The 28th Harlaxton Medieval Symposium
‘The Yorkist Age’
19-22 July 2011
Convened by Hannes Kleineke and Christian Steer
The Harlaxton interdisciplinary medieval symposium has become an essential part of the summer for many of us who work on the later Middle Ages. Its setting, in the spectacular mock-Elizabethan mansion just outside Grantham, is more reminiscent of a house party than an academic conference. It is not Downside Abbey, but certainly not your average earnest University symposium. Not that the conference itself is at all lightweight – far from it – but Harlaxton wears its learning lightly. It is the best and most congenial way of keeping in touch with scholars of the period, finding out about the latest research and, alas, buying the latest books. Shaun Tyas’s book stall is the chief temptation, but by no means the only one.
This year’s event was devoted to The Yorkist Age and organised by Hannes Kleineke and Christian Steer. It began amid spectacular rainstorms, and more than one of us dripped our way late into the lecture room. Among the talks that first afternoon was an excellent one on the portraits of the Yorkist kings by the much-loved Harlaxton veteran Pamela Tudor-Craig. Joanna Laynesmith offered a memorable consideration of the piety of Cecily, Duchess of York. Cecily, it transpired, was a massive spendthrift in her younger years, and the cost of her dresses became the subject of a long-running joke. Clothes formed something of a sub-theme this year: Maria Hayward explored the clothing allocated to Yorkist prisoners, while Kate Heard talked about vestments in the Yorkist age. Harlaxton papers were as varied as ever, and it always felt a real risk to miss a talk, however remotely it might seem to be connected with individual interests.
It is not, alas, possible to comment on every single talk – otherwise this brief review would become far too lengthy! But one of the delights of this year’s symposium was the promotion given by the convenors of younger, research students who gave papers. Harlaxton provides the perfect setting to ‘cut your teeth’ on conference papers and the conviviality of the delegates brings forth useful, and helpful, questions. This year, we were treated to papers on royal piety (Charles Farris, Royal Holloway), death and Lord Rivers’ Cordyali (David Harry, University of Bristol) and an eye-opening, and innovative paper on the skeletons from the Towton battlefield (Oliver Hounslow, University of York).
The highlight, as usual, was the day out on Thursday, to the Yorkist Collegiate Church at Fotheringhay and to Lowick church. Fotheringhay church offered a truncated but evocative picture of Yorkist patronage, while the Lowick alabaster tombs of Ralph Green (d. 1417) and his wife and of Edward Stafford, earl of Wiltshire (d. 1499), were the real attraction of the day for this art historian. Then the clothes sub-theme emerged again as delegates donned their finest for the evening conference dinner, which once again was a splendid occasion, combining convivial chat and avid academic discussion.
What a pleasure to be one of those who went to Harlaxton this year rather than one of those saying wistfully that they wished they could. Roll on next year, which we are all looking forward to, on The Medieval Merchant.
Kim Woods, August 2011
The History of Parliament Trust
Royal Holloway University of London