Monday, 21 May 2018

Your (Tudor) Dinner Awaits by Imogen Robertson

The kitchens at Hampton Court have re-opened and I had meatballs with ginger and cinnamon to celebrate. I wrote a while ago about my involvement scripting the sound landscape for Hampton Court Place Base court and how much fun I had doing it. Once that was complete we moved on to the kitchens and this time we got to use pictures as well as sound. I was hired by Matthew Rosier of Chomko Rosier again, and once Matt had done all the hard stuff like working out the initial concepts for each area we were working on, the budgets and where all the wires went, I got to join forces with him, James Bulley and Kyle Waters for the fun stuff. Researching, scripting and, as we filmed and recorded, a little light directing.

We were providing elements for five areas. The Carpenter’s Court was where food stuffs arrived throughout the day. The Board of the Greencloth was the administrative centre of the operation. A group of senior household officials gathered there each morning to make sure the needs of the Court were being met and accounted for, supported by clerks doing the counting and book keeping. They worked out what they would pay suppliers, what dishes would be served to whom and kept a close eye on all of the money flowing out of the palace, and all the food stuffs coming in. 

Installing Board of the Greencloth

In the Boiling House vast numbers of joints were seethed for the table in a giant copper. 

In the kitchens themselves, visitors can touch the chopping boards to see the cooks preparing the meat in front of them. The special speakers used for this bit mean you can feel the knife coming down to mince the meat and the vibration of the pestle and mortar as the spices are ground. 

On the other side of the wall, invisible fires crackle and the pots seethe, spit and bubble as the cooks go to and fro.

Intensive pot listening with Matt and James

My job was primarily getting into the detailed research with the guidance of the brilliant Hampton Court team, and coming up with the words. The research was much trickier than it was for Base Court - general gossip about historical figures of whom we know a fair amount is one thing, making sure you’re getting it right quoting the price of fish in 1538 is another. What does a 16th century cook say to himself as he’s making a pie mix, stirring his pottage or shredding herbs from the garden? It’s quite like novel writing in fact. You have to find those small very specific details to make a place and a time come alive, and then find a way to make them feel natural.

Filming Board of the Greencloth
I do miss the collaborative elements of this sort of work. Novel writing is a megalomaniac’s paradise in many ways. It’s your world, and you get to run it as you see fit. Film and sound production is a team sport - especially when you are dealing with the complex demands of a three dimensional sound scape and visual field. The technical side of the projection mapping, speakers, media players, loops and channels flew over my head like a cool breeze, but I think the results are pretty impressive. There’s also a particular pleasure in hearing what you’ve written come alive in the voices of talented actors. We were very lucky in our Greencloth performers who handled very complicated scripts with aplomb. As we filmed I read in the lines of the clerks coming to hand over their accounts wearing an odd hat to get the shadows right and the fact I didn't put them off completely is a testament to their professionalism. 

Kitchen Selfie. It was ironically cold.

When we were clearing up after filming the preparation of the meat, one of my take home perks was the meatballs, so if you go to the kitchens and see that dish being made, rest assured it was delicious. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The complexity of medieval Soberton (2) by Carolyn Hughes

In this second part of my story of the manorial structure of Soberton parish, in the Meon Valley, I continue my discussion of the various manors distributed across the parish. If you would like to read part 1, which includes an introduction to the purpose of my investigation into Soberton’s medieval past, click here.

Last month, I discussed the principal manor of Soberton, located, I presume, around the site of the existing village. But within the parish of Soberton there were (eventually) six other manors: Longspiers, Flexland Englefield, Wallop’s Manor, Russell Flexland, Bere, and East Hoe. 
Bensted is identified in the Domesday Book, as Benestede, although it is attached to the Droxford Hundred rather than the Meonstoke Hundred, as Soberton is. The Victoria County History, however, doesn’t mention such a place at this location. I am interested in it largely because of its proximity to the other Soberton manors, especially Bere, and I have found another source of information to fill in the History’s gap.
This sketch shows the likely positions of the
various Soberton manors.  © Author

