Age of Worship Seven Ages of Britain


Age of Worship

The story of Britain through its art and treasure. This episode looks at the Middle Ages, from the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 to the death of Richard II in 1400.


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Transcript


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The Middle Ages.

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A time of faith and a time of fear.

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GATE CLANGS

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In Hereford, monks created a work of art

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designed to make sense of the unknown.

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This is Mappa Mundi,

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a map of the world as it was known around 1300.

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It's not the kind of map you'd want to use if you were going on a journey,

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because it's completely distorted.

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For instance, down here,

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England, Wales, Ireland crammed down there.

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Scotland.

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Then you go across Germany to Italy.

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There's Rome rather grandly shown there.

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But it's not just that kind of physical map.

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What it's actually about is faith and superstition,

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religion and romance.

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Religion because at the heart is Jerusalem.

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Then there are things from the Bible. There's Noah's Ark.

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The Tower of Babel.

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And above, the Day of Judgement.

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But also, these strange, mythical creatures.

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Bodies with eyes set in their chests.

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Frightening and weird creepy-crawly things.

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The most astonishing picture of things that were known

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and things that were imagined at the time.

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It's the whole of life as it was seen.

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A work of art

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which opens the door to the world of the Middle Ages.

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BELL TOLLS

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Medieval life was controlled by two great forces -

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the Crown and the Church.

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In the 12th century, a power struggle broke out between them.

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It came to a head with a shocking murder.

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On 29 December, 1170, a cold winter's night,

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the archbishop, Thomas Becket, was at home here in Canterbury.

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He was already one of the most powerful men in the kingdom,

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some said more powerful than the king himself.

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And that was his downfall.

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Four knights loyal to the king came here to Canterbury

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to rid him of the man

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that he'd complained was treating him with shameful contempt.

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The archbishop's staff hustled him into the cathedral

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hoping that here, at least, he'd find sanctuary.

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This was sacred ground,

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but that didn't deter the king's knights.

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Nor did they care that their victim was Archbishop of Canterbury,

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head of the English Church.

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They were determined to show the king's power was supreme.

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It's said they found Becket standing here calmly waiting for them.

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"Here I am, no king's traitor but a priest.

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"Why do you seek me?"

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And one of the knights replied,

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taunting him, and striking the cap off his head,

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said, "Fly! You are a dead man."

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The other assassins piled in with their swords,

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struck him blows on the head till he fell to the ground,

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cut open his skull and let the brains flow out over the floor.

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They thought they'd solved a problem for the king

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but his troubles were only just beginning.

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The murder met with outrage across the Christian world.

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The king tried to make amends,

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walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury

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and being flogged by monks in the cathedral.

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It was round one to the Church.

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With Becket declared a saint by the pope,

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Canterbury became an important place of pilgrimage.

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People came from all over Europe to worship at his shrine.

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Cathedral as a snowstorm.

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Model of the cathedral with sparkles on top.

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Archbishop.

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Crosses.

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An archbishop teddy bear.

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Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury,

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looking slightly manic.

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Well, you might think that souvenirs are a kind of new thing.

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Not at all.

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These are badges,

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all of Thomas a Becket,

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that were sold here in the 1300s.

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They're made of a very soft pewter, a mixture of tin and lead.

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And they were made in moulds in stone,

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so there were lots and lots and lots of them produced.

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I think, in a way, this is the liveliest one.

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This is Becket on a ship

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coming back across the Channel from the Continent

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to Canterbury just a month or so before he was murdered.

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So Becket's in the middle with his hand up in a blessing,

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as he is always seen,

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and what's really interesting, though, is the ship.

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You can see all the planking here,

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the sailor pulling on the ropes,

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and if you go to the bow, there's the anchor hanging down

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and a soldier on the forecastle with his sword and shield.

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In one sense, these are more than just badges, though,

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because they would be taken to the tomb of Thomas at Canterbury

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and touched against the side

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so they became what was called a touch relic,

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and when you took them home and touched the badge,

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you were in effect touching the tomb of Thomas

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that you'd come to worship at.

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Just come and have a look.

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These are souvenirs from 1300.

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Oh, wow! Aren't they extraordinary?

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They're pretty amazing. Have a close look.

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And it's Thomas a Becket coming on his ship from France.

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They're so detailed. That's what's so interesting.

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Yes. Beautifully done. Amazing.

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They're made of lead. Yeah.

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They were found in the mud on the banks of the Thames.

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Can you imagine the excitement on a Sunday morning at low tide

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going along with your metal detector and coming up with this?

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So where are they normally kept?

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They're in a museum in London. They've been brought here.

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This is the first time they've been here for 700 years.

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They were sold here 700 years ago.

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And they're not for sale today. ALL LAUGH

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Over the decades, the pilgrims and the money they brought with them

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transformed this cathedral into a memorial to Becket.

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The climax of the pilgrimage was to come up these steps.

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You can see that the stone itself is worn away.

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They probably approached kneeling.

