Publication of Bogie Tales of East Anglia by M. H. James

My edition of the earliest book devoted to East Anglian folklore, Bogie Tales of East Anglia (1891) by Margaret Helen James, has just been published. Bogie Tales is an important folklore collection which pre-dates the better-known collection of Suffolk folklore by Eveline Gurdon (published in 1893), but this first book devoted to East Anglian folklore has almost entirely disappeared from view. Very few copies survive, and the book is so rare that copies have been known to sell online for over £1500. It is possible that the book was a flop and the publisher pulped it – either that, or it was a very limited print run. Indeed, Bogie Tales is so obscure that, until 2017, even the identity of its author was unknown, since she wrote under the name ‘M. H. James’. It was only when Andrew Lohrum and Rosemary Pardoe discovered an obituary for the indexer Margaret Helen James (1859-1938) identifying her as the author of Bogie Tales that the author’s true identity became clear. Margaret James was the eldest daughter of Henry Haughton James, a maltster in Aldeburgh and Woodbridge who was a younger brother of Herbert James, Rector of Great Livermere and father of M. R. James. Margaret was therefore a first cousin of M. R. James. Her younger sister Minnie James was also famous, as the first female librarian of a national library and the leading advocate of women in librarianship.

Bogie Tales is the result of James’s own folklore collecting fieldwork on the Suffolk coast between Lowestoft and the Orwell Estuary, supplemented by material from the Waveney Valley (on both sides of the Norfolk/Suffolk border near Beccles and Bungay) collected by an anonymous male collaborator. Owing to the rarity of the book, some of the material in her collection has never made it into any subsequent books or articles on East Anglian folklore. Unfortunately, however, other material in Bogie Tales was shamelessly plagiarised by Morley Adams, whose 1914 book In the Footsteps of Borrow and Fitzgerald contains sections lifted verbatim from James’s work, with no credit given to James whatsoever. Worse still, Adams claimed to have collected some of this folklore. Even today, Adams is still credited with material collected by James because so few have had the opportunity to read Bogie Tales.

This new critical edition of Margaret James’s Bogie Tales of East Anglia is intended to put this right, and to restore James to her rightful place as a pioneering folklorist of Suffolk and Norfolk. I shall be writing more soon about M. H. James and her Bogie Tales for the Folklore Thursday website


A manuscript reunion at Cambridge University Library

Today I had the pleasure of witnessing a lost manuscript from Cambridge University Library‘s Hengrave Manuscripts reunited with the collection after nearly 70 years. A beautifully written and bound manuscript in French, dated 1682 and entitled ‘Conduite pour la Confession’ (‘Conduct for Confession’) and ‘Conduite pour la Communion’ (‘Conduct for Communion’), was brought back together with its sister manuscript ‘Testament de l’âme chrestienne’ after the two volumes were separated in the sale of the contents of Hengrave Hall in October 1952. Both manuscripts were copied by Sir Thomas Bond, 3rd Baronet (1709-34) as a labour of love for his French mother Marie Peliot. The Bond family was doubly linked by marriage to the Gage family of Hengrave Hall, and when the Bonds died out in 1767 some of the family’s papers made their way to the library at Hengrave, and hence to the University Library in 1952. However, some manuscripts were separated from the main collection. When one of the current owners of this manuscript contacted me in January this year I immediately recognised what the manuscript was and its significance, and I am delighted that the owners have now generously decided to donate it to Cambridge University Library where it can be reunited with its sister manuscript.

This is the second manuscript I have helped reunite with the Hengrave Manuscripts, after the Rookwood Book of Hours in 2014. I shall be writing in more detail about the Bond family’s devotional manuscripts for Cambridge University Library’s Special Collections Blog in due course.


Article in Downside Review: ‘The Cult of St Edmund, King and Martyr in Medieval Ireland’

Sketch of St Edmund’s Priory, Athassel by George Victor du Noyer, 1840 (National Library of Ireland)

My article ‘The Cult of St Edmund, King and Martyr in Medieval Ireland’ has just been published in Downside Review. The article is the first study of the significance of St Edmund in Ireland, and is the precursor to a book I am currently writing on the subject.

St Edmund, king and martyr was one of the most venerated English saints in Ireland from the twelfth century. In Dublin, St Edmund had his own chapel in Christ Church Cathedral and a guild, while Athassel Priory in County Tipperary claimed to possess a miraculous image of the saint. In the late fourteenth century the coat of arms ascribed to St Edmund became the emblem of the king of England’s lordship of Ireland, and the name Edmund (or its Irish equivalent Éamon) was widespread in the country by the end of the Middle Ages. The article argues that the cult of St Edmund, the traditional patron saint of the English people, served to reassure the English of Ireland of their Englishness, and challenges the idea that St Edmund was introduced to Ireland as a heavenly patron of the Anglo-Norman conquest.


