Non-national Knighthoods

HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN can confer knighthoods to non-British nationals known as honorary knights (and honorary dames for females) but such honoured individuals cannot prefix their names with ‘Sir’ (or ‘Dame’) but can add the appropriate letters after their names (usually KBE – Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – or DBE – Dame Commander ……).  Nor do they go through the accolade or ceremony of having the sword touched upon each shoulder.


No sword tapping for non-British knights

Now, I knew all this but until I recently read the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s biography I wasn’t aware as to why (mainly because I had never bothered to think about it). Fairbanks Jr was suitably honoured in 1949 – and rightly so. We all know him as a swashbuckling Hollywood action man actor but there was much more to him than that.  He was awarded his knighthood for his tireless efforts to gain US support for Great Britain during the early years of the Second World War (before Pearl Harbour of course) and, among other things, for his services to the Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe (C.A.R.E.), a war relief organisation.  But, being an American he could not call himself Sir Douglas.  Why not?

dg jr

Highly-decorated Commander Fairbanks Jr., KBE, DSC, etc, after the war – and wife, Mary Lee

Well, as his biography says, “Membership in an order of chivalry is one thing and the accolade another; they go together but they are separate.” The reason is historical – it would be if it’s British.  In the good old medieval days when the king relied on his landowners for military support (which included a supply of soldiers), such a landowner would give allegiance to the Crown and, if he didn’t already have one , he may be granted a knighthood (and possibly more land if the war was successful). This was fine when he was a British national but that was not always the case.  For example, in the days of the Crusades (which particularly involved English and French) a man could be a member of an order of chivalry and become a knight of that order (Knights Templars, etc), but he could not swear allegiance to a foreign sovereign if he still owed a loyalty to his own feudal monarch, regardless as to whether that monarch was involved in that crusade. The accolade had only indirectly to do with becoming a member of the order. This meant that as the knight had no bond to the sovereign, as a liege lord, that sovereign could not demand that the knight present himself with his sword and armour (and soldiers) to fight the king’s cause.  Okay, the romantic days of chivalry are gone but the accolade still has implication in law.  With non-British honorary knighthoods the principles remain the same and a foreign citizen has no allegiance to the British monarch and so is not required to respond to the sovereign’s call to arms – and so have no right to the accolade of the prefix of ‘Sir’ to his  name.  Got it?


That’s the idea in principle.  In practice, this day and age, it also applies to British national knights of course as, bearing in mind the age, etc, of many British knights, they are not going to be very useful if called to arms by the sovereign today (and none of them should have soldiers at their beck and call – well, I hope not).  But that’s not the point.

a rm roger    a mcaine    a elton

To battle  Sir Roger,  Sir Michael,  Sir Elton …. hmm, perhaps not

There are quite a few non-national knights, from arts and entertainment, professional, humanitarian and exploration, politics and government, diplomatic, military, business, religion, and royalty.  As well as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., you might recognise names such as Bob Hope (USA), Steven Spielberg (USA), Edward Kennedy (USA), George S. Patton (USA), Bill Gates (USA), J. Edgar Hoover (USA), Angelina Jolie (USA), Magnus Magnusson (Iceland), Spike Milligan (Ireland), Bob Geldof (Ireland), Bono (lead singer of U2 – Ireland), Terry Wogan (Ireland – although he took British nationality in 2005 and the knighthood became substantive, i.e. he can use ‘Sir’).


Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire


Douglas Fairbanks Jr is one of the few non-national knights who devised his own coat-of-arms with the motto Fides, Conatus et Fidelitas – ‘Faith, Effort and Loyalty’.  Being a Hollywood actor he was rather an exhibitionist – it goes with the job –  and so it was acknowledged by the College of Arms.  I’ve not been able to find a copy of it but below is a Fairbanks Jr bookplate which sort of resembles it:


Fairbanks Jr bookplate

Another example of his exhibitionism:  He joined the US Navy as a reservist before America entered the war. One of the first orders that the US Navy issued was that officers were not to wear swords.  In fact, if they owned them they were encouraged to hand them in for the scrap metal promotion.  Not Douglas.  He arrived at the house of the Hollywood film producer, Darryl Zanuck, one night for a dinner party with his boat cape and sword.  His excuse was that he had just come from a drill at the Armoury.  The narrator of the tale said, “Well, I know that no one in the whole of California, if they went to a drill hall, would have a sword.  But he thought he looked like Lord Nelson or something. That is the ham in him, unfortunately.”