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And what they were coming to do

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was kneel at the shrine of Thomas a Becket...

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..which was placed here in the centre, where the candle now burns.

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By all accounts, it was a huge, gilded, brilliant construction

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encrusted with precious jewels.

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When Henry VIII split with the Pope, he ordered it to be destroyed.

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So there's just a candle to show where it once was.

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What was left, though, were 12 glorious windows

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gleaming in blue and yellow and green,

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that show the miracles that Thomas performed after his death.

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Stained glass is far and away the most powerful, vivid art

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of the Middle Ages.

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You have to look at this glass

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as though you were somebody from that time

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looking at it for the first time.

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No television, no film, you've never seen anything like that,

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and you're presented with this.

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The brilliance of the colour,

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the great beauty and animation of the figures telling these stories.

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And the light streaming in at you,

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almost as though God was illuminating the cathedral.

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And the stories themselves... so wonderfully told.

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Children being cured of their diseases.

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People being cured of leprosy,

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of plague...

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..of lameness...

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..of blindness.

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Wonderful stories, with Thomas appearing from time to time

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because one of the purposes of this glass was to praise Thomas

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but also to give comfort and inspiration

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to the people who looked at them.

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There could be no better insight into the beliefs

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and the way of thinking of the Middle Ages.

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The artists who worked with stained glass

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were among the finest craftsmen of the age.

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We look at this through the microscope all the time

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and we do not find mistakes.

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They are painted perfectly.

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They don't scratch them out.

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They don't repaint a line that went a little bit shaky.

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The only place where you find repairs or alterations

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are in the inscriptions,

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and that tells me that the painters were probably illiterate

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and they were just copying something they didn't understand.

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The colour is really vivid, isn't it? This yellow,

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and the red of their stockings.

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How did they get this intensity? I mean, these blues...

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Well, cobalt, for instance, makes blue. Copper makes red.

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Gold makes a beautiful pink.

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This colour? Yes.

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Can you show me the techniques? Yeah, sure.

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So you pick your piece of glass that is round about the right size

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for the shape you want to cut,

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and then with some lime wash, you mark exactly the shape

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and then you use something called a grozing iron

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to nibble away at the edges of the glass, hopefully without breaking it.

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I bet I will break it.

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That's it. Yeah, you got it.

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You see why you have to wear goggles for this.

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Is that right? Will that fit in?

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That's amazing. Yes, that's very good.

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Fit it in. That'll be perfect.

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So this goes in up here.

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Yeah. And now we need to paint it, of course.

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And we do that with this oxide paint

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which is essentially very finely ground glass.

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What are you going to mix it with now?

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Now I'm adding vinegar to make it paintable, into a paste, really.

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Is that what they would have used?

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No, they would have used urine in the Middle Ages.

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Urine? Well...

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Cow's urine? Horse's urine?

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No, actually, the best urine

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would have been that of a prepubescent red-haired boy.

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What's with the red hair?

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LAUGHS: I don't know.

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Personal pre... Extraordinary idea.

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Personal taste. Right.

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But it does actually work extremely well. I have tried it.

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What, with urine? You have tried it?

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Is it better than vinegar? Yes.

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I'm not going to offer. SHE LAUGHS

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What am I going to do? Copy this? Yes, if you will.

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I'll try.

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It's really nice, isn't it? I mean, it goes on very, very smoothly.

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I can see how you can do great folds and things, yes.

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And then it's put into place. Yeah.

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Bob's your uncle. Like that.

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These days, the Church no longer dominates our lives.

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But back in the Middle Ages, religion was everything.

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It gave purpose and structure to daily life.

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It helped protect the sick and the poor.

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But at the same time, it sought to control people's thoughts

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and deeds.

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Right, you've got to put your feet there and there.

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That's good.

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You have to take a bit of trouble to see

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the lengths to which the Church went to get its message across.

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How does that feel? Any better? It feels all right.

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Certainly looks good.

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BOTH LAUGH

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Mountaineering was never my passion.

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40 feet above ground,

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on the chancel arch of Holy Trinity,

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is a rare survival from the age.

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I can't look down because I'll be sick.

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HE GROANS

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Try and get a foot round.

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This is a picture of the end of the world.

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When it was first painted, it would have been absolutely brilliant.

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You'd have seen all the detail.

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The whole scene is a kind of chaos, a jumble of people.

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The dead being awakened for the Day of Judgement.

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And over there on the left-hand side

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people going up to paradise,

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coming out of their coffins and ascending into heaven.

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But it's this side that's so vivid,

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this powerful picture of the fate that awaits the sinner.

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There are little demons everywhere. There's a demon down here by my foot.

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And then there are demons all through it.

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Those women there, the alewives, as they're called,

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women who watered down the beer

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and then got people to buy it by displaying their physical charms,

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such as they are.

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This is particularly strong, the great jaws of hell here

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with the flames devouring the sinners

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and the eyes of the beast of hell with his claws

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and a figure falling down into it.

