Archive for April, 2014

Peddling One’s Wares at the NADFAS Annual Directory Meeting (24 March 2014)

April 23rd, 2014

The Central Methodist Hall, Westminster

Every second year, I am given a precious opportunity to address the NADFAS Annual Directory Meeting at the sumptuous Central Methodist Hall, Westminster. Established lecturers are allotted a mere minute in which to peddle their wares. The aim is to introduce new talks and to persuade the secretaries of the regional societies, by their charm, eloquence and originality, to book them.

Rupert Willoughby in conversation with John Wesley

The new lectures that I am offering this year are ‘The Normans – Conquest and Legacy’, and ‘Knight Errant: The Life and Adventures of William the Marshal’, which I have already delivered many times on the provincial circuit. It is almost a cruelty to have to compress one’s enthusiasm into a mere minute. If only I been allowed to speak for two minutes, I would have said the following:

Ladies and gentlemen, in 2016, it will be 950 years since the Normans invaded England. The roughest of company, they came to this country not to civilise, but to seize. A mere eleven men in Duke William’s inner circle enjoyed an unprecedented bonanza, receiving almost half the land of the conquered kingdom. There followed an orgy of building in what was described as ‘a new manner’ – castles, churches, monasteries and cathedrals – that all but effaced the physical traces of Anglo-Saxon England. It was their way of showing us who was in charge.

These fabulously rich Norman patrons, many of them crusaders who had witnessed the marvels of the East, enabled a great flowering of indigenous craftsmanship. The ebullience of ornament that characterised this period is termed ‘Norman’. It was, in fact, peculiarly English.

My account of the mass of post-Conquest masonry, from landmarks like Dover Castle to humble parish churches, is made personal by reference to individual invaders – men like the deeply unpleasant Baldwin de Redvers, lord of the Isle of Wight. Baldwin’s coterie of Norman knights have left a considerable physical and cultural legacy on the Island, as well as actual descendants. I can offer you an insight into the lives of these men – as well as the disgusting details of William the Conqueror’s funeral.

Not for the faint-hearted

Continuing the Norman theme, my lecture on William the Marshal thrillingly evokes a gorgeous world in which the knights were dominant. In their coats of mail like silk shirts and their golden spurs, these were ‘the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon’. William has a key role in the story of Magna Carta. He is a national figure of the stature of Drake or Nelson, and deserves to be better known.

By the way, if the diet of medieval stuff is too heavy for you, rest assured that ‘Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture’ is still available.

For the text of my address in 2012, outlining my other NADFAS lectures, see the earlier blog ‘Wooing NADFAS: Setting Out One’s Stall at the Annual Directory Meeting’, at

Westminster Abbey from the Central Methodist Hall