Making the medieval grade

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Speakers at the Conference, (l to r) Dr Anne Sutton, Mrs Angela Clark, Dr Jessica Lutkin, Prof Chris Woolgar, Dr Dan Spencer and Prof Michael Hicks.

Rye’s sixth Medieval Conference on Saturday, October 22 proved once again a success in the eyes of participants and a boon to the town too, bringing visitors not only from around the UK (seven came from Dundee) but from as far away as Turkey.

Organised by Rye Castle Museum, co-sponsored by Rye Academy Trust and held at the Milligan Theatre, Rye College, the conference theme this year was Conspicuous Consumption and Display in Late Medieval EnglandDr Michael Hicks of the University of Winchester organised the programme of illustrated talks by six distinguished academics on a range of topics which stimulated comparisons with life today – including politics and equality issues.

Seraph in a jumpsuit
Seraph in a jumpsuit

No longer does income determine not only rank but also the fabric and style of what must be worn (for instance. if your wealth qualifies you as a Duke you should wear cloth of gold to prove it, lest you be demoted). Nor at a dinner does food have to match the diner’s social status as it did in medieval times. (Most people felt fortunate to have anything to eat at all.) Buying spiritual privileges to gain remission of sins and a quicker access to heaven is no longer a way to keep up with the Joneses, nor does one flaunt aristocratic heritage by building a castle (though the wearing of jewels may be another matter).

There was attention to how we know as much as we do about medieval times – and plenty of illustration. We saw evidence of fashion changes and adaptations to building styles and the move from burials with no indication of who lay below, to large tombs featuring coats of arms. And there was plenty of humour too. One speaker showed art of the period featuring “angels in jumpsuits” and proof that, unlike the elite portrayed around him, “Our Lord was not a snappy dresser”.

Most of more than 70 participants spent several days in Rye, exploring the town – including the Ypres Tower of course – as well as nearby attractions, and the museum is now receiving feedback that they will be recommending Rye to friends and colleagues as a “must” place to visit because of its history, buildings, atmosphere and welcoming inhabitants.

 

 

Photos: Ray Prewer

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