Night Office in 15th-Century Oxford

A re-enactment of a forgotten liturgy for St Thomas Becket

When: Tuesday 6 June at 9 pm
Where: New College Chapel

Free entry. All welcome!

The service has been prepared specially by Dr Henry Parkes (University of Nottingham), currently Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Library. His research project ‘Music in the Shadows: Staging the Medieval Night Office’ explores the cultural history of Christian night worship through a mixture of archival, performance-led and ethnographic research.

Many Oxford colleges preserve the late evening office of Compline, once sung daily. But in medieval times there was a much more substantial service to follow, known as Nocturns, Vigils, or the Night Office.

New College Choir will enact a short-form Night Office as it might have been known in 15th-century Oxford, to explore how this now- forgotten liturgy worked in performance. In southern England from the late 14th century on, Tuesdays were commonly given over to the veneration of St Thomas Becket. This service recreates a ‘commemorative’ Tuesday Becket office, as precribed in late medieval books of the Sarum Use—many of which survive in Oxford libraries.

For an introduction to the service, watch a presentation of some of the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library

Noblesse Oblige? Barons and the Public Good in Medieval Afro-Eurasia 10th-14th Centuries

1st and 3rd Conference – 25th-27th May 2023 St Cross College and Pusey House, Oxford

25th May Thursday

9h Registration and Coffee
9h30-10h Introduction and Problematique (Maximilian Lau Worcester College, University of Oxford and Gregory Lippiatt University of Exeter)
10h-10h30 Coffee
10h30–11h15 Political argumentation in the 1150s and 1160s: the example of the Saint-Victor Register (Alice Taylor)
11h15–12h The Maliks of Hindustan: A New Conquest Nobility? (Abhishek Kaicker UC Berkeley and
Hasan Siddiqui University of British Columbia)
12h–12h30 Questions and Discussion
12h30–13h30 Lunch
13h30–14h15 Benevolent Elites? Shared Rulership and Privileges in Early Medieval Japan (Mickey Adolphson University of Cambridge)
14h15–15h The Kouroukan Fouga and Oral History: Further Reflections on African Narratives of Noblesse oblige (Adam Simmons Nottingham Trent University)
15h–15h30 Questions and Discussion
15h30–16h Tea
16h Optional Visit to Oriel College Archives (Magna Carta, Papal Bulls and More)
19h Speakers’ Dinner

26th May Friday

9h30–10h Coffee
10h–10h45 Minority Rule in Medieval Syria: The Establishment and Maintenance of the Burids
in Damascus during the Reign of Tughtegin (1104-1128) (Alex Mallett Waseda University, Tokyo)
10h45–11h30 L’aristocratie, l’empereur et le bien commun dans l’empire romain d’Orient (Jean-Claude Cheynet l’Institut universitaire de France)
11h30–12h15 The common good and baronial rebellion in England, c. 1199-1327 (Sophie Ambler University of Lancaster)
12h15–12h45 Questions and Discussion (Alice Taylor King’s College London)
12h45–14h Lunch
12h–12h30 Questions and Discussion
14h–14h45 A Shatterzone on an Ecotone: Fortifying the Steppe-Sown Frontier and Contending for Authority in the Ordos Region of Asia, Circa 800- 1200 (Ruth Mostern University of Pittsburgh)
14h45–15h30 Defining Elite Alterity in the medieval Maghrib and al-Andalus, c. 1000-1300
(Amira Bennison Magdalene College, University of Cambridge)
15h30–16h Questions and Discussion
16h–16h30 Tea
19h Conference Dinner

27th May Saturday

9h30-10h Coffee
10h–10h45 The Limits of Leadership: Cities, Frontiers, and Incursion in the Narratives of North-Western
Europe, 1100–1300 (Emily Winkler St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford)
10h45–11h30 Basqaqs, darughas or envoys? Transience, mobility and Mongol elites in Rus (Angus Russell Trinity College, Cambridge)
11h30–12h15 The Rich, The Poor, and The State: Ideas of Good Government in Song Dynasty China (Sukhee Lee Rutgers University)
Questions and Discussion
12h30–13h30 Concluding Remarks, Round Table Discussion, Next Steps (Gregory Lippiatt University of Exeter and Maximilian Lau Worcester College, University of Oxford)
13h30-14h30 Lunch and Farewell