Commemoration of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay

Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in the great hall of Fotheringhay Castle, 8 February 1587

This morning I spoke at the annual service of commemoration for Mary, Queen of Scots in St Mary and All Saints church, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire. Mary was beheaded in the great hall of Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587. The service was led by Rev. Anne Hindle, with Canon Tim Alban-Jones, Vice Dean of Peterborough Cathedral, preaching, and it was attended by representatives of both the Marie Stuart Society and the Royal Stuart Society. The service was in a mixture of English, French and Latin (with the Latin sections read by me).

Member of the Marie Stuart Society after the service

Below is the text of my brief talk in the church, in which I focussed on Mary’s willingness to exist with religious difference.

Mary, Queen of Scots and religious liberty

Some of the last words of Mary’s father, James V of Scots, were supposedly a prophecy about the crown of Scotland and the House of Stewart: ‘it come witht ane lase, it will pase witht ane lase’. The first ‘lass’ was Marjorie Bruce, who married Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland in 1315 and thereby passed the crown to the house of Stewards. James’s daughter Mary was not, of course, the last Stewart; but James V turned out to be right that the last monarch of the Stewart dynasty to rule – Queen Anne – would be a woman. This year, the House of Stewart has suddenly shot to prominence in popular culture, with two films being released about Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Anne. There is so much interest in Mary, Queen of Scots that she now has her own emoji. So what is it about the Stewarts, and about Mary in particular, that suddenly seems relevant to the present?

It seems clear that Mary garners considerable interest because she was the first woman to sit on the throne of Scotland, at a time when England was also ruled by a queen. We are fascinated by the challenges faced by a woman holding the supreme office of state at a time when male misognyny was perhaps more intense than at any other time in history. We are also fascinated by the contrast of personalities and policies between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth: one Catholic, the other Protestant; one disastrously married, the other unmarried by choice; one a fugitive from her own chaotic kingdom, the other majestically presiding over a supposed ‘golden age’.

From the moment of Mary Tudor’s death on 17 November 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots – who was then still in France – assumed the royal arms of England as the rightful successor of Henry VIII’s sole legitimate daughter in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Already Queen of Scots and self-proclaimed Queen of England and Ireland, Mary then became Queen Consort of France in 1559. Although Mary later renounced her claim to be the Queen of England, she never gave up her claim to succeed Elizabeth, and after her flight to England in 1568 Mary became the centre of numerous plots to replace Elizabeth.

Mary has been described as the ‘conservative candidate’ to succeed Elizabeth as Queen of England, on the grounds that Mary’s Catholic faith made her appealing to religious conservatives unhappy with the Elizabethan religious settlement. But this characterisation of Mary as a puppet of Catholic restorationists overlooks Mary’s religious policy during her personal reign in Scotland, which stood in stark contrast to Elizabeth’s in England. In sixteenth-century Europe it was widely accepted that the monarch’s personal religious preferences determined the faith of the people whom he or she ruled; Mary was virtually unique in her own time, as a monarch of one faith who consented to rule a nation of another. Although Mary retained the mass in her own household, she accepted Scotland’s Protestant settlement and even undertook to defend and uphold the Protestant faith.

Mary’s willingness and ability to live with religious difference stands as one of the most striking features of her rule. Mary never attempted to impose her own faith on her subjects; the most she ever did, which prompted a coup against her, was to move towards legalising the mass in Scotland. Mary, in other words, envisaged confessional coexistence in the 1560s. In this respect she was far ahead of her time, and perhaps also doomed to failure – after all, her great grandson James II and VII would lose his throne for attempting, in the 1680s, exactly what Mary had failed to achieve over a century earlier.

Mary’s policy of living with religious difference stood in stark contrast to Elizabeth’s. The Elizabethan Settlement sought to comprehend the greatest range of religious opinion acceptable to Elizabeth, including conformist Puritans and church papists willing to dissemble their Catholicism. But Elizabeth’s government persecuted anyone who dissented from the settlement itself: Catholics who refused to attend their parish church and Puritans who rejected liturgy and government by bishops. It would not be until the first Toleration Act of 1689 that the Church of England accepted, for the first time, that it could neither compel nor expect every English man and woman to worship in the parish church according to The Book of Common Prayer.

Mary’s execution at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587 shocked Europe: it was an act of judicial regicide authorised by one monarch against another, which undermined the sacredness of monarchy itself. In the last letter she ever wrote, to King Henry III of France on the morning of her execution, Mary both proclaimed that she died for her faith, and lamented that the English perceived any assertion of her Catholicism as an attempt to interfere with the Elizabethan Settlement:

The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English throne are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs.

In the end, Mary died as much a martyr for the idea of religious co-existence as for her own personal faith. It was the prospect of a monarch on the throne of England who did not share the nation’s established faith that terrified Elizabeth’s councillors, in spite of the fact that Mary had shown herself willing and able to govern Scotland on exactly these terms. In a world where sincere efforts towards creative compromise seem singularly lacking, there is a case for remembering Mary, Queen of Scots not as a reactionary monarch anxious to turn back the clock of the Reformation, but as a ruler ahead of her time who was prepared to live with religious difference and put the good of her nation ahead of ideals of confessional purity.