Douglas Jr. coming to dinner


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

This is the last extract from the 2nd volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction) – I’ll let you know if I come across any more volumes or extracts of Artemus’ notebooks:

During a physical examination, a doctor asked my good friend, Sir Alfred Cucumber-Smythe, retired professor of archaeology now living in Canada, about his physical activity level.

He replied that he spent three days a week, every week, in the outdoors, and went on to give an example:

“Well, yesterday afternoon was typical; I took a five hour walk about 7 miles through some pretty rough terrain.   I waded along the edge of a lake.  I pushed my way through 2 miles of brambles.  I got sand in my shoes and my eyes.  I barely avoided stepping on a snake.  I climbed several rocky hills.  I went to the bathroom behind some big trees.  I ran away from an irate mother bear and then ran away from one angry bull Elk.  The mental stress of it all left me shattered.  At the end of it all I drank a scotch and three glasses of wine.

Amazed by the story, the doctor said,  “You must be one heck of an outdoor man!”

“No,”  Alfred replied,  “I’m just a really very bad golfer.” 


A walk from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge

The other weekend Sarah and I visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the south side of the River Thames in London – between the Millennium Bridge and Southwark Bridge – both of which are between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was originally built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It was founded by the American actor and director, Sam Wannamaker (Zoës dad), almost on the site of the original theatre, and opened in 1997.


The Globe

Interestingly we went to see a variation on Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the ancient Greek play – nothing to do with Shakespeare!  However, as you do, we wandered around the area and what we found, within no more than a 5 minute walk, was quite fascinating.


Inside the Globe  – the set of The Oresteia

If you hear the phrase “he’s in the clink” you think of someone in prison.  But where does the phrase come from?  If you walk eastward from the Globe along Bankside you come into Clink Street – and the answer to the question. Here you will find the Clink Prison Museum. The Clink Prison is the name given to all prisons that have stood on a number of sites around this particular vicinity over the years. The first prison dates back to 1127 and was a cellar in the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester (see below). The last was in Deadman’s Place – now Park Street (immediately southwest of Clink St) – which, at various times, held Protestant and Catholic religious martyrs. It was burned down in 1780 by anti-Catholic Gordon rioters (see Charles Dickens’ 1841 novel, Barnaby Rudge).


The Clink Prison Museum – enter at your own peril….!

Just along from the prison (still going east) is the remains of Winchester Palace. This was the palace of the powerful Bishops of Winchester which was one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London. It was founded in the 12th century (around 1136) by Bishop Henry de Blois, brother of King Steven. Its purpose was to house the bishops in comfort whilst they were staying in London on royal or administrative business.  And why not.


Remains of Winchester Palace

The visible remains (above) were part of the Great Hall which formerly stood alongside the south bank of the Thames. You can see the magnificent rose window at the top. Below it are three glass ‘windows’ which were, in fact, entrances leading to the buttery, pantry and kitchen.  Below the hall was a vaulted cellar where goods such as wine could be stored, with a passage to the river wharf. The palace remained in use until the 17th century when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. It was destroyed by fire in 1814 and then rediscovered in the 1980s during redevelopment of the area.


The foundations of the cellar (in between the pot plants) – the ground floor of the hall would have been immediately below the four glass entrances at the top

Along from the palace is the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. The original ship dates back to the 16th century when it circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580 during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Golden Hinde II took two years to build and, as  there were no plans of the original ship, Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, spent three years researching manuscripts about Drake’s voyage, Tudor shipbuilding techniques, and the journals compiled by crew members.  The replica was launched in April 1973 from the  J. Hinks & Son shipyard in Devon.


Golden Hinde II

From Winter 1974 to Spring 1975 the ship sailed from Plymouth to San Francisco to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of Francis Drake’s discovery of Nova Albion in North America in 1579. She returned to England in 1980.  After a tour of Britain and Ireland, Golden Hinde II sailed to Canada to appear in Expo ’86, and a year later began a four-year expedition along the East and West Coasts of North America, returning to the UK in 1991.  Following another successful tour, she finally settled down in her current home at St Mary Overie Dock in 1996.