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If you were looking at this, you would know

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that the Day of Judgement would come for everybody.

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You could be sealed in a tomb but you wouldn't be allowed to stay there

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because at the Day of Judgement you'd be brought out.

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You'd either come to this side or to that.

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And therefore, you'd better watch your behaviour

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otherwise this is the fate that awaits you.

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BLOWS WHISTLE

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For centuries, the great art of Europe

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had been produced mainly by monks working in monasteries.

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But now craftsmen were realising their talents could be marketed.

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To be an artist was becoming a profession.

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There were masons,

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painters...

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..and sculptors,

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each striving to produce work

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which would astonish their patrons with its skill and its beauty.

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HORN BLOWS

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The Parker Library in Cambridge

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contains some of the most valuable medieval books and manuscripts,

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and interestingly, that's where you also find

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the best examples of medieval painting -

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in those books and those manuscripts.

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And this is probably the finest.

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The Bury Bible.

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It's illustrated by one of the greatest of all craftsmen.

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He was called Master Hugo,

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and he was somebody who'd travelled all over Europe to get his ideas

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and this was the result.

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What's most striking is how vivid the colours are

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after nearly 900 years.

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These reds and blues and beautiful green.

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And the reason is, this is paint that was made with white of egg,

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which gives it a sort of thick consistency

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which makes it last on the page.

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And then the detail

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of all the usual flowers and gold decoration

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that you see in earlier manuscripts.

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But here, all kinds of bits of life going on.

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A mermaid with two fish.

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Monkeys there.

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A centaur - half horse, half man - with a banner.

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And then, if we go on,

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this is a picture of Moses

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with his tablets from the mountain top,

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his brother Aaron on the right here with his rod,

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and down at the bottom, Aaron counting

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the numbers of the people of Israel.

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But the technique is very interesting.

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Firstly, this use of the material

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to show the shape of the body.

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It's called damp-fold, as though your clothes were damp on you

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and touching the body at the knee and the thigh,

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so that it brings the characters alive,

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which was a technique that he had learnt from Byzantine art.

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The other thing is the very expressive faces.

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Look at Moses' face.

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And the face here of these figures looking slightly bewildered,

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slightly subservient.

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This work is far more human, far more emotional,

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than anything you see

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in the older monks' illustrations and illuminations of the Bible.

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What's happening here is that the artist is taking over,

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not as illustrator but as interpreter

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of the meaning of the story of the Bible.

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As the Middle Ages unfolded, a new way of seeing the world emerged

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that would unite Church and Crown.

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It was inspired by heroic tales and ancient legends.

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They called it chivalry.

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Chivalry was a code of behaviour for knights

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which prized particular virtues -

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courage, prowess in battle, loyalty, a sense of honour.

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It took much of its inspiration from the stories of King Arthur

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and the Knights of the Round Table.

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Whether they were mythical

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or whether they were based on some former British king,

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we don't know.

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But they were so compelling, these stories,

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so full of romance and adventure,

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that they led to the creation

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of one of the most striking objects of the Middle Ages.

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It was designed for ceremonial use

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at a royal tournament in the reign of Edward I.

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It looks like a giant dartboard

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hanging in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle,

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the old royal palace.

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In fact, it's an 18-foot-wide solid oak table.

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And the game's given away by the words in the centre -

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"This is the round table of King Arthur

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"and 24 of his named knights."

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It was a re-creation of the table of Arthur.

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It's got the names of the knights at the top. You can see some of them.

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Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot there. Sir Gawain.

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And in the middle is King Arthur himself.

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But the interesting thing about this

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is that the power of chivalry was so great

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it turns up not just here on this table

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but all through our art at the time.

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Some of the finest work was inspired

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by the overriding ambition of medieval knights

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to recapture the Holy Land for Christianity -

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the Crusades.

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One order of crusading knights, the Knights Templar,

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had their own church in London, where they honoured the fallen.

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They built their church round...

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..to look like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,

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where Christ was said to be buried,

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so that when they came here to their church in London,

0:27:550:27:58

they were coming to Jerusalem.

0:27:580:28:01

And this is where they too chose to be buried.

0:28:010:28:04

These are the tombs of some of the knights.

0:28:070:28:11

They look ravaged by age,

0:28:130:28:16

the stone all worn.

0:28:160:28:18

Bu not at all - it was an incendiary bomb in the Second World War

0:28:180:28:23

that fell through the roof here

0:28:230:28:25

and destroyed what up till then were perfect replicas of the knights.

0:28:250:28:30

Luckily, some still survive.

0:28:300:28:34

This is a family - father and two of his three sons,

0:28:480:28:51

Earls of Pembroke.

0:28:510:28:53

And the interesting thing is, Father died in his 70s,

0:28:530:28:57

this one died in his 40s

0:28:570:28:59

and yet they all look young, and there's a reason for it.

0:28:590:29:03

If we have a close look at this one, it explains exactly why.