A large part of the estate held, in 1086, by Herbert the Chamberlain was, in the 13th century, held by a Thomas de Windsor, and throughout the 14th by the de Winton family. This manor is possibly, though it isn’t at all clear, the same manor as one called Longspiers. However, according to the Victoria County History, nothing is known after 1384 about this manor of the de Wintons, unless it is indeed the same as either Longspiers, or another manor held by the Fawconer family for the following three centuries. (Exactly where Longspiers or this Fawconer manor were located is unclear. Confusing!) However, in the late 15th century, a manor called Longsperys, with lands in Soberton and Flexland (for more about Flexland, see below) was sold to the John Newport we met briefly in last month's post, the lord of Soberton manor.
In 1544, as already noted in relation to Soberton manor, Longspiers was sold, along with the manors of Soberton and Flexland Englefield, to Walter Bonham who, five years later sold them all on to the Earl of Southampton.
And I presume it was these three manors, Soberton, Longspiers and Flexland Englefield, that were purchased, probably in 1714, by the same Thomas Lewis who had married Anna Curll in 1678.
The combined manors ultimately passed into the possession of Humphrey Minchin of County Tipperary in Ireland, who was a member of Parliament, first in Okehampton, Devon and later in Bossiney in Cornwall. In 1791, the manor that was Longspiers was referred to in a document as Faulkner’s Pleck or Pluk or Pluck, but that name subsequently disappeared. Although it does appear as one of those lordship titles on the Manorial Counsel website I referred to earlier, but then so does “Longspiers”, so it’s hard to know whether Longspiers and Faulkner's P are the same manor or two different ones!
Anyway, the manors remained in the Minchin family at least until the early 20th century.

Flexland Englefield
A modern reproduction of
mediaeval falconry gloves
So, we already know something of Flexland Englefield. At Domesday, this appears to have been part of the Soberton estate owned by Herbert the Chamberlain, which he later granted to his daughter on the occasion of her marriage into a member of the de Venuz family. But it was not referred to as Flexland until the beginning of the 13th century, when it was still held by a de Venuz, Robert. When Robert died, his widow Constance gave to her son John a third of the rents from the estate, which she was holding in dower, in exchange for rents of de Venuz estates elsewhere. When John died, he was succeeded by his brother Thomas, whose daughter Agnes, in 1249, granted one carucate (the land eight oxen could plough in a single annual season) of land in Flexland to William de Cobham, for the rent of a pair of white gloves or 1d. at Easter. How charming!
In the same year William bought more land in Flexland and, thirty years later, his daughter Joan passed the manor to an Agnes de Cobham (what relationship Agnes had to Joan is not mentioned – aunt, perhaps?) to hold for life for the rent of a chaplet of roses. Charming, again! By this time, the manor was called Flexland Cobham.
Some years later, Joan’s sister, Mary, laid claim to the manor (presumably against her relative, Agnes) and by 1316 she succeeded. Nine years later, Mary granted a portion of the land and a pound of pepper to a Roger de Englefield. Twenty years after that, Roger obtained a licence from the bishop of Winchester to celebrate mass in the oratory of his house in Flexland. When Roger died in 1361, the ownership of the land, rents and facilities of his Flexland property seems to have been divided between the king (Edward III), Beaulieu Abbey and a Sir Maurice le Bruyn. Sir Maurice granted the custody of his portion of the lands in Flexland Cobham to a Geoffrey Dene of Chidden (5.5 miles to the north west) to hold during the minority of Maurice’s son and heir. However, Constance, Roger de Englefield’s widow, subsequently forcibly ejected Geoffrey and was prosecuted by him for doing so in 1364. What the outcome of the dispute was I don't know. 
This seems to be the last mention of the manor of Flexland Cobham, its name thereafter changing to Flexland Englefield or Inglefield. Its history then becomes obscure until 1544 when, as we have already seen, it was purchased by Walter Bonham, along with Soberton and Longspiers. 
So, in this story of Flexland Englefield, we have Constance, Agnes, Joan, Mary, and another Constance, all inheriting property and dealing with it in a way that suggests they had considerable control over their own affairs. And a couple of them sound decidely ruthless!
The site of the manor is today marked by Ingoldfield Farm, which apparently has early 13th century origins.