Golden Hinde II

I don’t wish to be a spoil-sport but if you are in any doubt as to whether she really is a replica check out the propeller!


16th century propeller?   …… perhaps not

Finally, just around the corner from the Golden Hinde II is Southwark Cathedral. This began its life in AD 606 as a convent. Around the 9th century, the Bishop of Winchester may have replaced the nuns with a college of priests. In 1106 the church was ‘re-founded’ by two Norman knights as a priory, living according to the rule of St Augustine of Hippo, dedicated to St Mary.   After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 it was appointed a parish church and renamed St Saviour’s.  It became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.


Southwark Cathedral


Southwark Cathedral – the nave designed  Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1895

southwark cath

Inside the Cathedral – quite impressive


Map of the vicinity – Winchester Palace is located between The Clink Prison Museum and the Golden Hinde II  (Blackfriars Bridge is about 300m off the map to the left and London Bridge is on the map, far right)


 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My large friend, Paramount Hargrove, told me he had discovered that he had the body of a Greek god.

I had some difficulty trying to explain to him that Buddha is not Greek.


The Iliad in print

IF YOU HAVE READ some of my previous posts on Homer and/or Troy you will know the Iliad. If you haven’t, you may still know the Iliad. Anyway, it’s Homer’s epic poem on the Trojan War (well, a short time towards the end, terminating with the death of the Trojan Prince, Hektor, at the hands of the Greek hero, Achilles).


Homer was an oral poet composing his epic tale around the 8th century BC about a war possibly taking place around the 13th century BC (see my post, ‘Troy: Hollywood fact of fiction?’ July 21, 2014). He followed it up with the Odyssey which tells of the lengthy return home  from the war by Odysseus, another Greek hero.



As an oral poet, Homer did not write down his words of wisdom, but sang them as a form of entertainment. The Iliad was possibly first written down by order of the Athenian tyrant, Peisistratus, in the 6th century BC (but the ‘jury is still out’ on that).  In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great carried a copy of the Iliad with him wherever he travelled as he likened himself to the (almost) invincible warrior, Achilles (modest or what?).

Alexander the Modest (356-323 BC)

One of the earliest records of the work is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It is on a 2nd century AD Egyptian papyrus found by William Flinders Petrie in 1888 in a tomb of a female mummy in the cemetery of Hawara in Fayum, Egypt. It is in fragments and is the ‘catalogue of ships’ from Book 2 of the poem. It would have been a continuous scroll of about 30 ft in length.

papThe fragments of papyrus of the Iliad in the Bodleian Library

pap ach  pap ek

earliest record of Hektor                                                      and Achilles

Over the years some 1,550 Homeric fragments on papyrus have been found.


The Iliad on the the Oxyrhynchus Papyri III (Egypt, 2nd century AD)

The Iliad was first printed in 1488 in Florence, and the first 10 books (of 24) were first translated into English in 1581 by Arthur Hall.  He translated it, not from the original Greek, but from a French version by Hugues Salel published in 1555. However, the first celebrated translator of the whole of Homer’s Iliad into English was George Chapman (1559/60–1634).

Now, you cannot buy a papyrus version (no surprises there) but the later printed copies are available occasionally – if you have enough money! As I write you can have a rebound 1611 edition of Chapman’s translation printed by Richard Field for Nathaniel Butter for £40,000 ($64,230); or a rebound 1497 second edition of Lorenzo Valla’s Latin prose translation at a bargain £18,500 ($29,700).

iliad eng 1611       iliad 1497

1611 edition                                                                       1497 edition

Alternatively, you can by a modern paperback version on Amazon for £6.99 ($10.78).


 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

I was given the opportunity of travelling the country with my talk on the Bronze Age of Mycenae. It was a standard talk but informative. My driver, Clarence, always accompanied me. One morning he said, “Do you know I have listened to your talk so many times I reckon I could give it just as well.”

“Right,” I said, thinking cheeky fellow, “tonight we’ll swap roles, you give the talk and I’ll drive.”  He agreed.