0:29:030:29:07

He's got his helmet, chain mail,

0:29:090:29:12

this tunic with beautiful folds in it...

0:29:120:29:16

..his hand on his sword,

0:29:180:29:20

pulling his sword from its scabbard.

0:29:200:29:23

His legs aren't crossed in repose, like someone asleep, someone dead.

0:29:250:29:30

They're moving. He's almost about to get up.

0:29:300:29:34

And when you look at his face,

0:29:340:29:37

the eyes are actually open.

0:29:370:29:39

And it's the face of a young man,

0:29:410:29:43

a warrior in his prime,

0:29:430:29:46

not lying dead, but waiting to arise again

0:29:460:29:50

and fight for Christendom.

0:29:500:29:52

BIRDSONG

0:29:570:30:01

It wasn't enough for a knight to be a brave warrior in battle.

0:30:130:30:18

The code of chivalry expected him to be a devoted lover as well.

0:30:180:30:23

One of the greatest romances of the age

0:30:280:30:31

was between Edward I and his queen, Eleanor of Castile.

0:30:310:30:36

When she died, away from London, in 1290,

0:30:390:30:43

the grief-struck king determined to commemorate their love.

0:30:430:30:47

The village of Geddington in Northamptonshire

0:30:520:30:56

used to be the site of a royal hunting lodge

0:30:560:30:58

and this was one of the places that Eleanor's funeral procession stopped

0:30:580:31:02

on its way from Lincoln to London.

0:31:020:31:05

There were 12 stopping places in all

0:31:050:31:08

and at each one, Edward had built a monument to his wife.

0:31:080:31:12

And this one at Geddington is far and away the best preserved.

0:31:120:31:16

We're used to seeing old monuments eroded by time.

0:31:180:31:23

We love them for it, for this golden patina,

0:31:230:31:27

for the feeling of something that's stood here for centuries.

0:31:270:31:31

It's difficult to think what they were like

0:31:310:31:34

when they were first put up.

0:31:340:31:35

They weren't like this at all.

0:31:350:31:37

This monument would have been painted in positively garish colours,

0:31:370:31:44

probably with gilding

0:31:440:31:45

and certainly set with pieces of glass.

0:31:450:31:48

It was a kind of striking image - nothing like what it looks now.

0:31:480:31:52

Beautifully done, with all these flowers and leaves.

0:31:520:31:56

And then the three statues of Eleanor herself,

0:31:570:32:01

facing the three roads that come into the village.

0:32:010:32:05

It's striking how similar the statue of Eleanor is

0:32:110:32:16

to a statue of the Virgin Mary.

0:32:160:32:18

And that's no coincidence.

0:32:180:32:19

It fits in with the medieval idea of woman, the perfect woman -

0:32:190:32:24

pure and chaste, the woman as mother,

0:32:240:32:27

the woman literally put on a pedestal, out of reach.

0:32:270:32:31

Seven centuries on,

0:32:450:32:46

the Eleanor monument still serves as an inspiration to the village.

0:32:460:32:52

Well, I've lived here since I was two,

0:32:520:32:54

so I've lived here for 82 years,

0:32:540:32:56

so the cross has always been a centre of a lot of activities.

0:32:560:33:02

This is a sort of monument - it's rather romantic, isn't it? - to love.

0:33:020:33:05

Indeed, yes.

0:33:050:33:06

Eleanor and Edward... Beautiful. Yes.

0:33:060:33:09

Bert and Margaret. BOTH LAUGH

0:33:090:33:12

Has your life been as romantic as theirs was?

0:33:140:33:17

Oh, yes, I think so. Yes.

0:33:170:33:19

Do you see her as pure and chaste

0:33:190:33:22

like the Virgin Mary, like Eleanor?

0:33:220:33:24

BERT LAUGHS

0:33:240:33:26

Yes, I'm sure he does. Yes, definitely

0:33:260:33:28

Yes. We've never sort of had any flings or anything of that sort.

0:33:280:33:33

We've been loyal and loving to each other, haven't we?

0:33:330:33:36

Yes. Yes. For almost 60 years.

0:33:360:33:38

Does he put you on a pedestal?

0:33:380:33:40

No, I don't think...

0:33:400:33:42

I don't think Bert would build me a cross like this.

0:33:420:33:47

Would you?

0:33:470:33:48

I would if I had the means, yes.

0:33:480:33:50

ALL LAUGH

0:33:500:33:52

All the notions of chivalry came together at Windsor in the 1340s.

0:34:120:34:18

Here, Edward III created a home for a new order of English knights.

0:34:210:34:28

Within the walls of Windsor is a remarkable survival

0:34:360:34:40

of Edward's chivalric vision.

0:34:400:34:43

This is something very special.

0:34:480:34:50

I can uncover it...

0:34:500:34:52

Obviously, a long, long sword.

0:34:590:35:03

It's very nearly 7 foot.

0:35:050:35:07

6 foot 8 inches long of solid steel.

0:35:070:35:10

The hilt, covered with leather and a steel pommel here.

