The 25th Harlaxton Symposium
‘Memory and Commemoration in Medieval England’
15-18 July, 2008
Convened by Caroline Barron and Clive Burgess
The convening of this year’s symposium, by Professor Caroline Barron and Dr Clive Burgess, met with an enormous and enthusiastic response in attendance to celebrate the first twenty-five years of the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium. The theme was very apposite for a ‘silver’ anniversary: Memory and Commemoration in Medieval England, and it attracted a mix of papers from both senior academics and more junior scholars. For me one of the singular hits of this year’s very successful gathering was the number of fresh young scholars and new faces among the relied-upon faithful participants, and in such healthy numbers too, never before achieved! That all flowed beautifully smoothly while running at full capacity at the Manor is a tribute to our stalwart and omnipresent secretary, Christian Steer and also Principal Gordon Kingsley’s amazing staff.
At such a celebratory gathering, we were saddened to learn that Caroline Barron and Pamela Tudor-Craig, who might be termed the ‘mothers and nurturers of the symposium’, were unable to be with us this year due to personal circumstances. Caroline was joyfully received when she managed to attend the Thursday night banquet and the Friday papers, and Pamela was in everyone’s thoughts, especially when her paper was presented by Jenny Stratford. They were much missed and we wish them well. They, would, undoubtedly, be delighted to know that the banner was held aloft and the baton passed from session to session in a manner they would have enjoyed and approved.
The theme of memory and commemoration and its potential for multi-layers of interpretation, was well presented. Papers on material culture, such as stained glass, funerary brasses, and illumination, as expected, brought many new insights. The evolving perceptions of chantry foundation, as well as the more abstract issues of prayer, ideas about lineage, memory, and less obvious beliefs inherent in foundation stones of buildings, for example, were well explored, in addition to college founding and patronage. It would be invidious to select names in such a rich firmament, where there was daily a juicy morsel of fascination for each one of us, if not a feast requiring a little remedial medical attention! (The physicality if the ‘long-distance runner’ at symposia and conferences is an as yet unwritten, if much experienced, topic for research!)
In part our backs and legs were relieved by the trips out to see the fifteenth-century glass at Heydour church, led by David King, and, the following day, the two-hour bus ride to Haddon Hall to experience the medieval survivals in this lovely and extraordinary house, garden and chapel. The fact that two other touring groups, in addition to our own sizeable one, were in attendance threw down the gauntlet to their café catering staff. They picked it up and soon produced the tasty goods, thus saving several lives, maybe their own.
Another highlight of what is clearly a personal review, was the attempt by several established presenters to convey the changes in methodology, categorisation, and interpretation, even mentalité, in historical research over the past quarter-century. They patently touched many points of amused and bemused recognition among senior academics, and the younger, too, struggling with never experienced aspects of historiography of the ‘single-gender’ days. A long overdue exposition was on the colourful history of Harlaxton Manor itself, given by Tim Knox, whose clarity, humour and sureness of touch entertained us so well.
A mention must be made and a tribute paid to those men who, in response to Christian’s invitation, donned black tie (or any tie) and/or dinner suits for the occasion of the banquet, one, who shall be nameless, going so far as to add a cummerbund as the finishing decorative touch. Well done to them all for making the supreme effort that the women have been making for years! They looked wonderful, though more Masonic lodge than Strictly Ballroom.
We departed on the Friday loaded with new books, very weary but also wanting more. It would be a joyous thing if next year’s symposium reflects the same mix of papers (if, might it be suggested, a few less of them), and attracts similar numbers to delight Christian’s heart and cheer the steering committee. We offer them all our thanks for a splendid twenty-fifth anniversary full of good things.