Wicken Fen

The vast wildernesses of the fens were feared by outsiders, who often saw them as places of contagion, harbouring strange spirits and inhabitants. The eighth century Life of Guthlac describes the environment of Croyland, in present-day Lincolnshire, when Guthlac arrived:

There is in the Midland district of Britain a most dismal fen of immense size, which begins at the banks of the river Granta not far from the camp which is called Gronte (Cambridge) and stretches from the south as far north as the sea. It a very long tract, now consisting of marshes, now of bogs, sometimes with black waters overhung by fog, sometimes studded with woodland islands and traversed by the windings of tortuous streams.

~ Hill, 1981:11 cited in Gowland & Western, Morbidity in the marshes: Using spatial epidemiology to investigate skeletal evidence for malaria in Anglo-Saxon England (AD 410-1050). American journal of physical anthropology 2011

For a taste of the stark beauty of this strange landscape, take a trip to Wicken Fen. The National Trust cares for this nature reserve, one of only four wild fens left in the country, and it’s a stunning place for a walk on a wintry afternoon.

Volunteer events co-ordinator needed

Are you interested in heritage education and looking for an exciting volunteering role in Cambridge?

Great St Mary's clock dial

Great St Mary’s clock dial

As part of our HLF-funded heritage project, we will be running a programme of high-profile events in Cambridge throughout 2014, in connection with the Tour de France, Great War commemorations and the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I visiting Cambridge.

We need your help! Why not apply for the role of Volunteer Events Co-ordinator and give us a hand?

Lots of other volunteering roles up for grabs too – image permissions administrator, volunteer co-ordinator and heritage education volunteer – have a look on the guardian jobs site for more details…

Winter moon

A late lunchtime stroll through Clare and John’s with dazzling low winter light.

Agony uncle

Dr William Butler was physician to King James I and VI and his memorial (complete with cherubs and skulls) can be found in Great St Mary’s chancel. Butler wrote this letter  of advice in 1614/15 to Paul Thompson, who had been imprisoned in Cambridge Castle for clipping gold coins and faced the death penalty.

The vocabulary is what you might expect from the famously flamboyant “phizition”!

Your giddie-headed phantastique fidlinge fingers and scriblinge pen, directed by the quicke motion of your quicksilver brayne, without penetancy, pretending pietie, practizinge pollicie,will bringe you to a violent end…

…yf you had beene inwardlie sorry, you would have used fewer words, beene astonished and lie quietlie, like a forsaken, a desolate, a forlorne, and a mortified creature; whereas nowe, by your externall shewe, you indanger yourself, make your frends to weepe, and your enemyes to laughe at your grosse absurd and ridiculous foolishnes.

To be briefe deale honestlie and plainlie ; leave pollicie and hipocrisie; confess your offence humbly and submitt yourselfe intirely to the king’s mercy ; prostrate yourselfe at his majesties feet, declyne the vengence to come and appeale from the lawe in which is no comfort, to the throne and seat of his grace and mercie…

…Once more I say leave your toyes, skittishe pride, and stay your wisdome, and in all humillitie take your death which you have justlie deserved, and (if it come) most patientlie…you live under a gratious and mercifull prince, defender and patron of religion and learninge; confesse your fault and crave mercy : otherwayes I must conclude respondent ultima primis.

As you have alwayes lived a conceited wizard, so now you will dye a nynnyhammer foole.

Your very lovinge frend grieved at your fall, and pittieinge your miserie,

W. Butler

– Cooper’s Annals, vol III, p. 73

William Butler Memorial - photo by Rex Harris via flickr.

William Butler Memorial – photo by Rex Harris via flickr.

More from Margaret Beaufort’s Book of Hours

Here are some more images from Lady Margaret’s Beaufort’s Book of Hours, housed in the Old Library at St John’s College.

All images are borrowed from St John’s Library Special Collections online catalogue by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Books of Hours enabled lay people to incorporate a shorter form of the monastic divine offices into their daily devotions. It is tempting to wonder whether Margaret meditated on aspects of her own difficult and eventful life as her prayers were guided by these stunning images.

  • Her baby boy’s difficult birth when Margaret was just 13 years old, her husband dead.
N.24, f.51r

Mary and Joseph adore the infant Christ in the stable. Image from Lady Margaret’s Horae, MS N24 f.51r, St John’s College, Cambridge. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.  

  • Her son Henry’s eventual triumph over the Yorkists, and Margaret’s own role in the political machinations of the time.
St George with a maiden holding a dragon on a leash. Image from Lady Margaret's Horae, MS N24 f.167r, St John's College, Cambridge.

St George with a maiden holding a dragon on a leash. Image from Lady Margaret’s Horae, MS N24 f.167r, St John’s College, Cambridge By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.   

  • Henry’s kingship, and her own pride in being ‘modyr of the kynge’.
N24f87r

King David kneels before God, his harp lying beside him. Image from Lady Margaret’s Horae, MS N24 f.87r, St John’s College, Cambridge. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.   

  • Her grandson Arthur Tudor who died suddenly in 1502, aged only 15, leaving his younger brother Henry to continue the Tudor line.
N24f119r

Death spears a young man in the heart. His corpse lies in the coffin, and his soul is carried aloft, fought over by angels and demons. Image from Lady Margaret’s Horae, MS N24 f.119r, St John’s College, Cambridge. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.   

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