I called my old friend, Rolo [Prof Rolande Circumspeque], who I knew would be in the audience that night and gave him a complex and unexplainable question to ask Clarence at the end.  I was determined to the catch the blighter out.

That evening I drove Clarence to the lecture theatre and sat myself at the back.

Indeed he gave the talk without missing a beat, almost word-for-word as I had done it on so many occasions before. Then the questions. Rolo put up his hand and put the ‘complex and unexplainable question’ to him.

Clarence hardly stopped for thought. He looked at Rolo, smiled and said, “Ah, that is such an easy question that even my driver would know the answer, and to prove it I’m going to ask him to come down from the back and respond.”


Buying a Book of Hours 2

WELL, IF YOU ARE interested (and you are probably not but I’m going to tell you anyway), I’ve found the translation of my Book of Hours leaf I showed you last week. I could impress you by saying I translated it myself following my course on Medieval Latin, but that would be a lie (and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway).  I found the translation on the internet, of course – although I did have to recognise the actual Latin words, some of which are in abbreviation (so give me a little credit!).


just to remind you of the leaf

It reads:

eruere.   R: Qui Lazarum resuscitasti a monumento foetidum. Tu eis Domine dona requiem, et locum indulgentiae. R: Thou which didst raise Lazarus stinking from the grave: Thou O Lord give them rest, and place of pardon.
V: Qui venturus es iudicare vivos et mortuos, et saeculum per ignem. Tu eis Domine dona requiem, et locum indulgentiae. V: Which art to come to judge the living, and the dead, and the world by fire. Thou O Lord give them rest, and place of pardon.
[Lectio tertia Iob 10]
Manus tuae Domine fecerunt me, et plasmaverunt me totum in circuitu: et sic repente praecipitas me? Memento, quaeso, quod sicut lutum feceris me, et in pulverem reduces me. Nonne sicut lac mulsisti me, et sicut caseum me coagulasti?
[The third lesson Job 10]
Thy hands O Lord have made me, and framed me wholly round about: and dost thou so suddenly cast me down headlong? Remember, I beseech thee, that as clay thou madest me, and into dust thou wilt bring me again. Hast thou not as milk milked me, and curded me as cheese?

The fancy M begins the word Manus which is the beginning of the third lesson of Job 10 [Lectio tertia Iob 10]; above it is the end of the second lesson of Job 10; both are from the ‘Office of the Dead’.

This ‘Office of the Dead’ originated as a text for private mourning. It commemorates the deceased  in order to shorten his or her ordeal in Purgatory.  It also serves to remind the living of their own immortality (memento mori).  It’s made up of three liturgical hours: Vespers (vigil over the body the night before burial), Matins and Lauds (both recited in the church the following morning).

The above leaf is from the second hour – Matins. This consists of three Nocturns each containing three Psalms and three lessons. All nine are from the Book of Job.


So there you have it.


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

I spotted a sign outside a house that read ‘Talking Dog for Sale’.  Intrigued, I knocked and asked for a demonstration

The dog owner looked at the dog and said, “So what have you done with your life?”

“I’ve led a very full life,” said the dog. “I lived in the Alps rescuing avalanche victims. Then I served with the police drug sniffing at airports.  After that I helped out with the visibly impaired.  And now I spend my days reading to the residents of a retirement home.”

I was flabbergasted and asked the dog owner, “Why on earth would you want to get rid of an incredible dog like that?”

The owner replied, “Because he’s a liar – he has never done any of those things!”


Buying a Book of Hours

I FIRST BECAME interested in medieval books when I was given an introduction to the Book of Kells many years ago.  This is a group of manuscripts of the four gospels of the New Testament dating back to the 9th century AD (its exact date is unknown for sure). Today it comprises of 340 folios (pages) bound in four volumes. It takes its name from the 9th century Abbey of Kells (in County Meath, Ireland) where it was situated for most of its existence – until the 1650s when it was sent to Dublin for safe keeping against Cromwell’s motley troops. It then found its way to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1661, where it remains today.


