Magnificence: And Princely Splendour in the Middle Ages

My cousin Richard Barber has just written a wonderful book entitled "Magnificence" about princely splendour in the Middle Ages. So taken was I by the book, that I sent a copy to each of my team at the start of lockdown. They were captivated and so we decided to put together a review to share with you.

Richard writes knowledgeably in the beautifully illustrated book he created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publishing firm he set up: Boydell and Brewer. Last year, with the book nearing completion, he asked me to make him a brooch inspired on the Founder's Jewel given by William of Wykeham to New College Oxford and we had great fun working on it together, with gold, pearls and coloured enamels finishing it just in time for launch.

Magnificence is a term rarely used nowadays (nor was it much used before the 13th century), it comes from the Greek idea that magnificence was not an option but a virtue and a royal duty. The gold and silversmiths of the day had some wondrous years ahead of them secured by their patrons. The feasts were frequent, lavish, endless and of course Magnificent. So, just for a moment stop, and imagine organising a feast or a ceremony in medieval Europe.

How to find the best goldsmith, seamstress, cook, performer, musician, tournament organiser... and all without the internet? This book describes how it was done.

And now, having set the scene, you will see that this age really was Magnificent in every way.

To order a copy : or more information and sample pages

and for a 10% discount enter code "bb110" at checkout.

Read on for the review by Cassandra's team of Magnificence...

The nature and status of kingship was elusive and difficult to define between the 5th and 9th centuries, but Barber delves into some ideas of what it meant to be a medieval king. The king's coronation was intended to make him a unique figure, and it even led to the idea that he had special powers, enabling a rightful king to cure scrofula (known as the king's evil), by touching the victim.

The Culture of Kingship Chapter 3

Opulent palaces and royal churches became physical representations of a king or prince's wealth and status; each building characterised as royal property by their internal and external grandeur in design and decoration. Using palaces from 13th century medieval Sicily (Palermo), Paris and London as his principal examples, Barber describes in detail the sheer lavishness of these buildings, relaying details of the mosaics, stained-glass windows, banquet halls and, perhaps most importantly, the Holy relic filled chapels and churches. Unsurprisingly, Richard and Cassandra spent hours together when she was designing her Bella Sicilia collection.

The Image and Person of the Prince Chapter 5

The image of the prince was something that only the close associates of the prince knew about before the sixteenth century, as for most people their ruler would have been irrelevant to them. Barber explains to us all about the Prince's magnificent appearance from his fashion, crowns and armour, to the gold and jewels of the highest quality that were restricted for use by the royal family and its entourage only.

The Prince’s Entourage Chapter 7

Magnificence wouldn't be anything without the physical aspect, this is of course how they showed off to the rest of world, their version of peacocking if you will! This was achieved through the décor, entourage, court, liveries, quality of musicians and artists and of course the Prince or King's appearance.

Magnificence on Display Chapter 10

The medieval kings, queens, princes and princesses undertook extravagant processions. Barber describes one particular procession in London where King Richard II, aged only 10, paraded around London on a huge war horse, the fountains spouted wine for hours for the people to drink and beautiful women dressed in white threw gold coins in front of the young king. At the post-coronation procession through Paris, were mermaids, angels, a ship full of sailors carrying hearts that released doves into the sky, and a giant lily whose buds and flowers spouted out milk and wine for the crowds. All truly magnificent!

Magnificent Ceremonies and Festivals Chapter 11

Interestingly, knighting became a festive occasion from the twelfth century onwards. The knighting of Albert I of Brunswick in 1254 was quite an affair with expenses beyond all measure. Luxuries bought from Venice, such as purple cloths and silks, have not been paid for to this day. The knighting of Edward II was also extraordinary. Short of knights to lead an army, Edward offered to pay for the war equipment as an incentive to be a knight. The response was outstanding, there was not enough room at the palace in Westminster so they had to cut down the apple trees near the Temple headquarters so the knights could pitch their tents.

Magnificent Extravagances Chapter 12

In Middle Ages the food was entertainment. The feasts provided magic and wonderment and, of course, reflected power and wealth. The harps were playing, the courses were endless and the partridges were gilded. However, nothing sounds as delicious or theatrical as the gilded dishes with ' helmeted cocks' who, as Barber describes, were made to ride on the back of roast pigs: the cocks were roasted and given a helmet of glued paper and a lance attached to their breast.

Financing Chapter 14

Imagine the cost of all the aspects of Magnificence! Barber delves into the financing of their clothes, rare exotic items and jewels to say the least… Just think the coronation of Philip V in 1317 came to a sum of 8,548 livres. Putting this into context only 70 years later the monthly expenditure for the entire household of the royal family was 10,000 livres.

Happy reading!

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