Sunday, 28 February 2016

Charlemagne and Rome: Alcuin's epitaph for Pope Hadrian I in St Peter's Old and New (Thursday 24 March)

When the Roman Pope Hadrian I died on Christmas Day 795 Charlemagne, then King of the Franks and King of Italy, commissioned a monumental stone epitaph to adorn the pope's tomb. The epitaph was composed by Alcuin of York, English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher, a respected member of the Carolingian court. The monument was made in Francia and taken to the fourth-century St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

In 1505 Pope Julius II decided that the ancient basilica should be demolished and replaced with the grandest building in Christendom. The first designs for the new St Peter's were those of Donato Bramante. Progress was very slow. Other architects became involved. In the mid sixteenth century Pope Paul III coerced Michelangelo to become the superintendent of the building programme. The St Peter's we see today is largely his design. Very little survives of the first St Peter's, but on the west wall of the Portico, to the left of the central door, a visitor may see Charlemagne's epitaph for Pope Hadrian.

Our lecture on 24 March will be given by Joanna Story, Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester. Professor Story's main research interests focus on Anglo-Saxon England, Carolingian Francia and Italy, especially Rome, in the period from roughly AD 600 to 900. Her well-illustrated lecture will tell the story of Charlemagne and Alcuin's epitaph for Pope Hadrian, why it was made and why it survived. It will reveal much about the cultural politics of Renaissance Rome in the grip of Reformation and Counter-Reformation and about the network of connections that had bound Anglo-Saxon England and Carolingian Francia to Rome and the Cult of St Peter eight centuries earlier.

Mike Short

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Admiral's Wife: Family, Navy and Nation in the Life of Elizabeth Wynne Fremantle (Thursday 25 February) and three new visits

Our February lecture is to be given by Elaine Chalus, Professor in British History at Bath Spa University. Professor Chalus's primary research interests are in English political and social history in the long eighteenth century. Her current research project focuses on the diaries of Elizabeth Wynne Fremantle (1778-1857) and the correspondence of the larger Fremantle family.

Elizabeth Wynne Fremantle, known to her family as Betsey, was the main author of the extensive Wynne Diaries and the wife of the Royal Navy officer Thomas Fremantle, a close associate of Nelson.

Betsey Wynne's rakish father became a friend of Casanova. He got into financial difficulties, sold his Lincolnshire estate and took his family abroad. When Betsey was 18 the Wynne family had to be rescued from Livorno during the French invasion of Italy. Soon afterwards Betsey married the family's rescuer Thomas Fremantle in the home in Naples of the British envoy Sir William Hamilton and his wife Emma.

Thomas became Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle, first Baron Fremantle, and a close personal friend of Lord Nelson. Betsey and Thomas's children included the politician the first Baron Cottesloe, a Royal Navy officer after whom the city of Fremantle in Western Australia is named, and an Anglican Dean of Ripon.

The Wynne Diaries provide a vivid account of a well-connected English family abroad, mainly in Germany and Italy, in the last years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth. Thomas was frequently absent at sea. Betsey's letters detail the challenges of raising their growing family without him as well as her thoughts on the Nelson-Hamilton scandal and other matters.

Three visits

There will be a members' visit to Bath Record Office on Thursday 17 March (a change of date from that given earlier) in the evening. Details are available from me ( or 01225 812945).

Two afternoon visits for members have been organised to Mells Manor (home of the Asquith family) and St Andrew's Church, Mells, on Thursday 26 May and to Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester, on Thursday 23 June. Details of the visits and application forms will be sent to members in March.

Mike Short