Illustrated page from the Book of Kells

My interest was rekindled when I visited the Winchester Bible. This is another fabulously illustrated book on show at Winchester Cathedral. It was produced at the Cathedral between 1160 and 1175 and is the largest surviving 12th century bible (468 folios, 583 x 396 mm). It’s in Latin of course and written on vellum [1]. It was described in 1622 as two volumes and has been rebound twice since – in 1820 into 3 volumes, and in 1948 into 4 volumes. The text is in the hand of one scribe and  is complete but many of the illustrations, which are the work of 6 different contributors, are not finished. Sadly some nine illuminated initials and at least one full-page illustration have been removed entirely and are now in the hands of private collectors  (I’ll say no more – other than one missing leaf is in the Morgan Library in New York …. can we have it back please?).


Illustrated page from the Winchester Bible

Needless to say there is only one copy of each of these two medieval manuscripts so you cannot own them!  But you can own an original copy of the Book of Hours – at a price. These books are of prayers and get their name from the fact that monks have to pray at certain hours of the day (and night).  Saying that, they were produced for the laypersons as well – thousands of them in fact. And quite a few still exist today. Initially they were handwritten and illustrated with miniatures [2] on vellum.  By the early 16th century they became even more popular and the printing press took over from the laborious handwriting [3].  Printers churned out copies of the book but many of them still contained hand-coloured illustrations and lettering.

Although many of these books can be purchased today they don’t come cheap. Their price depends, of course, on the quality and quantity of illustrations.  Also size – many are very small for portability (averaging around 6″ x 4″ – 15 cm x 10 cm). Hand-written copies vary very much from $20,000 to $500,000 – although I believe the most expensive is the Rothschild Prayer Book (of Hours) which went for $13.5 million (£8.5 million) in 1999 at Christie’s in New York, purchased by Kerry Stokes and now lives in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.


The Rothschild Prayer Book (Flemish, 1500-20)

Quite a few of those that still exist are in remarkably good condition. This is because many of them were owned as a status symbol (as they were very expensive to buy) rather than for religious purposes, and so hardly used!  In saying that, very few of these manuscripts have their original bindings. This is because many original bindings were in materials such as velvet and have long since deteriorated (with exceptions of course). The main chance of finding an original binding is if it was in leather.

 1586 cover             cover lethr

Original velvet binding 1586 (English)        Original leather binding 1510 (French)

The 16th century printed version comes in at around $30,000 (again depending on quality). Even quality facsimiles can fetch anything to around $3,000-$5,000 if not more. There are cheaper versions though – a Hungarian company produces (or produced) some of these. If you are desperate to get your hands on a taster, single leafs can be purchased from anything from $200 upwards into the stratosphere – again depending on how they are illustrated and whether they are handwritten or printed. The big problem here is that it means someone has broken a book up to sell these off separately which is sacrilege in itself. But it’s a means to an end (and, sorry, yes I have one such page …..).


My humble c 1450 leaf – it’s handwritten with nice elaborate gold leaf letter but not, obviously, illustrated (I’m doing a course on Medieval Latin so I’ll get back to you when/if I ever translate it!)



[1] Vellum comes from the Latin word ‘vitulinum’ meaning ‘made from calf’. It is estimated that the hides of some 250 calves were used for the Winchester Bible ….

[2] This word ‘miniature’ comes from the Latin term for medieval illustrated book rather than small picture.

[3] The first printing press was introduced in the Holy Roman Empire by one Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. Documents printed before 1501 were known as incunabula (or incunable).


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

Late one night, a preacher with whom I am acquainted, The Rev. Jacob Aramatic, was driving on a country road and had a crash.

A farmer on his tractor stopped and said, “Sir, are you okay?”

The Rev. Joseph said, “Yes, thankfully I had the Lord riding with me.”

The farmer said, “Well, you better let Him ride with me, because you’re gonna kill him.”


The Venerable Bede on immigration

THERE HAS BEEN much concern over the immigration problem in the UK lately.  Well, this is nothing new.  In the 7th century AD it was identified as a problem by the Venerable Bede (aka St Bede), a monk of the monastery of St Peter at Monkwearmouth (Jarrow) in Northumbria. He described the coming of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century (in his  Adventus Saxonum) in the following terms:

The newcomers came from three very powerful nations of the Germans, namely the Saxons, the Angles and the Jutes. From the stock of the Jutes are the people of Kent and the people of Wight, and that which in the province of the West Saxons is to this day called the nation of the Jutes, situated opposite that same Isle of Wight. From the Saxons, that is, from the region that now is called that of the Old Saxons, came the East Saxons, the South Saxons, and the West Saxons ….. In a short time, as bands of the aforesaid nations eagerly flocked into the Island, the people of the newcomers began to increase so much that they became a source of terror to the very natives who had invited them.”