Wallop’s Manor
The estate called Wallop’s Manor was probably in origin the manor which Henry the Treasurer held at the time of the Domesday Book. The Wallop family held a manor here from very early times. In the 13th century the overlord was the abbot of Hyde, and the manor was held by a Richard de Wallop but, in the 14th century, the overlordship changed to the bishop of Winchester. However, three centuries later, the manor was still in the Wallop family, being held by Sir Robert Wallop, whose principal estate was at Farley Wallop near Basingstoke. Robert made a very good marriage, to Anne Wriothesley, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton.
But Robert was one of the judges at the trial of King Charles I and, although he did not actually sign Charles I’s death warrant, at the Restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s, Parliament denied Robert receipt of any benefit from his estates, and sentenced him to be drawn upon a sledge to and under the gallows of Tyburn with a halter round his neck, and to be imprisoned for life. The sentence was carried out in 1662. He died intestate in the Tower in 1667, and was buried at Farley. In 1661 the king had granted Robert Wallop’s property in Soberton (and perhaps elsewhere?) to Thomas Wriothesley, the fourth Earl of Southampton, and others, empowering them to sell the whole or part of the premises for the benefit of Lady Anne, sister of the earl and Robert’s wife, and of their son and heir, Henry. 
At the beginning of the 18th century, the manor was sold, probably to Thomas Lewis, the lord of the chief manor of Soberton, who was adding to his property in the parish. He was now in possession of the best part of Soberton’s manors.
The site of this manor is marked by Wallop’s Wood Farm, which apparently has its origin in the early 13th century.

Russell Flexland
John de Drokensford,
Bishop of Bath and Wells (1309-1329)
The manor of Flexland or Russell Flexland was originally a dependent of the main Soberton manor belonging to Beaulieu Abbey. In the 15th century, it was held from the Abbey for the rent of a pound of pepper. However, in the 13th century it was held by a Ralph Russell, and remained in the Russell family until the early 14th century, when it passed to Sir John de Drokensford (Droxford), who was the bishop of Bath and Wells from 1309-1329.
In the 1370s, Sir Maurice le Bruyn pops up again, with his wife Margaret, who was probably the sister and heir of John de Drokensford’s grandson, also John. The le Bruyns’ holding of the manor was entailed in two parts on Margaret’s two daughters by a previous husband, both apparently called Margaret (?). But, in 1405, it was the husband of (the younger?) Margaret, Sir Peter Courtenay of Devon, who held the whole manor on behalf of Margaret. She passed it to her grandson, William, Lord Botreaux, and his heir was his daughter, another Margaret.
The manor then seems to have been subdivided and settled on several different people: a William Warbleton and his wife Margery; William's aunt, Elizabeth Syfrewast; and three of his cousins, Agnes Skulle, Margaret Breknok and Sybil Rykys, all Elizabeth's daughters. When William died in 1469, his heirs included a male cousin, but also his cousins Margaret Breknok and Sybil Rykys, and his second cousin William, son of Agnes Skulle. And it was this William to whom Russell Flexland descended. 
The history of this manor for some time after this is obscure, but it eventually fell into the hands of the William Dale of Soberton, whom we have met before, and at length the manor was sold to Thomas Wriothesley, the first Earl of Southampton (again!). 
The site of the manor is marked by Russell’s Farm, which apparently has its origins in the 13th century, and Russell’s Wood, in the east of the parish. It is extraordinary, in a way, that the manor continued to be called “Russell”, and that the farm maintained that name, despite the Russell family holding it for less than a century…

The remains of Soberton Mill © Author
From early times the Wayte family held the manor of Bere in the extreme west of the parish and to the north of the Forest of Bere. They held it from the bishop of Winchester, and it had a mill, later called Soberton Mill, which still has a turning wheel, though it is not a functioning mill.
In 1561, William Wayte, who owned extensive lands throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, died leaving six daughters and coheirs, Eleanor, Mary, Honor, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Susan, and, I presume, no son. The manor of Bere passed to Elizabeth, and from her to her son, Sir Richard Norton. When Richard died in 1612, Bere is referred to only as a “messuage” (a dwelling with its adjacent buildings and lands) rather than a manor, even though it included 100 acres of land, and it does seem that “manorial” rights, if Bere had them, had by this time lapsed.
The site of the manor is marked today by Bere Farm.