0:35:100:35:15

And this blade of steel, it's been polished and beaten into shape.

0:35:150:35:20

And what's special about it is that this sword belonged to Edward III.

0:35:240:35:29

This is not an ornamental sword. There's no decoration on it.

0:35:310:35:35

This is a practical fighting sword.

0:35:350:35:38

And it's thought that Edward III would have used it in tournament.

0:35:380:35:43

It's certainly a sword that could kill -

0:35:430:35:46

light and very sharp at the end.

0:35:460:35:49

But this sword is important for another reason,

0:35:500:35:52

not just because it was Edward III's.

0:35:520:35:54

In 1348, Edward formed a group of knights,

0:35:540:35:58

the Knights of the Garter,

0:35:580:36:01

and this very sword was given up by Edward at that point

0:36:010:36:05

and taken to the chapel of the Order of the Knights

0:36:050:36:08

and hung above his stall in the chapel.

0:36:080:36:12

It was a great symbolic moment.

0:36:120:36:14

This sword designed for battle

0:36:140:36:17

had become a sword designed to represent faith.

0:36:170:36:20

And warfare and faith were the two great elements

0:36:200:36:24

of the concept of chivalry.

0:36:240:36:26

St George's Chapel, Windsor,

0:36:360:36:39

is still the home of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

0:36:390:36:43

And just like Arthur's Round Table,

0:36:430:36:45

there are only 24 knights at any one time.

0:36:450:36:49

The walls of the choir where the knights sit

0:36:540:36:57

are beautiful dark oak...

0:36:570:36:59

..but gleaming with brass plates.

0:37:010:37:04

They're the plates of the Garter Knights -

0:37:090:37:13

800 or so out of the 1,000 there have been.

0:37:130:37:17

They're like a whole history of Britain.

0:37:220:37:25

The oldest one of all is up here at the back,

0:37:250:37:31

different from all the others,

0:37:310:37:33

and it belongs to Ralph Bassett.

0:37:330:37:37

And here's his coat of arms.

0:37:370:37:40

First of all, the family crest -

0:37:400:37:42

a black boar in heavy enamel

0:37:420:37:44

with gold tusks, a gold eye and a gold crown round his neck.

0:37:440:37:51

Here's the shield, with its three red stripes,

0:37:510:37:55

and five tails of ermine on this square.

0:37:550:38:00

And then what's called a roundel, another sort of shield,

0:38:000:38:04

in red and blue

0:38:040:38:05

with fleur-de-lis on.

0:38:050:38:08

The technicalities of heraldry all sound very complex

0:38:080:38:12

and they're a thing for the experts, really,

0:38:120:38:14

but in the Middle Ages, what they allowed you to do

0:38:140:38:16

was to instantly recognise in battle

0:38:160:38:20

where various knights and their followers were.

0:38:200:38:23

So you'd see a banner flying and you'd say, "Ah,

0:38:230:38:25

"that's old Ralph Bassett down there.

0:38:250:38:28

"He's doing all right on the right flank. What's happening on the left?"

0:38:280:38:30

And you'd know for certain you'd picked the right man.

0:38:300:38:33

So these are not just a symbol of the pride and courage of a knight,

0:38:330:38:37

they're also intensely practical as a way of identifying him.

0:38:370:38:41

So-called Military Knights who serve the Order of the Garter

0:38:520:38:57

still live within the castle walls.

0:38:570:38:59

JAZZY DOORBELL CHIME

0:38:590:39:02

Good morning. I like the tune.

0:39:050:39:07

Do come in.

0:39:070:39:08

How do you decide which bell to use? This one...

0:39:080:39:10

My friends use the tuneful one. PIERCING DOORBELL

0:39:100:39:13

That's better. BOTH LAUGH

0:39:130:39:15

I see.

0:39:150:39:16

LAUGHS

0:39:160:39:19

Must drive you mad after a bit.

0:39:190:39:20

MAN LAUGHS

0:39:200:39:23

Uniform's very smart.

0:39:230:39:25

Very heavy. Heavy, is it?

0:39:260:39:28

Yeah, it's very heavy. It looks great.

0:39:280:39:29

It was built, I think, to stop musket balls

0:39:290:39:33

at a range of about 30 yards.

0:39:330:39:35

DAVID LAUGHS

0:39:350:39:37

What's your job, as a knight?

0:39:370:39:39

Well, I'm a Military Knight, yes, and our job is primarily prayer.

0:39:390:39:46

Prayer? Oh, really? Prayer.

0:39:460:39:48

To pray for the Sovereign

0:39:480:39:50

and the Companions, living and departed,

0:39:500:39:52

of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter.

0:39:520:39:55

So what are the characteristics of a chivalrous knight?

0:39:550:39:58

Being gentle, kind, considerate and very tough.

0:39:580:40:04

What does it mean now, do you think?

0:40:050:40:07

Here you are, wonderfully dressed up in scarlet,

0:40:070:40:09

with gold epaulettes and white sash

0:40:090:40:13

and gold badges and buttons and all that.

0:40:130:40:15

But does it actually mean anything still in the modern day

0:40:150:40:18

or is it just a sort of anachronism?

0:40:180:40:19

It certainly means quite a lot to me, yes.

0:40:190:40:22

I think it's a bit of show. And why not?

0:40:220:40:25

A bit of theatre.

0:40:250:40:27

Bits drop off the uniforms occasionally.

0:40:270:40:30

Do they? LAUGHS: Yes.

0:40:300:40:31

What drops off?

0:40:310:40:33

The badges off the epaulettes. They're only pinned on.

0:40:330:40:36

And it has been known for an entire epaulette

0:40:360:40:39

to suddenly leave the shoulder.

0:40:390:40:41

Garter Knights leaving a trail of badges of honour...

0:40:410:40:44

Accoutrements. It looks as if they're retreating.

0:40:440:40:46

The ideal of chivalry and its practice

0:40:510:40:54

were not always quite the same thing.

0:40:540:40:57

In the second half of the 14th century,

0:41:020:41:05

ferocious wars against France

0:41:050:41:07

brought about a new style of warfare.

0:41:070:41:10

Leading the onslaught was Edward III's son,

0:41:150:41:19

inspired less by faith than an appetite for power and glory.

0:41:190:41:25

This is the Tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral.

0:41:310:41:36

We have to climb up to see it properly

0:41:360:41:38

because of the railings that rather obscure it.

0:41:380:41:40

The Black Prince, who was the eldest son of Edward III,

0:41:420:41:45

who never succeeded to the throne, a man of arms fighting the French,

0:41:450:41:50

with a reputation for hardness, determination, even cruelty.

0:41:500:41:54

It's said that he killed women and children

0:41:540:41:57

in one of the sieges of a town he undertook.

0:41:570:41:59

But he had an eye also for what would happen after his death.

0:42:010:42:05

Money could buy you the route to heaven

0:42:050:42:10

and he specified exactly how he should be buried.

0:42:100:42:13

It is absolutely astonishing.

0:42:210:42:23

600 years old. Over 600 years old.

0:42:230:42:26

It's made of bronze and gilded.

0:42:260:42:28

His tunic, with lions emblazoned on it.

0:42:310:42:35

And the belt, the sword belt, with lions on it as well.

0:42:380:42:42

His feet, with the spurs resting on his dog.

0:42:440:42:48

His hands, he was particularly keen, should be in a position of prayer.

0:42:540:42:59

Interestingly, the Victorians took this idea of the Black Prince so seriously

0:43:020:43:07

that they actually painted it black.

0:43:070:43:11

It was only in the 1930s

0:43:110:43:13

that somebody scraping away discovered underneath

0:43:130:43:16

this glorious figure, resplendent in gilded bronze.

0:43:160:43:22

The Black Prince died before he could become king,

0:43:400:43:44

but his craving for glory was inherited by his son.

0:43:440:43:48

King Richard II wanted the crown itself to be an object of worship.

0:43:490:43:55

His vanity and his ambition created an era of magnificence,

0:43:550:44:00

the artistic pinnacle of the Middle Ages.

0:44:000:44:03

Munich is home to a unique survival of Richard's reign.

0:44:220:44:27

Most of his treasure was melted down in the English Civil War of the 1600s.

0:44:290:44:36

But by good fortune, one precious object was preserved.

0:44:360:44:41

It's kept in the Residenz Palace, once home to the kings of Bavaria.

0:44:450:44:51

This is the only surviving English crown from the Middle Ages.

0:45:350:45:40

Everything else was destroyed.

0:45:420:45:45

This crown was in Richard II's treasury.

0:45:450:45:49

It was worn by his first wife.

0:45:490:45:52

It came to Germany on the marriage of a royal princess a few years later.

0:45:540:45:58

It is an object of indescribable beauty.

0:46:030:46:06

A circle of 12 free-standing lilies in gold...

0:46:080:46:13

..set on a hinged ring at the bottom here

0:46:150:46:20

and each lily set with precious stones -

0:46:200:46:24

rubies, sapphires cut like boiled sweets.

0:46:240:46:28

"Cabochon", they call it.

0:46:280:46:31

Pearls...

0:46:310:46:32

..emeralds

0:46:340:46:35

and diamonds.

0:46:350:46:37

And you think, if this was the crown that the queen wore,

0:46:440:46:50

what would the king's crown have been like?

0:46:500:46:53

Richard II, after all, was the king who, for the first time,

0:46:530:46:56

insisted on being called Royal Majesty.

0:46:560:47:00

And for him, the crown would have been a symbol of that majesty,

0:47:010:47:06

of his right to be king,

0:47:060:47:07

of something almost godlike about his role.

0:47:070:47:13

In London, Richard created a superb setting

0:47:300:47:34

for his new style of monarchy.

0:47:340:47:36

Today, Westminster Hall is dwarfed by the Houses of Parliament.

0:47:420:47:47

Back then, it was a wonder of the medieval world.

0:47:470:47:52

This roof, when it was built,

0:48:290:48:31

was the widest unsupported roof in the whole of Europe -

0:48:310:48:36

a quite astonishing achievement.

0:48:360:48:38

And it was all Richard II's.

0:48:380:48:39

26 carved angels,

0:48:450:48:47

each holding the coat of arms of the king.

0:48:470:48:53

This hall had stood here for 300 years

0:48:550:48:58

when he came to the throne

0:48:580:48:59

but he raised the walls, he put in the ceiling,

0:48:590:49:05

he stamped it with his own image all the way round.

0:49:050:49:09

There are white hart, his own personal symbol,

0:49:090:49:11

right the way around the hall, right down there, across,

0:49:110:49:15

and right along there.

0:49:150:49:18

And what's really interesting about this is he used the best carpenters,

0:49:180:49:22

the best masons,

0:49:220:49:24

he used English oak, English carvers.

0:49:240:49:26

He was taking a French style and transforming it

0:49:260:49:30

into an English style,

0:49:300:49:32

saying, "Not only am I Richard II, the King,

0:49:320:49:36

"but I am going to show the way

0:49:360:49:38

"for a new kind of England,

0:49:380:49:40

"where art supports me as the monarch."

0:49:400:49:44

Richard encouraged all the arts.

0:49:530:49:56

It was for his court that The Canterbury Tales was written.

0:49:580:50:02

This epic work tells of a band of pilgrims

0:50:050:50:09

on their way to Becket's tomb at Canterbury.

0:50:090:50:12

There are memorable portraits -

0:50:130:50:16

the drunken miller,

0:50:160:50:20

the unholy holy man

0:50:200:50:24

and the much-married wife of Bath.

0:50:240:50:26

It was the work of the first great writer in the English language,

0:50:280:50:32

Richard's court poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.

0:50:320:50:36

This painting is unique -

0:50:360:50:39

it's the only portrait of Chaucer,

0:50:390:50:43

reading his poetry to the court of Richard II.

0:50:430:50:47

It's a very finely painted picture

0:50:550:51:00

that drips in gold.

0:51:000:51:02

Absolutely right too, because it's showing his court

0:51:020:51:05

and all the women have gold headdresses,

0:51:050:51:07

the men have cloaks with gold and jewels on.

0:51:070:51:10

And they're sitting absolutely enraptured

0:51:130:51:17

as Chaucer, in a little pulpit, with a cloth in front

0:51:170:51:20

reads his poetry.

0:51:200:51:22

They would have been used to listening to poetry

0:51:260:51:30

read to them in French.

0:51:300:51:32

French was the language of the educated classes,

0:51:320:51:35

had been ever since the Norman Conquest.

0:51:350:51:38

What Chaucer did was almost perverse.

0:51:380:51:41

He turned to the vulgar language, the language of the common people,

0:51:410:51:46

English,

0:51:460:51:47

and used that for his poetry,

0:51:470:51:49

and in so doing, he unleashed the strength of the imagery of English.

0:51:490:51:54

Just read me a bit. What is this from?

0:51:580:52:00

OK, this is the description

0:52:000:52:02

of the wife of Bath from the General Prologue.

0:52:020:52:05

READS: "A good wif was ther, of biside Bathe..."

0:52:050:52:08

Wait a minute, wait a minute. A good what?

0:52:080:52:10

"A good wif." That's "wife". That's "wife".

0:52:100:52:12

When you read it on the page, you have to imagine it being written

0:52:120:52:14

by a friend of yours who can't spell.

0:52:140:52:16

Oh, right. Then it becomes very easy.

0:52:160:52:18

If you think of the spelling being very, very peculiar and archaic,

0:52:180:52:23

then it's difficult.

0:52:230:52:24

So you mustn't be embarrassed, really.

0:52:240:52:26

Just think of it as being bad spelling

0:52:260:52:28

and a great deal of it becomes extremely straightforward.

0:52:280:52:30

So let me just try this bit.

0:52:300:52:32

"She was a worthy womman al hir..." What's that?

0:52:320:52:37

"Lyve". "Life". ..al hir lyve.

0:52:370:52:39

"All her life". Yes.

0:52:390:52:40

Al hir lyve. She'd outlived all her five husbands.

0:52:400:52:44

She's a professional wife and a professional widow.

0:52:440:52:47

"But therof..."

0:52:470:52:49

"But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe..."

0:52:490:52:53

There'd been this other company when she was young

0:52:530:52:55

but we needn't talk about that now.

0:52:550:52:57

But he's clearly saying she was a... she had an eye for the men.

0:52:570:53:02

He's implying that. He's certainly saying she had an eye for the men.

0:53:020:53:05

OK, I'll have a go.

0:53:050:53:07

Right. You tell me how I do.

0:53:070:53:08

"She was a worthy womman al hir lyve.

0:53:080:53:12

"Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve.

0:53:120:53:15

"Withouthen oother compaignye in youthe.

0:53:150:53:18

"But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe."

0:53:180:53:23

That's wonderful, especially the confidence.

0:53:230:53:26

The confidence! That's what matters.

0:53:260:53:28

The confidence is misplaced. That's what makes it convincing.

0:53:280:53:31

Under King Richard II, English art acquired a national identity.

0:53:470:53:53

This new spirit inspired the masterpiece of the age -

0:53:540:54:00

one of the wonders of the National Gallery.

0:54:000:54:03

These are the rooms of medieval painting

0:54:080:54:11

in the National Gallery in London.

0:54:110:54:13

We're surrounded by stupendous pictures

0:54:130:54:16

that gleam from the walls,

0:54:160:54:18

most of them Italian.

0:54:180:54:19

But here is the jewel of this collection

0:54:190:54:22

and this is English.

0:54:220:54:25

It's an altarpiece made for Richard II.

0:54:280:54:33

It was designed to go wherever he wants

0:54:330:54:35

so it could be opened up for him to pray before it.

0:54:350:54:38

And it shows Richard here, with his crown, on his knees on one side

0:54:380:54:43

with three saints behind him.

0:54:430:54:48

The first one with the arrow, St Edmund, English king, beatified,

0:54:480:54:54

Edward the Confessor, also a saint,

0:54:540:54:57

who Richard was always harking back to,

0:54:570:55:00

and John the Baptist,

0:55:000:55:03

who was, in a way, Richard II's protector,

0:55:030:55:07

with his lamb and his hand around Richard.

0:55:070:55:10

Richard on his knees, with his hands like that,

0:55:120:55:15

apparently about to receive something.

0:55:150:55:17

And what he's about to receive is explained here.

0:55:170:55:20

This side is heaven.

0:55:210:55:23

It shows the Virgin with Jesus in her arms.

0:55:240:55:28

Around her, these angels,

0:55:280:55:31

and the angels each have a little badge, or favour,

0:55:310:55:36

of the white hart - Richard II's white hart.

0:55:360:55:40

So all the angels are showing their allegiance to Richard down here.

0:55:400:55:46

And the Christ child appears to be

0:55:460:55:49

presenting something to Richard, which he is receiving,

0:55:490:55:52

and what it is is this standard of the Resurrection.

0:55:520:55:57

And this is a detail they only discovered recently

0:55:570:56:00

and it's absolutely extraordinary.

0:56:000:56:02

You have to use a magnifying glass to see it at all.

0:56:020:56:05

At the very top of the staff is an orb.

0:56:050:56:08

And you can just see, even though it's very tarnished,

0:56:090:56:14

silver leaf.

0:56:140:56:16

You can just see that it's a painting of an island

0:56:160:56:19

with a castle, a white castle,

0:56:190:56:22

and a tiny white sailing boat.

0:56:220:56:24

This sceptred isle set in a silver sea.

0:56:260:56:31

It's England.

0:56:320:56:35

And the Virgin and Christ, they're in effect presenting England

0:56:350:56:40

to Richard II.

0:56:400:56:43

The whole thing is a celebration of Richard's kingship,

0:56:480:56:53

of Richard's divine right to rule.

0:56:530:56:55

Saintly kings behind him to whom he's appealing,

0:56:550:56:58

angels wearing his badge

0:56:580:57:01

and Christ presenting England to him.

0:57:010:57:04

There could be no finer demonstration

0:57:040:57:07

of what Richard II believed his role on Earth to be.

0:57:070:57:10

Our story began with a king humiliated by the Church.

0:57:190:57:24

It ends here.

0:57:240:57:27

Art was now firmly in the hands of the Crown.

0:57:270:57:32

In the next stage

0:57:440:57:46

a royal tyrant,

0:57:460:57:48

a virgin queen.

0:57:480:57:50

Voyages of exploration, plundered booty,

0:57:500:57:54

the triumph of the English language.

0:57:540:57:58

Britain in the age of power.

0:58:000:58:03

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:370:58:40

The story of British art in the Middle Ages, spanning from the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 to the death of Richard II in 1400. It was an age defined by worship - whether worship of God, the king, or one's lady love.

David Dimbleby looks at the finest creations of the medieval Church, like the stained glass of Canterbury Cathedral and the colourful Bury Bible, and is winched 40 feet off the ground to see a rare surviving church Doom - a painting of the Last Judgement - close up.

During the reign of Edward I a new fad, chivalry, gripped the nation, resulting in fabulous creations like the Eleanor Cross of Geddington, Edward III's vast ceremonial sword at Windsor, and the tomb of the Black Prince. The artistic high point of the Middle Ages came with the reign of Richard II, whose patronage inspired three masterpieces: the famous timber roof of Westminster Hall, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the Wilton Diptych altarpiece.

David travels to Munich to see the only surviving English medieval crown, which belonged to Richard's wife, Anne of Bohemia.


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