The Venerable Bede (672-735) – he knew you know

Don’t say we weren’t warned …….

Bede is widely regarded as the greatest of Anglo-Saxon scholars and known as the ‘Father of English History’.   Almost everything that we know of his life is contained in the last chapter of his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The ecclesiastical history of the English people – written in Latin of course). It was completed in about 731. Bede implies that he was in his 59th year then, hence the supposed date of his birth as 672.

Cotton Tiberius C.II, f.5v

Historia ecclesiastica – opening of Book 1: Southern England

Bede was the only native of Great Britain to be made a Doctor of the Church – in his case, by Pope Leo XIII   (Anselm of Canterbury also received the honour but he was an Italian by birth).

Just out of interest, Bede’s adoption of the dating anno domini (AD) in his De Temporum Ratione is the reason we use it today. It was, in fact, a third method of dating invented by Dionysus Exiguus in AD 525.  More recently, in the 19th century (although it does date back to the 17th century), Jewish academics adopted Common Era – or Christian Era or Current Era (CE) instead of AD, and BCE for Before Common Era instead of BC (Before Christ).  Call me old fashioned, but I cannot change a habit of a life-time and will stay with good old AD and BC.

ad bc

Bede’s tomb is in Durham Cathedral – he’s been there since 1022 and was moved to the Galilee Chapel of the Cathedral in the 14th century. You might not be very interested in that, but at least now you know. He obtained the name ‘Venerable’ after his death – it was simply written on his tomb:  HIC SUNT IN FOSSA BEDAE VENERABILIS OSSA
Here are buried the bones of the Venerable Bede – and it ‘caught on’ as they say.


Bede’s tomb – pride of place in the Galillee Chapel

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My young cousin, Thomas, was telling me that he and his two friends, Richard and Harry, had been to a party.  After the party Thomas drove them all back to the hotel. The hotel was 90 floors high and their room was on the top floor.

Unfortunately for them, the lift (elevator) was not working.  So to while away the time they made a plan that for the first 30 floors Richard would tell jokes. The second 30 floors Harry would tell a happy story, and for the last 30 floors Thomas would tell a sad story. They then started up the stairs and Richard began.

Well-over an hour later, it was Thomas’s turn. He turned to the other two and said “Okay guys, here’s my sad story ….. I left the room key in the car.”



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The Magna Carta revisited

FOLLOWERS MAY RECALL my post on the Magna Carta, January 3 this year. Well, I omitted to mention the three copies of the document held at the Society of Antiquaries of London. This is particularly remiss of me as I’m a Fellow of the Society!

The first one is the Black Book of Peterborough Abbey. This is a 13th century copy of the original 1215 manuscript. This is the most radical version as it contains the clause referring to no taxation to be imposed without the common consent of the Kingdom and the revolutionary ‘security clause’ (see January 3 post).


Black Book of Peterborough Magna Carta

The second is the Halesowen Abbey copy of the 1225 version. This is a scroll document and may have been produced by the Abbey because the Abbot had to go to Court to fight against unjust action by King John in 1279. So it was the Abbot’s legal defence document (and he won).


Halesowen Abbey scroll copy

The third is the Hart Book of Statutes. This is a 14th century volume of law (statutes) probably produced especially for lawyers – a modern day law book in fact. They (lawyers) had to read the law from somewhere and these statues books were produced (most likely in London) for that purpose. This particular 14th century book contains the Magna Carta.

Hart Book of Statutes

Hart Book of Statutes

My apologies to the Society for overlooking these copies …….


 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My colleague, Benedict Tantamount made mention to me:

“I had a near miss with the constabulary the other day. I was speeding in my motor vehicle and was chased and apprehended by the police, but with my quick thinking I managed to get away with it.

When I was eventually stopped, the police officer approached the car and said, ‘It’s been a long day and my shift is almost over, so if you can give me a good excuse for your behaviour, I’ll let you go.’  

