Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Necromantic University of King Bladud

The following appeared in the publication Portae Antiquis, the (now defunct) journal of the Bartholdy Institute. The article, in its original form, was written as a precursor to an upcoming publication by the author, and Bartholdy fellow, Professor Linda Franklin. Following her achievements at bringing to light the curious history 17th century polymath Arthur Hazyard, she now set her sights on the wider spheres of Early Modern mythmaking, and made her focus the legendary pre-Roman king Bladud. Her work was to be entitled The Necromantic University: King Bladud and the Stamford Heresy, and in anticipation, her colleague, Dr Henry Pope wrote the following article. The book was never published, for reasons known only to Franklin and her close colleagues and the Franklin estate. We may have some idea, however, of what the work would encompass from Dr Pope's article, which we have acquired permission to replicate in full.


Bladud, Overlooking the King's Bath, c.1700

As certain accounts would have it, Bladud was a Celtic king who ruled over the British isles for a period of around twenty years in the 6th Century BCE. He was the tenth king of Britain succeeding its mythical founder, Brutus. Reigning in a time of murky pre-history long before the coming the Romans, his only records survived through oral traditions and scattered legends. His name would only enter print many centuries later, in the writings of Medieval chroniclers. If accounts are to be believe (as they seldom are) his list of achievements is as impressive as it is implausible. He is said to have studied and promoted the practice of Necromancy throughout the kingdom, founded the city of Bath, and used his Necromantic skills to create its famous hot springs which give the city its name. Other accounts hold that he survived a bout of plague whilst working as an Attic swineherd, created the first openly heretical university in Britain (founded on a site at Stamford in Lincolnshire), and met a grisly end mirroring that of Icarus whilst attempting to fly on a pair of artificial wings.

While the manner of his death is perhaps the most dramatic element of the Bladud legend, it nonetheless another aspect of his reign which this article concerns: the university. Bladud's first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, from which we get many of the earliest stories of such notables as King Arthur, and King Leir (Bladud's son and successor). Bladud's entry is a very brief one, and reads as follows:

Bladud's first appearance in literature occurs in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 chronicle Historia Regum Brittaniae, from which we also get many of the earliest stories of such notables as King Arthur, and King Leir. Though it likely had its basis in some (now lost) folk tales, Monmouth cites 'an ancient book written in the British tongue' as his only source, of which his book is ostensibly a translation into Latin. This book is never named, but is thought to be a cover for his own literary inventions. When it comes to king Bladud, Monmouth's entry is so short it is worth relating in full:

Next succeeded Bladud, his son, and reigned twenty years. He built Kaerbadus, now Bath, and made hot baths in it for the benefit of the public, which he dedicated to the goddess Minerva; in whose temple he kept fires that never went out nor consumed to ashes, but as soon as they began to decay were turned into balls of stone. About this time the prophet Elias prayed that it might not rain upon earth; and it did not rain for three years and six months. This prince was a very ingenious man, and taught necromancy in his kingdom, nor did he leave off pursuing his magical operations, till he attempted to fly to the upper region of the air with wings which he had prepared, and fell upon the temple of Apollo, in the city of Trinovantum, where he was dashed to pieces.

Thus, while it is clear from the outset that Bladud was recognised for his tendencies towards necromancy, no mention is made of a university. This episode in his reign would not to enter the legend until the 15th Century, appearing in Hardyng's Chronicle of 1457. As with Monmouth, Hardyng's entry on Bladud is sparing in detail. Consisting of only three verses, it nonetheless contains the key elements of the Bladud legend upon which later sources would elaborate. Regarding the university, it states:

The title page to the 1544 edition
of Hardyng's Chronicle
[...]When at Athenes he had studied clere,
He brought with hym. iiii. philosophiers wise,

Schole to holde in Brytayne and exercyse.

Sta[m]forde he made y Sa[m]forde hight this daye,
In whiche he made an vniuersitee,
His philosophiers, as Merlyn doth saye,
Had scolers fele of greate habilitee,
Studyng euer alwaye in vnitee,
In all the seuen liberall science,

For to purchace wysedome and sapience.

Many have cited this as an outright invention on the part of Hardyng, following much in the tradition of Monmouth himself, yet there are some who doubt that the origins of this university should be dismissed as mere fiction. Some believe Hardyng to be extrapolating from the materials in the Historia, believing that to 'teach necromancy' (as Monmouth describes) would necessitate a university in which to teach. In similar fashion, some believe that it is Bladud's temples to Apollo and Minerva which form the basis of this supposed university. Both were deities associated with wisdom, and the study of art and philosophy. Thus, it is easy to imagine that buildings dedicated to their worship would also serve some kind of didactic function. Nevertheless, in the fractious and violent world of pre-Roman Britain, the idea of a functioning university, of the sort then existing in the Hellenic world, seems to many an improbable notion.
Temple to Apollo (replica) at Stourbridge

There exists, however, a second and more radical theory behind the legend of Bladud's Necromantic University. Ironically, it is perhaps this which possesses the greatest grounding in actual history. It is not Monmouth, but Julius Caesar from which this theory his its origins. In his treatise on the Gauls, Caesar devotes considerable time to exploring the religious practices of the Druids. These he identifies as a distinct class within themselves, a kind of Gallic intelligentsia, with an established system of teaching and practive. He goes on to state:

This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.

Evidence from other sources would, in time, also point to Caesar as the source of this vniuersitee. A line appears in Higgins' Mirour of Magistrates (written nearly a century after Hardyng's Chronicle), which describes the founding of Bladud's university in strikingly similar terms to Caesar's description of the druids:

By this, of skilful men the land had store,
and all the arts were read in Britayne well:
No countrey was for learning praysed more.
Abroad, the world began of vs tell.
From other nations hither came to dwell
The wisest wits, commending vs, extolling vs to the skyes:
They says wee were a people stout, and learned grave, and wise.

Given these similarities, and the probable access both Hardyng and Higgins would have had to the writings of Caesar, it is tempting to interpret this as its origin. Representing the distant past in a manner stylistically and ideologically consistent with the present day is a familiar pattern in much of Monmouth's historical writing. To take something as vague as the notion of Britain as an international centre for Druidic teaching, and pointing to it as evidence for an active university (whose teachings were equal to its contemporaries in Athens) is therefore not an unprecedented move. Later sections of the book would also indicate that Monmouth was familiar with Caesar's writing, drawing on it for his later sections about the Roman invasion of Britain.

Whatever its ultimate origin, it is likely that in the intellectual climate of humanist thinking in the nascent English Renaissance, the idea of an ancient university in Britain was too appealing to discount as mere fantasy. Nevertheless, Hardyng's description of this necromantic university would not end with the death of its founder. From here, the legend of the university at Stamford would take a rather peculiar turn, and theories surrounding the university's inception begin to fall into doubt.

St Augustine of Canterbury

In Hardyng's preamble to his section on Bladud, he describes how the university '[en]dured to the comyng of Saynt Augustyne; and the byshoppe of Roome enterdited it for heresyes that fell emong the Saxones and the Britons mixte.' Saint Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with his North African namesake) was the papal representative charged with converting Britain to Christianity in the late 6th Century. Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People describes how Augustine, on coming to Britain, waged a campaign to suppress magic and heretical practices throughout the kingdom. For Hardying to attribute Augustine with the final suppression of the university would allow it a period of over a thousand years in which to exist. During this time, it would presumably function unimpeded despite two major invasions and periods of massive social upheaval. This represents a notable absence, and an understandable strain on the sources. For while the university was founded at a time when Britain was largely pre-literate, Augustine would have brought with him a rigorous system of record keeping and bureaucracy, which could hardly have overlooked something so momentous as a university being suppressed for heresyes.

Further confusion arises later in the text, where Hardyng himself obliquely refers to continued study going on at Stamford as late as 882CE, with the convocation of Oxford (moving its actual establishment back over two centuries, placing it in the reign of King Alfred).

Stamford, Lincolnshire as it appears today.
It is these, and other questions, which has motivated Bartholdy Institute fellow, Professor Linda Franklin, to place herself at the forefront of the renewed interested in Bladud Studies taking place amongst scholars of the late middle ages. In her forthcoming book, The Necromantic University: King Bladud and the Stamford Heresy, she considers, among other things, the medieval distinction of magic from philosophy and its role in the Bladud legend, the latent Zoroastrian influences in descriptions of Bladud's Eternal Fires at Bath, and the legacy of the Daedalus myth in the middle ages.

Her accomplishments have, however, been made possible from the researches of her predecessor, the late Professor Gibson, and his two major discoveries. The first of these, found within a collection of documents known as The Lincolnshire Hoard: a collection of manuscripts believed to have belonged to John Hardyng. Dating to some time around 1455, these appear to have been notes and drafts made by Hardyng during the composition of his Chronicle. These appear to have been written when the Wars of the Roses were at their height, and Hardyng was struggling to find a patron in the febrile political climate of the time. Thus, it is telling that much of that which was discarded from later drafts was openly critical of more recent political figures. But it is two passages, relating to much earlier sections of the manuscript, which are of more acute interest.

The first is a marginal note, which appears to come from the section prior to the coming of Arthur. The scene in particular describes King Vortigern as he enlists the aid of the young Merlin in order to solve the problems besetting the construction of his famous fortress at Tintagel. The note reads, simply:

...when failed by the advice, granted to him to the scholares of Stamforde at theyr schoole, Vortigern accepts the helpe of the younge Merlyn. 

Merlin's Cave beneath the ruins of Tintagel, supposed
site of his vision of the two dragons, as set down in
Monmouth's Historia Regum Brittaniae, Book VII

Two rather improbable details in this passage in particular serve to provoke curiosity. Not only is the university given explicit mention (and presented as a source of mystical learning second only to the wisdom of the prodigious Merlin), but is referred to in the context of events taking place in west Cornwall, many miles from the town of Stamford, which was itself then under Saxon occupation. It is reasonable to believe that this advice to which Hardyng refers was gained at a much earlier time, or that scholars, forced out of the town by the Saxon invaders, fled to Vortigern's banner for protection (though the description of being 'at theyr schole' raises further doubts). Nevertheless, the second of Professor Gibson's discoveries, though raising questions of its own, provides a possible explanation to this geographical quandary. Rather than a note, this appears to have been a full verse, excised from later editions. From what can be deduced, it seems to expand upon the description given to Bladud's university at Stamford:

His schole, withoute fundaments decreed, and was ycleped,
by wheeles of wode and iron, made to move.
By toweres four, and golden winges beset
to transport wisedome thence, was behove.
A banere there was overhung
which rede 'Stamfordensis Collegium'
whose fame is such, and known in partes
by practicers of auncient and Aegyptick artes

As well as marking a significant departure from the metre, it carries with it a wellspring ofpossible evidence, and even greater speculation. If even one part is to be believed (and if one discounts the obvious problems faced by iron age engineering), then its description of a moving university accounts for the absence of any architectural evidence for any major pre-Roman structures around Stamford. Yet stranger still are the similarities between the 'Stamfordensis Collegium' of Hardyng's account, and the Temple of the Rose Cross: the great moving tower in which was embodied the Rosicrucian Enlightenment in the engravings of Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens.

It would take Professor Gibson a full three months before he made his findings public, during which time he consulted numerous colleagues and specialists across different disciplines of history, archaeology, and art. Perhaps anticipating the frenzied outpourings of conspiracy theorists and new age devotees, when the time came to publish he would downplay their remarkable implications as much evidence would permit. He asserted that, in light of the absence of textual evidence prior to his Chronicle, the university and its moving structure was wholly Hardyng's creation, and emphasised that this spirit of invention, embellishment, and allegory was a trend which began with Monmouth himself. He further postulates that, far from being suppressed, a version of the Chronicle containing this and other strange occult elements (of which only his sections on Merlin remain) enjoyed a quiet circulation amongst friends and like-minded scholars as something of a private joke.

It was while operating under this understanding that Gibson would make his final discovery. This document, found stuck to the lining of the case which held the Lincolnshire Hoard on its discovery, and bearing no explicit title, has come to be known as the Black Convocation. Though only a fragment, it contains the introduction to what appears to be the commencement meeting for the beginning of the academic year at Bladud's fabled moving college. Little of what we currently know can shed light on its contents beyond what is apparent from the text. The names appear to consist primarily of pseudonyms, and details about their location remain steadfastly vague. Nothing is verifiable except the identity of its apparent author. It is written in the same execrable handwriting as Hardyng's discarded verses, and appears to list Hardyng himself among those present, whom it lists as Secretariat and Master of Poesie. A transcript of the surviving text reads as follows:

Heere Commenceth the 23098th Convocation of the Collegivm Stamfordiensis
Whose Proceedings are by Giga-Deacon Gualterius Cambysis
(Beneathe the Towere, brought hence from Ffrance)
Annovnced, in this yeere
Anno Domini 1462


Archdeacon - Cecil Canescentis
Megadeacon - Stephanus Galtis
Gigadeacon – Gualterius Cambysis
Lord Henricius Belisarius – Librarian at Large
Margrave Philip Caesteleir - Treasurer
Sir. Iohannes Hardynge – Secretariat and Master of Poesie
Dr. Walter hazyard – Master of Plantes
Papal representative Guido Veniando
Benjamin Tetragrammatus - Magister Kabbalis
Dr. Rogeris Bohemiensis – Master of Physick
Anti-papal representative Fransciscus Ravenniensis
Dr. Hieronymous Bastwicke – Master of Arcane Tongues

And various other notable personnes
Hymn: Bladud Ascendens
-Advocatio: Master of Arcane Tongues, Hieronymous, presents arguments towards the university in lending support to King Edward IV against the disgraced King Henry of Lancaster.
-Advocatio: Librarian Belisarius presents arguments towards the university in lending support to the rightful King Henry VI against the false pretender, King Edward.
Dissertatio: Gigadeacon Cambysis reports vpon the exhumation at Prague, taking place on the kalends of February that yeere.
Hymn: Scientia in Tenibris...

End of extant manuscript.

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