East Hoe
In the reign of Edward the Confessor, the crown manor of East Hoe was held by Ulward (or Wulfward) but, by the time of Domesday, it had become another of the many possessions of Hugh de Port. It continued with the de Ports until, in the 12th century, it passed to the Hoe family. 
In 1302 there is a record of another charming (and rather curious) form of rent, when half the manor was granted to a Roger Launcelevee and his wife Joan for the rent of one rose annually on the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th).
In the late 14th century, the lord of the manor of East Hoe was Sir Bernard Brocas, who was a prominent commander in the English army during Edward III’s French campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He was also a close friend of both the Black Prince and William of Wykeham, who became the bishop of Winchester. 
Bernard married an heiress, Mary des Roches, who brought him a residence at Roche Court (now a private school) near Fareham in Hampshire, though the Brocas’ main residence was Beaurepaire, also in Hampshire, and they owned another manor at Clewer Brocas in Berkshire. Presumably, then, Bernard didn’t spend much time, if any, in East Hoe. Apparently, he was a great patron of Southwick Priory, which is six or so miles to the south of East Hoe. The Priory was founded by Henry I in 1133 for Augustinian canons, originally within the walls of nearby Porchester Castle, although it had moved to Southwick by 1153. In 1385, Bernard granted his East Hoe manor to the Priory, in return for the canons praying daily for the benefit of the king, Richard II, of Bernard himself and his wife Katherine while they lived, and for their souls after death, and for the souls of the late king, Edward III, Mary des Roches, Bernard’s previous wife, and the parents and ancestors of Bernard and Mary.
East Hoe manor continued to be the property of Southwick until the Dissolution, when Henry VIII granted it to a Thomas Knight, and it continued in the Knight family until 1619.
A century later, East Hoe was sold to the same Thomas Lewis we have met before, lord of the chief manor of Soberton, and by this time the owner of nearly the whole parish.
The Victoria County History suggests that the site of East Hoe is marked by Hoegate Farm, but an East Hoe Manor still exists, which is presumably the actual site of the original manor. Hoegate Farm is about two miles to the south, closer to the putative manor of Huntbourn(e) (according to the lordship title indicated on the Manorial Counsel website), but which has no record in either Domesday or the History.

Finally, I am including mention of Bensted, despite it not being part of Soberton parish, because it sits on the boundary of Soberton – the River Meon – about a mile and a half from Soberton village, and its ownership as a manor includes many of the names we have already met: the bishop of Winchester, Hugh de Port, the Waytes, Richard Newport and (of course) Thomas Lewis…
My information about Bensted has come from a document written for the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, The manor of Bensted St Clair.
In the 10th century, the place was known as Bienestede, and was a possession of the bishop of Winchester. At Domesday, it was still in the bishop’s possession, but the manor was held, again, by Hugh de Port. Although there is scarcely any settlement now at this location, in 1086 it was a fairly significant estate. According to Domesday, the estate had six tenant households and six slave households, so perhaps 50 or so people. Interestingly, the manor was among a minority in Domesday where the demesne lands (the lands farmed for the lord's personal benefit) were much larger than tenants’ lands and, until the 16th century, the manor was worked almost entirely for the demesne.
Over time, Bienestede became the manor of Bensted St Clair, then Seyntcleres Court, and eventually St Clair’s Farm. The change of name came from the family of St Clair (or Seyntcler, Sencler, Sinklar, Sinkles – there are many variations), which held the manor from about 1160 until the end of the 14th century. It seems to have last been referred to as Bensted in 1558, after which the name disappeared.
What of those other Soberton people who had an interest in Bensted St Clair?
During the 14th century, associations grew between the St Clair family and the Waytes, from Bere manor, a short distance across and down the river, and it seems likely that the Waytes were tenants of the Bensted fulling-mill, shown as Sinkles Mill on Taylor's 1759 map. The mill was located a little over half a mile downstream from the manor house, here shown simply as Sinkles.
From the 1759 map of Hampshire by Isaac Taylor.
In 1450, Richard Newport, the then holder of the chief Soberton manor, was appointed firmarius (a sort of farm manager) of Bensted manor.
Finally, in the early 18th century, Thomas Lewis, by then the lord of almost the whole of Soberton parish, extended his holding still further by acquiring St Clair’s farm under a lease from the bishop of Winchester.
The manor of Bensted St Clair is marked today by St Clair’s (Sinkles) farmhouse, a 17th century building.

The picture I have drawn of Soberton's manors is not, perhaps, as lucid as I would like. I might of course obtain further clarification by reading more widely but, for now, I feel I have learned enough to sate my immediate curiosity. To get a fuller, clearer picture of the manorial structure of Soberton, I could explore other, contemporary, documents. The Victoria County History’s information is detailed but, as I have said, at times confusing. But to be honest I don’t need more, well, not right now. I wanted to gain a general picture of the shape of mediaeval Soberton, and perhaps to discover some of the people involved, and I’ve done that. I have learned, at any rate, that, by the early 18th century, after all that complicated toing and froing of ownership, one man – Thomas Lewis – held nearly all the manors in the parish. However, he died in 1736 and whether he passed his great holdings on to his heirs I haven't discovered.
But, to finish, a couple of thoughts occur to me about Soberton’s manors...
Firstly, I do wonder again – for I have mentioned it in previous posts – what the ordinary Soberton inhabitant made of all the toing and froing of ownership, or indeed whether it even affected them very much. I suspect “not much”, in either case. I imagine it was largely of little concern to them who their “lord” was. They probably just kept their heads down and got on with their work... I suppose, in many cases, tenants scarcely even knew who their lord was, especially if the lord was of the absentee variety. As far as tenants were concerned, their masters were the reeve and steward or bailiff, and their own lives were lived with little or no connection to the individual who actually benefited from their labours.
Secondly, there do seem to me to be quite a lot of manors here in Soberton within a relatively small area. I wonder to what extent they were successful economic units? Presumably they must have been reasonably lucrative otherwise wealthy men would not have been so eager to acquire them. But what I also suspect is that the Soberton manors were, for many of the owners, not their main, or even a major, source of income. To what extent the owners, especially those higher up in the social hierarchy, spent any time in their little Soberton manors is anybody’s guess. One suspects that the answer is, not much!
Although I do like to think that perhaps Thomas Lewis might have been the exception… 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Eunuch That Would Be Empress by L.J. Trafford

The list of the crimes of Nero runs something like this: He had his first wife executed, he had his mother executed, he kicked his pregnant second wife to death , he castrated a boy and made him to pretend to be his dead wife, he cheated in the Olympics, he allegedly fiddled whilst Rome burned, he was responsible for the first persecution of the Christians.

I want to look at just one of these in detail. I want to look at the castrated boy made to dress as Nero's deceased wife. His name was Sporus.

In 65AD Nero fell into an argument with his wife Poppaea Sabina, in a fit of anger he kicked her in the stomach. She was heavily pregnant at the time and this moment of temper killed her. There were naturally rumours that Poppaea's death was suspicious, she was said to have been poisoned. Nero had ordered his mother Agrippina to be killed, he was surely capable of anything. 

Tacitus, surprisingly for he accounts all other crimes to Nero and sees nothing in the way of positive traits in the emperor, takes issue with this. He does not believe it ,"For Nero wanted children and he loved his wife"

Nero was absolutely devastated by Poppea's death. She was not cremated , as was standard in Rome, but rather embalmed with spices. Her widower spoke at her state funeral, praising her looks and virtues.
And here enters Sporus, or rather here enters a boy that will be known as Sporus.

The Replacement

Bust said to be of Poppaea who Sporus
greatly resembled
Cassius Dio tells us: 

"Nero missed her so greatly after her death that on learning of a woman who resembled her he at first sent for her and kept her; but later he caused a boy of the freedmen, whom he used to call Sporus, to be castrated, since he, too, resembled Sabina, and he used him in every way like a wife."

Sporus was handed over to Calvia Crispinilla, Nero's mistress of the wardrobe, who took care of the boy and was responsible for turning him into an Empress. 

 "He actually wore his hair parted, young women attended him whenever he went for a walk, he wore women's clothes and was forced to do everything else a woman does in the same way." 
Dio of Prusa

This was no private hobby.
“ This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the assizes and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images,fondly kissing him from time to time. “

Sporus even accompanied Nero on his tour of Greece where:
 “He married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife.” 


But what are we the modern audience to make of this? What is Sporus to Nero? 
Does Nero truly believe Sporus is his dead wife, Poppaea? Is Sporus’ role to keep Nero’s grief at bay by the pretence that Poppaea isn’t dead?

I rather doubt this. Nero wasn’t so wrapped up in grief that he couldn’t see the imperative of remarrying and producing a much needed heir. Shortly after Poppaea's demise he took Statilia Messalina as be his third wife. Indeed she appears on the coinage with her husband, the emperor. Nero was certainly aware that Poppaea was dead. He was not deluded into thinking Sporus actually was Poppaea.
So let’s go back to our question: what was Sporus to Nero? 

The Actress
Coin of Nero and Poppaea

One important point to note is that Sporus was the name Nero gave to the boy.
Sporus in Greek translates as seed /semen or if we take it coarser, spunk. Nero castrates a boy and then names him spunk. How cruelly apt and one that begs the question, was it a joke? Is castrating a boy, dressing him up as your dead wife and parading him round the city Nero’s idea of fun?

There’s a certain theatrical element here that is very Nero; the dressing up, the extravagant public kisses, the wedding.
This wasn’t Nero first ‘unofficial’ wedding. There’s been a previous one to his freedman Doryphorus. Only this time Nero had been the bride not the groom

“He was even married to this man in the same way that he himself had married Sporus, going so far as to imitate the cries and lamentations of a maiden being “ 

This puts the Sporus wedding in another light. A bit of play acting?
It seems likely. Nowhere in any of the accounts of Sporus does it state that Nero loved him. Early in his reign Nero had fallen deeply in love with a freedwomen named Acte. So much so that:

"He all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth." 
Forbidden by the differences in their class from marrying Nero here is desperately trying to make it legitimate. There is no such attempt in the marriage to Sporus.
This is a faux wedding, a faux marriage.
A bit of sexual role play?

A rather odd scenario described by Suetonius suggests that Nero had incorporated dressing up and role play into his pleasures:

“He at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freedman Doryphorus” 

“Dispatched” in this case has a double meaning. This appears to be some sort of role play based on the beast hunts of the arena. The participants being Nero's household slaves and freedmen. Note again Doryphorus is present, Nero’s ‘husband’.

Sporus to Nero was part of an act, an elaborate play with defined roles. Sporus the bride. Nero the husband.
Interestingly both Richard Holland and Edward Champlin in their biographies of Nero are doubtful on whether the relationship between Nero and Sporus was sexual.

Holland states:
"The Emperor may only ever have pretended to have sex with his Poppaea-substitute as part of the protocol sustaining the fantasy." 

Note that in the wedding to Doryphorus Nero 'imitated' the noises of a maiden being flowered. However the wild beast scenario very definitely involves actual consummation, Nero's lusts are said to be sated. 

The Eunuch's Tale

In 68AD Nero's fantasy world came crashing down. A revolt in Gaul had rapidly spread. Galba had been named emperor. Nero was declared an enemy of the state. On the morning of 9th June Nero awoke to find the palace empty. His praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus had convinced his private body guard to desert. Nero fled the city, with him went two of his freedmen and Sporus. They holed up in a villa outside the city, here Nero "would beg Sporus to begin to lament and wail, and now entreat someone to help him take his life by setting him the example" Suetonius
Sporus did not set the example. Nero stabbed himself in the throat, aided by his freedman, the artist was dead.
Emperor Otho, another of Sporus' conquests

What did Nero's death mean for Sporus?
Apparently business as normal, for he pops up almost instantly in the company of Nymphidius Sabinus, the Prefect who had aided Nero's overthrow.

"Whom he had sent for at once, while Nero's body was yet burning on its pyre, and treated as his consort, and addressed by the name of Poppaea), he aspired to the succession of the empire. " 

And then after Sabinus meets a sticky end there is a short pause and here new emperor Otho is described as having 'intimacy with Sporus' Cassius Dio.

There's somewhat of a profession empress air about this. We've been asking what was Sporus to Nero? We've examined what Nero might have felt about the eunuch. At no point have we asked what Sporus' view was. 
 That Sporus pops up twice later playing exactly the same role suggests that either he was irresistibly gorgeous to both Sabinus and Otho or maybe just maybe he offered himself as 'Empress'. 
Perhaps even if Nero didn't truly buy the fantasy of his reborn Poppaea, Sporus did. When Nero was forced to flee, maybe Sporus accompanied him as a dutiful wife.

After Otho's death in the spring of 69AD Vitellius became emperor. He did not require an empress. He had quite different plans for Sporus.

"It was proposed that Sporus should be brought on to the stage in the rĂ´le of a maiden being ravished" Cassius Dio.

If Sporus was purely the play thing in a succession of emperor's fantasies wouldn't we expect him to play along with this? He'd participated in his public marriage to Nero. He'd paraded about on the arm of Nymphidius Sabinus. But Sporus doesn't. Tragically this is what happens

"He would not endure the shame and committed suicide beforehand." 
Cassius Dio

Was this the final escape for a much abused slave? Or was it to do with the role itself, one as a maiden and not the Empress Sporus felt himself to be? 

There are a lot of perhapses and maybes here. We shall never truly know exactly what role Sporus performed for Nero and others. We shall never know how he felt about this performance. Was he sadly abused slave who could take it no longer or was he the lowly born eunuch enjoying his moment in the light of the distinctly glamorous palace life?

What we do know is that he was, for a brief but wondrous period, Empress in name.

L.J. Trafford is the author of the Four Emperors series of books that features Nero and Sporus. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ravilious & Co. The Pattern of Friendship: English Artist Designers 1922 - 1942 - Celia Rees

Eric Ravilious - The Greenhouse:Cyclemen and Tomatoes
This beautifully curated exhibition at Compton Verney Museum and Art Gallery chronicles the collaborations and significant relationships, personal and professional, between Eric Ravilious (1903 – 1942) and various other artist-designers: friends, mentors, wives, lovers. The group included Paul Nash, John Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Eileen ‘Tirzah’ Garwood, Thomas Hennell, Douglas Percy Bliss, Peggy Angus, Helen Binyon, Diana Low and Edward Bawden. Many of them were at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, a group of exceptional students that Paul Nash termed 'an outbreak of talent'. It's good to see the work of so many women artists exhibited here and given equal space to their male compatriots.The exhibition brings together nearly 500 works (many rarely shown). The paintings, prints, drawings, engravings, books, ceramics, wallpapers, and textiles highlight significant moments in the artists’ lives and work and also demonstrate the deep influence this group of artists had on British Art and their profound impact on Art and Design in the 1930s and 1940s and beyond. A previous exhibition at Compton Verney Britain in the Fifties - Design and Aspiration served to demonstrate just how pervasive their influence was. 
Enid Marx moquette design for London Underground
Eric Ravilious - Wedgwood Pottery Mug
Ravilious and his friends, with their teacher and mentor John Nash, believed that an artist could turn his or her hand to anything and their mission was to bring Art out of the Fine Art Gallery and into the lives of ordinary people through applied design. Quite apart from this lofty ambition, an artist had to earn a living. It made sense, therefore, to seek design work from various sources. The group were very successful. Their patterning, pastel colours and precision of line, their distinctive style of wood and copper engraving and lithography evoke a particular time so exactly that it has become that time. For us, it is the essence of nostalgia but in the 1930s and 40s, it was cutting edge modern. Their influence extended well into the 1950s and 1960s. Through applied design, their work became all pervasive, even ubiquitous. It could be seen at railway and tube stations, on advertising  hoardings and film posters, the walls of people's homes, the fabrics they wore, the furniture they sat on, the plates they ate from, the magazines and books that they read as they travelled, even the seating of their underground train. 
Eric Ravilious - Child's Handkerchief
Wisden - Eric Ravilous 
Eric Ravilious - The Windstorm 1931