I thought for a few seconds and then said, ‘My wife ran away with a policeman about a week ago and I thought you might be that officer trying to bring her back!'”



Travels in Crete 6: keep out the water

WE DON’T SEE many sharks in the waters off Crete but up until March this year you would not have wanted to swim in the reservoir/lake south of Rethymnon – for there lurked Sifis – a 6ft crocodile!



No, crocodiles are not native to Crete, or Greece, or anywhere in Europe! However, Sifis first appeared in the lake some 8 months beforehand but managed to avoid capture. He was happy living off the wild-life within the lake. He was named Sifis, a ‘typical’ Cretan name [1], by his admirers who set up a Facebook dedicated to him. Tourists travelled from as far as Japan to get a sight of him (who needs Minoan archaeology!).


In September, the Frenchman, Olivier Behra, reputed to be the world’s greatest living crocodile hunter proved he wasn’t.  He managed to grab Sifis but he escaped  (Sifis not Behra …).


The lake – it’s not safe to go in!

Sadly, during the winter months, the cold winter defeated Sifis and he was found dead on the banks of the lake. The director of Crete’s waterworks division, Vangelis Mamagakis, said, “It’s sad, very sad. We never wanted this to happen, we wanted to move him out of the reservoir to a more suitable place but he just kept eluding us.”


Sifis basking in the Cretan sunshine

How on earth did Sifis get there?! It has been speculated that he may have been deposited into the lake by his owner when he just got too big. Don’t people know that little crocs become big crocs when they get older?!




[1] Hmmmm … not sure how typical – I know quite a few Cretans named Yannis, Manolis, Yiorgos, Nikos – but I’ve only ever met one Sifis (and he wasn’t a crocodile).


Whilst on the subject of crocs, I did find this sign which made me smile:


Then of course there is this classic sign at the entrance to a crocodile park (or is it alligator – can you tell the difference? Does it really matter ……?)

trespass eatn

But did you know that the common sign ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ is a falsehood. You cannot prosecute trespassers as it is not a criminal offence to trespass.


Oh no they won’t

Trespass to land is a civil action. But you knew that because you have read my book ‘Do you know your law from your elbow’. This was (still is) availble on e-kindle to download but now you can buy it in book form – click here


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

I was in a bank the other day which was being robbed! The bank robber pulled out a gun and pointed it at the bank clerk and said, “Give me all the money or you’re geography!”

The puzzled bank clerk replied, “Did you mean to say ‘or you’re history?'”

The robber said, “Don’t change the subject!”

Travels in Crete 5: Toplou revisited

IF YOU REFER BACK to my post ‘Travels in Crete 3’ (July 11) you will recall I visited the the Toplou (Akrotiriani) Monastery.  I made mention of this trip to  my good Cretan friend of 7 years from Mochlos.  He told me that the Abbot from the monastery, Gennadios Silignaki, helped aid the Cretan National Resistance during the Second World War (along with many other monasteries who helped the Cretan and British resistance fighters). My friend further informed me that, sadly, the Abbot Siliginaki had been shot for his involvement in the resistance.  He thought others had lost their lives as well.


Toplou Monastery

After further investigation, I discovered that the monastery was housing a wireless radio and the Germans found out about it.  Abbot Silignaki and certainly two monks, Kallinikos Papathanasakis and  Evemenios Stamatakis, were taken prisoner at Toplou in June 1944, along with an 18 yr old female wireless operator, Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou.   They were transported to a prison at Agia in Chania and interrogated.  Stamatakis died in prison having been tortured, and both Papathanasakis and the girl, Chryssoulaki-Vlachou, were shot along with the Abbot Silignaki.


Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou

Returning to my conversation with my Cretan friend, he said that Abbot Siliginaki was from Sfaka along the road from Mochlos. Then he reminded me that he too originated from Sfaka and,  downing the remains of his raki, he added that his family name is also Siliginaki.



‘Modern’ Monument at Toplou by Manolis Tzompanakis dedicated to the many monks killed during both the 1821 and 1940-44 resistances


And this post is dedicated to Abbot Gennadios Silignaki, Kallinikos Papathanasakis, Evemenios Stamatakis and Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou