave an overview of the development of the abbey site from the putative founding of a monastery by King Sigebert in the 630s to the dissolution in 1539. I described the development of the early abbey under Cnut, the building of Baldwin’s great basilica at the end of the eleventh century and the completion of the abbey church under Samson, as well as addressing other important buildings such as the so-called ‘Norman Tower’ and the abbot’s palace. I described the destruction wrought by the uprising of 1327 and its effect on the abbey buildings, notably the construction of the Abbey Gate and the Abbot’s Bridge. I also drew attention to the work currently being undertaken by Dr Richard Hoggett on behalf of the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, which is a complete survey of all archaeological data on the site. This has the potential to completely transform our perception of the site and is certainly the most important research undertaken on the material remains of the abbey for many decades.
Yesterday evening I spoke to the London Fortean Society at Conway Hall in Bloomsbury on the subject of ‘Magic as Treason’, focussing on supposed attempts to harm and kill English rulers using magic. I was invited to speak in the wake of the publication of my book Magic as a Political Crime in Medieval and Early Modern England. The London Fortean Society encourages talks on ‘the strange and interesting’, which I hope I managed to achieve; certainly, this talk was the first in which I have had standing members of the audience. I explained how the idea of magical treason began in England in the fourteenth century and outlined some key fifteenth-century cases, before going on to focus on the reign of Elizabeth and, in particular, the 1578 affair of the Islington effigies (which was the major magical treason panic of Elizabeth’s reign). I then addressed the decline of magical treason in England, seeking to offer some potential reasons for why it disappeared as a political threat faster than in some other countries. The talk was followed by a fascinating and stimulating discussion. I am grateful to the London Fortean Society for inviting me and giving me such a warm welcome.