Enid Marx - paper design

Everyman Books - Ravilious cover design

Edward Bawden - book cover

Their work is particularly powerfully present in book design. The Bookshop installation in the exhibition demonstrates the wide and far reaching influence these artists had on book production. Their hand can be seen everywhere: in covers and cover design, bookplates, endpapers, lettering, bordering and illustrations. Instantly recognisable, even if we cannot name the artist, and fiercely nostalgic. As my writer friend and companion Linda Newbery pointed out, we grew up with them. Art work so timeless and unequalled that it is still being used today.  
Edward Bawden - Film Poster

It is impossible to do justice to such a wide-ranging and comprehensive exhibition here. These artists concerned themselves with far more than art and design. They were committed to enhancing the lives of ordinary working people, bringing beauty and culture to them, rather than confining it to an art gallery. Many of the artists contributed original lithographs to the School Prints, a scheme designed to bring art into every classroom in the country and a whole section of the exhibition is devoted to the Morley Murals created by Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden to adorn the walls of the canteen of Waterloo's Morley College for Working Men and Women. Sadly, their work was lost during the war. A grainy, black and white film and their sketches and drawings show us what a loss that was. 

The emphasis is not just on design, there are plenty of paintings on display. Principally those of Ravilious and Bawden, perhaps the best known of the group, but also their friends and associates. The paintings of Eric Ravilious are distinctive and hugely evocative. One can almost smell the tomatoes in The Greenhouse:Cyclemen and Tomatoes, the painting on the poster for the exhibition. Through his unique painting style, his use of pattern, texture, his palette of muted greens, greys and browns he made the landscape of Sussex, 'his own country', as particular and individual as Suerat's Paris or Van Gogh's Provence. To us, his paintings seem nostalgic, pastoral records of a lost rural past. But this is deceptive. This is no rural idyll. A Steam train puffs through the timeless landscape of the Downs. The same view is seen from the interior of a railway carriage, perhaps in the same train that is steaming past. 

Eric Ravilious - Westbury Horse 
Eric Ravilious - Train Landscape

A roller stands in the foreground of the cold, stark beauty of a winter landscape. A reminder that an agricultural labourer would be working in that cold all day.

Eric Ravilious - Downs in Winter

Eric Ravilious Hurricane in Flight
Eric Ravilious - Drift Boat
The Second World War cut across all their lives. Like their mentors, the Nash brothers, Ravilious and Bawden became War Artists. The patchwork of the British countryside was now viewed from the inside of a plane. A south coast beach is covered in snarls of barbed wire, the sea cut off from the land by coastal defences. Eric Ravilious was assigned to the Admiralty. In 1940 he was posted to Norway and swapped his muted greens and browns for the blues, whites, greys and black of the Arctic seas.  

H.M.S. Glorious

In 1942, he requested a transfer to the RAF. On 28 August he flew to Iceland to join a base outside Reykjavik. The day he arrived a Hudson aircraft had failed to return from a patrol. The next morning, three planes were despatched to search for the missing plane. Ravilious opted to join one of the crews. His plane failed to return. The log book recording him as missing is on display here, his name poignantly mis-spelt.  Four days later he was declared lost in action. One of the brightest talents in British Art had disappeared into the sea.
Celia Rees