About the Noblesse Oblige? Project

This project and its conference is a forum for the re-evaluation of ‘baronial’ government and the common good between the tenth and fourteenth centuries across Afro-Eurasian polities. By bringing together emerging and established international scholars, it challenges the traditionally Eurocentric approach to this problem and uses new methodologies to reassess our framework for studying the medieval period, leading to a fundamental reappraisal of the teleological narrative that has previously explained the rise
of modern states.
The story of the medieval barons is commonly a negative one. Because aristocracies have been almost universally eclipsed by centralised states in the modern world, they are often cast as regressive forces whose self-interest held back ‘progress’. Nor is this exclusively a European narrative: the historiographical
attention paid to the ‘rise of the State’ has privileged the Latin Christian experience of political formation and shaped the way in which non-royal élites are seen in other historical contexts. As a result, ‘private’ rulers such as lords, amirs, jun and kshatriya are often assumed to have been at odds with the needs of the wider society.
This network is challenging this understanding of the role of ‘barons’ in their relation to public good in two important and complementary ways. First, we are exploring case studies of how these non-royal élites conceived and implemented responsible government, whether for themselves or for others. Second, we are comparing these case studies in a bold transnational framework, reaching from western Europe to China, that spans the collapse of major centralised imperial projects in the ninth century to the destabilising experience of the Great Death in the fourteenth.

We would like to thank the following organisations for their support of this project and the organisation of this conference:

Supervisory Board
Nandini Chatterjee – University of Exeter
Bernard Gowers – Keble College, University of Oxford
Catherine Holmes – University College, University of Oxford
Yasuhiro Otsuki – Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo
Nicholas Vincent – University of East Anglia

Associate Members
Fernando Arias – University of Valladolid
Susannah Bain – Jesus College, University of Oxford
James Cogbill – Worcester College, University of Oxford
Lars Kjaer – Northeastern University London
Mario Lafuentee – University of Zaragoza
Carlos Laliena – University of Zaragoza

Ervin Bossányi: Stained Glass Art and Linocut Workshop

Friday, 26 May 2023, 2-4pm in the St Peter’s College Chapel

St Peter’s College is pleased to host a practical art workshop as part of a current display exploring the works of Hungarian artist Ervin Bossányi (1891-1975) in the College collections and Chapel stained glass. His artistic achievements range from paintings and friezes to stained glass windows in prestigious buildings such as Canterbury Cathedral and Washington National Cathedral in the USA.

A guided tour of the display by Dr Alison Ray (College Archivist) will be followed by a linocut workshop led by Dr Eleanor Baker and participants will produce their own linocut designs. Eleanor completed her DPhil in medieval material texts in 2022, and is currently working on a short anthology of book curses. She started linocutting as a lockdown hobby, and is inspired by late medieval woodcuts, folk horror, and the natural world. The afternoon will conclude with refreshments in the Chapel with thanks to the Revd Dr Elizabeth Pitkethly (College Chaplain).

Attendance is free, but booking is required as space is limited. Please contact Alison Ray to reserve a place by email:

Dr Eleanor Baker will lead the practical art workshop with a linocut activity

The ‘Ervin Bossányi: Stained Glass Artist’ display is currently running 12-26 May 2023, 10am-5pm (closed Thursdays) in the St Peter’s College Chapel. Admission is free and open to the public.

GLAMorous work: Medievalist Pathways in Archives and Libraries

The Oxford Medieval Studies Trinity Term lecture on Thursday, 4 May was a careers talk with a twist, featuring an exhibition in the St Edmund Hall Old Library as well as coffee and cake! Alison Ray (Archivist, St Peter’s College) and Heather Barr (Graduate Trainee Library Assistant, St Edmund Hall) were delighted to share their experiences of working in archives and libraries to attendees and how they make use of their skills as medievalists in their present roles.

You can watch back the careers talk in the video below and check out the handy list of resources for further information on working in archives, libraries and the wider heritage sector:

GLAMorous Work: Resources

Archives Listserv: Jobs, training, current events and issues, professional discussion

Archives and Records Association (ARA): New Professionals Peer Pals Scheme, training and qualification information

Bodleian Libraries: Our Work: Descriptions of department areas, including conservation, collections management and public engagement

Careers Service: Library and Archives: Information and careers advice

CILIP: The Library and Information Professional Association: Communities, training opportunities, information, qualification information, news

Civil Service: Working in Knowledge and Information Management: Jobs list and career path descriptions

ECLAIR: Community of Library and Information Studies students and new professionals

Guardian Jobs: Heritage sector jobs list via the Guardian

ICON: The Institute of Conservation: Jobs, training, current projects, role descriptions

Information Professional Jobs: Jobs list

JISC LIS Professional Mail List: Jobs, training, current events and issues, professional discussion

JISC LIS Rare Books Mail List: Jobs, training, current events, professional discussion for rare books

Museum Studies Jobs Desk: Jobs list

Museums Association: Current campaigns, jobs, career paths

Twitter: Explore #LISJobs #LibraryJobs #LibraryTwitter #ArchivesJobs #ArchiveTwitter

Highlights of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Plays 2023

A fantastic day was had by all at the third Medieval Mystery Cycle held on Saturday, 22 April that took place across the Front Quad and St Peter-in-the-East churchyard of St Edmund Hall. Actors, directors, singers and designers staged six plays dating from between the 12th and 16th centuries. Retelling Biblical stories from the Nativity to the Last Judgement, the cast expertly performed in medieval and modern languages, including Latin, Middle English and Middle High German.

Master of Ceremonies Jim Harris (left) and the Choir of St Edmund Hall (right)

Master of Ceremonies Jim Harris (Teaching Curator, Ashmolean Museum) delighted everyone as audience guide and play narrator with linking verse composed by David Maskell, and we were treated to Peter Abelard’s ‘O quanta qualia’ sung by the Choir of St Edmund Hall led by College Chaplain the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano.

Piers Plowman with tackling the seven deadly sins (left) and the Virgin and Christ Child of the Nativity scene (right)

Group ‘Swonken ful harde’ performed first with extracts from Piers Plowman in Middle English, that saw Piers taking on the seven deadly sins through the visions of Will the Dreamer. Following in Middle English, The English Faculty wonderfully performed the Chester Nativity and Salutation with a humorous interpretation of Roman Emperor Octavyan as King Charles III in time for the Coronation!

Scheming Herod delights in news of the Slaughter of the Innocents (left) and Mary Magdalene steals a member of the audience (right)

Marguerite de Navarre’s 16th-century French play of the Comédie des Innocents was performed by group ‘Les perles innocentes’ with singing by Lucy Matheson (read a report by director Elisabeth Dutton), with the dark scenes of the Slaughter of the Innocents countered by a comically scheming Herod and angels supplying chocolates to the audience. We were then treated to a charity coffee and cake stall in the break by the Oxford German Society in support of the German Red Cross. This was followed by a fantastic adaptation of the Carmina Burana Bavarian Passion play by the ‘Sorores Sancte Hildae’ group in Latin and German, with audience participation!

Professor Henrike Lähnemann and trumpet leading the angels (left) and a gleeful Lucifer capturing lost souls for Hell (right)

The unofficial award for best costume design went to the Medieval Germanists who performed the Harrowing of Hell in Middle High German with English narration, that saw a troupe of winged angels and Lucifer herd an imaginative array of lost souls to the Crypt’s Hellmouth. The day closed with Past and Present Teddy Students delivering a high-energy staging of a modern English version of the Last Judgment with St John of Patmos being guided by an exacerbated angel through comic visions of the battle between Christ and Satan for souls.

St John of Patmos and his visions of Heaven and Hell in the Last Judgement

We are particularly grateful to Professor Lesley Smith and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, co-directors of Oxford Medieval Studies, the driving force behind the Mystery Cycle, Michael Angerer, Graduate Convenor for the Mystery Cycle, and to the Fellows and Principal of St Edmund Hall, for once again agreeing to host our medieval madness!

A full programme and listing of the wonderful cast and crew can be found on the Oxford Medieval Studies website here:

‘Nolumus mutare…’: further reflections

Tuesday 21 February, 5:00pm 

South School, Examination Schools 

This concluding lecture reflects on the problems and possibilities of comparative legal history before moving on to the differences and similarities in patterns of England, France, and north Italy in the period c.1160-1270.

All are welcome.

Link to their page here.

‘Secreted in the interstices of procedure’: actions, ideas, and legal change

Tuesday 14 February, 5:00pm 

South School, Examination Schools 

This lecture explores the ways in which deliberate legal change came to have unintended effects, especially on substantive law. It considers the interplay of legal learning, legal reasoning, and legal change. In so doing, it ponders Sir Henry Maine’s view of substantive law being secreted in the interstices of procedure.

All are welcome.

Link to their page here.

Old Frisian Summer School

Old Frisian: a gem within the Old Germanic languages

9-16 July 2023, University of Oxford, St Edmund Hall

Link to their page here. For anybody interested, watch a lecture by the organiser Dr Johanneke Sytsema

Introductory Lecture as part of the series Topics in German Historical Linguistics

What is the OFSS about?

Students will learn about Old Frisian language, text corpus, culture and history in the context of Old Germanic languages. Linguistic comparisons will be drawn between Old Frisian and the other (West) Germanic languages. Settlement history of Frisians in Britain, Old Frisian Law and Literature and Old Frisian manuscripts will be discussed in lectures. Library visits will focus on the Old Frisian manuscripts in Oxford. The OFSS will close with a social day in Oxford. The OFSS is about learning to read Old Frisian and to place Old Frisian in a wider linguistic, literary and historical context.

Who is the summer school for?

The summer school is aimed at students, PhD candidates and early career researchers with an interest in (Old) Germanic languages who want to familiarise themselves with Old Frisian.

What will the day programme look like?

There will be two lectures in the mornings and a translation workshop or library visit in the afternoons. The programme will cover the Old Frisian grammar in lectures by experts in the field and in translation workshops. Students will read Old Frisian texts in the afternoon workshops with help of modern handbooks and learn about the Old Frisian text corpus

By the end of the week, students should be able to translate a medium level Old Frisian text with the help of handbooks and have gained a good level of knowledge of the place and importance of Old Frisian within the Old Germanic language family

A visit to the Bodleian Library will enable students to view the Old Frisian manuscripts that are kept at Oxford.

Blog about the 2019 OFSS

And video report (by Fardau Visser)

Confirmed speakers:

  • Prof Andreas Deutsch, Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, Heidelberg
  • Dr Peter-Alexander Kerkhof, Frisian Academy, Ljouwert/Leeuwarden
  • Prof Simon Horobin, University of Oxford
  • Dr Rafael Pascual, University of Oxford
  • Mr Hilbert Vinkenoog (YouTube channel History with Hilbert)
  • Mr Anne Popkema MA, Groningen University
  • Dr Johanneke Sytsema, University of Oxford

What does it cost?

  • In person fees: £350 (Early bird rate £300 if booked by May 1st)
  • Hybrid fees: £150.00

Fees for in person attendance will include

  • Tuition and workshops
  • Study materials
  • Coffee/tea
  • Daily 3-course lunch
  • Saturday social activities
  • Library visits
  • Conference dinner

Hybrid fees will include access to all streamed lectures and electronic access to the grammar and dictionary during the week.


Participants can book accommodation in student halls belonging to St Edmund Hall (email address first come first served) or find accommodation in another college in Oxford via

For further information about the Summer School please contact: (for all interested) or (for students of Groningen University)

Deadline for registration:

  • 1st May for early birds – (in-person)
  • 31st May for in-person participation
  • 15th June for online attendance.


Please complete the application form and payment details will be sent to you by email.

Registration QR code

Travel and Venue

Heathrow Airport is most convenient for Oxford. The Airline Bus Service to Oxford is frequent and cost-effective.

Directions from the train station

Most lectures and workshops will be held at St Edmund Hall. Information about travel to St Edmund Hall can be found here.

Piers Plowman Performance at St Edmund Hall

The Fair Field of Folk. Piers Plowman: A Potted Adaptation of the B Text
When: 11 February 2023, to be repeated partially during the Medieval Mystery Cycle 22 April 2023
Where: St Edmund Hall, Queen’s Lane, OX1 4AR Oxford

Director: Eloise Peniston

Trailer filmed and edited by Natascha Domeisen, music by Alexander Nakarada

Welcome to our mervelous sweven, the Middle English prose B text of Piers Plowman dramatized and brought to stage by an eclectic mix of English students, medievalists, business students, historians, even a mathematician! Starring

  • 😴 Sòlas McDonald as Will the Dreamer
  • 😜 Jonathan Honnor as Piers Plowman/False Tongue
  • ⛪ Clare-Rose McIntyre as Holy Church
  • ✝️ Chantale Davies as Theology/Priest
  • 🤔 Rei Tracks as Conscience
  • 🌾 Alexane Ducheune as Mede’s Handmaid
  • 👑 Kate Harkness as The King
  • 💃 Eloise Peniston as Envy/Lady Mede
  • 💰 Sabrina Coghlan-Jasiewicz as Simony/Pride
  • 😡 Sonny Pickering as Wrath
  • 👩‍⚖️ Zelda Cahill-Patten as Civil Law/Covetousness

With original music by Anna Cowan (harp) and Rachael Seculer-Faber; ceremonial trumpet: Henrike Lähnemann, special advice: Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. Supported by Oxford Medieval Studies and St Edmund Hall 

Video filmed and edited by Natascha Domeisen, cover image by Duncan Taylor

Plot summary

The play follows a man named Will, who falls asleep beside a stream on a May morning in Malvern Hills with a succession of dreams, beginning with a tower on a hill, a dungeon, and a fair field of folk. On his quest for Truth, Will meets a host of allegorical personifications, wandering through the marriage and later trial of Lady Mede, the confession of the Seven Sins, the Crucifixion, and the Harrowing of Hell. In the midst of all, Piers Plowman emerges, taking only momentary repose from his plough to guide Will towards Truth and, rather scandalously, chastise members of the clergy.


  1. Introduction from Holy Churche and Mede
    Holy Churche and Mede will explain what to expect from our play.
  2. Prologue
    The bugle breaks through the air, and the dulcet tones of our bard and piper will lead you to a May Morning on Malvern Hills
  3. Holy Churche and Will
    Will searches for Truth, imploring guidance of Holy Churche. Truth is, of course, that one must Do Well, Do Better, and Do Best. 
  4. Lady Mede
    Mede, the incarnation of financial reward, bribery, corruption, arrives. 
  5. Marriage of Mede
    False and Mede attempt to marry but the King requests their presence at the court, as False is not deemed a suitable husband for the noble lady. 
  6. Trial of Mede
    Mede pleads her case, explaining the importance of ‘mede’ or reward in the world at large.
  7. Seven Deadly Sins
    Pride, Lechery, Envy, Wrath, Covetousness, Gluttony, and Sloth come and confess their sins.
  8. Piers Plowman
    Piers Plowman arrives and agrees to show the field of folk where Truth is, if they help him plough his half acre.
  9. Tearing of the Pardon
    Truth sends a pardon for Piers, however it is discovered not to be a real pardon at all. Piers tears it in two and interprets the Latin better than a priest ever could. 


Piers Plowman is an allegorical text that exists in different versions. The A text is the incomplete earliest version, the B text is the most broadly translated and edited, while also being highly scandalous, and the C text is highly censored, notably failing to mention the Peasants Revolt and the Tearing of the Pardon, which our performance presents. 

The B text can be approximately dated to 1388, and has quite the volatile position in history, especially in relation to the peasant’s revolt and heresy. While locked inside Maidstone Castle, John Ball penned his radical Letter to Essex Men, citing Piers Plowman and Robin Hood as comrades in the fight. In short, Piers Plowman is a working class hero, a Billy Bragg if you will, representing the right of common man. The concept of class struggle is deeply entrenched into the text, carrying the relics of the Domesday Book serfdom, to the climbing taxes in the midst of the 100 years war, the dwindling population as the Black Death roamed the country. All of these tensions boiled over on the 30th of May, 1381, as John Bampton arrived in Essex to collect unpaid poll taxes. In consideration of 1990 Poll Tax riots, the UK Miners’ Strikes in 1984, and the recently unveiled Strike Laws, clearly class struggle repeats itself. With a ploughman at the helm, the voice of the working people is vital in the text. With all that in mind, sit back, relax, and enjoy the chaos.  God spede þe plouȝ!

Director’s Story

Eloise writes: I first discovered Piers Plowman at a bus stop. I was characteristically lost with a dead phone and only a charity shop book to keep me company. While no one murmured ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness’, at me, I was acutely aware of being in the presence of the literary as I thumbed through the wind-swept pages. I was intensely confused, which, at the age of fifteen, I supposed was the hidden intention of all literature. With the charmed hand of A. V. C. Schmidt to guide me, I followed Will fallling asleep. I remember after being “found” an hour later how I, rather breathlessly, recounted the events of the B text to my mother as she, mid-flap, chastised me about reckless spontaneity and the need for charged phones.

At that bus stop, I knew that, by the fortuity of an Oxfam find, I had discovered something wonderful, but I had no idea that seven years later, I would be scavenging liripipes and slit-mittens in an attempt to bring this dream-vision to life. Now, I often take that humble copy with me to Malvern Hills, and it is positively crammed with pressed, may-morning flowers. However, little did I know then how deeply entrenched this text was in the public sphere or about the literary and literal rebellions that have emerged beneath the mouldboard.

From the pen of a man who described Piers Plowman as “not worth reading”, Gerard Manley Hopkins perfectly captured the flesh-good of the text:

And features, in flesh, what deed he each must do –
His sinew-service where do.

He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist
In him, all quail to the wallowing o’ the plough: ‘s cheek crimsons; curls
Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced –
See his wind – lilylocks – laced;
Churlsgrace, too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls
Them – broad in bluff hide his frowning feet lashed! raced
With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls –
With-a-fountain’s shining-shot furls.
Harry Ploughman
G. M. Hopkins

This particular poem encapsulates the essence of Piers Plowman: pure inscape, or as Stephen Medcalf calls it, an “extraordinary combination of roughness and a delicate magic.” It is incredibly difficult to describe what happens in Piers Plowman but “churlsgrace” is certainly the perfect descriptor for the essence of the text. A mere ploughman knows the way to Truth and is gracious enough to guide the reader, in return for help in plowing and sowing a half-acre.

Piers Plowman is ultimately a text that encourages mental labour, in a field, at a bus stop, or even in the gardens of St Edmund Hall…

We invite you to toil with us at Teddy Hall. From a tower on toft, a trumpet shall hail the dream, before the gentle plucking of a harp will guide you to sleep. Come and set forth on a dream-pilgrimage, exploring political satire, social upheaval, and spiritual crisis.
We hope to see you soon in the fair field. God spede þe plouȝ!

Piers Plowman poster

 Predicting the past with deep neural networks

We are pleased to announce the Hilary Term Lecture of the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures (CMTC). The lecture will take place on WED 1 March, 5-6.30 (UK time) in the Memorial Room at The Queen’s College in the University of Oxford. 

Our speaker will be Yannis Assael, Intelligence Research Scientist at Google DeepMind

Title: Predicting the past with deep neural networks

Abstract: Ancient history relies on disciplines such as epigraphy for evidence of the thought, language, society and history of past civilizations. However, over the centuries, many inscriptions have been damaged to the point of illegibility, transported far from their original location and their date of writing is steeped in uncertainty. To address these challenges we present Ithaca, a deep neural network for the textual restoration, geographical attribution and chronological attribution of ancient Greek inscriptions. The goal of this presentation is to demonstrate how recent advances in the field of Deep Learning can assist and expand a historian’s workflow, and highlight the importance of joint interdisciplinary research.

We look forward to welcoming you.