That's the nub.
Unless there is an unbroken chain of "documentation" linking Now with Then, I can't see how it is possible either to repudiate, refute or substantiate anybody's dreams.It may be more accurate to have an inspired guess, untrammelled by "evidence".
I'm not saying it's impossible for us to work at a medieval remove in time, only that it becomes exponentially more difficult with each generation that is sent backwards.
My cry of CAVEAT EMPTOR was a warning against relying on the trustworthiness of the printed word's alleged transcription/interpretation/translation of a manuscript source, especially if the manuscript is earlier than the seventeenth century.For somebody more than a hundred years ago to have published in good faith what was thought to be have been written in a manuscript is not IN ITSELF more credible than if had been published last week.We have to ask, in both cases, whether the writer was i)a competent Latinist; ii)a competent palaeographer.Even if the answer is "Yes", then the printed work is not much more than a help in checking against the original scribal hand -- which may itself hold errors.So we must learn to read microfilm and photocopy; or get someone to help us who can.Even then, there is no wholly acceptable alternative to examining the original document.
I speak from experience.If you're not interested in parables, skip what follows.
Some years ago, I was researching the massacre by Royalist troops of the inhabitants of a village near here, which was alleged to have occurred on Christmas Eve 1642.There are only two documents that give any credence to the event:the bland and inconclusive military report of the Royalist officer to his superior, and another in the Public Record Office in London.The massacre was on the charge sheet for the trial of Charles I; but since Charles refused to recognize the court the document was not read out and so the massacre did not enter the history books.
However, local and oral tradition is never to be ignored; and the memory had survived. But had any record?Yes, and, though negative evidence, it was compelling.There are eleven local history books of Cheshire that record the event.Their publication is spread over more than a century.And they all agree.They all state that the massacre was so terrible that the page recording the event and the names of the dead was torn out of the parish register so that all trace of its happening would be removed from the parish memory.
I found the idea intriguing, and went to look.The parish register is complete and in good condition for the period in question.I turned to the page for 1641/2.Just as the books said, it was not there.But I was still bemused by a thought process that would remove something that all knew about.Surely, it would have been more like a modern war memorial than a matter of shame to the village. Yet the page was not there. How had it been removed?I eased open with infinite care the the bound seventeenth century parchment down to the spine, looking for a roughly torn edge.There was none.1640 was followed by 1643, but the two pages were genuinely, and always had been, consecutive.What did that mean?I tried to think myself into the mind of a parish clerk of 1642.And I remembered how large a part the cost of writing materials always figures in village accounts.Parchment was expensive.So I leafed backwards.And I saw.In moving from 1634 to 1635, the clerk had turned two pages instead of one, leaving a blank double spread unused.That would have been a considerable waste of parish funds.And so I found myself looking at the "missing" "torn out" entry, which records what happened, who were the killers (they were all local men) and who were the dead.The melodramatic historical "fact" was the result of the first writer's jumping to conclusions and all subsequent writers' being too idle or unimaginative or simply not curious enough to CHECK THE ORIGINAL.So, by lazy repetition, a folly had become received wisdom.
We should beware of Humpty-Dumpty:"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean." (And, while we're at it, remember that all that remains of the Cheshire Cat when it fades away is its grin!)
The point of all that is to show the unseeable pitfalls that await the reasearcher -- even when working on matters close to hand. It is inevitably depressingly harder, for all but the most dedicated and persistent, when the sources are at best second hand.
Which brings me to the Eyton windows.
I have seen neither windows nor church, but alarm bells must be rung.Here is either a case so remarkable that it deserves international publication, or there is another red herring across the trail.
The pattern of English ecclesiastical architecture and history demands certain questions to be asked.
1)What is the age of the PRESENT church fabric and its windows?
2)How old is the glass that we NOW see and what is ITS history, and how complete is it?Very little medieval glass survived the Reformation, and that that has is usually treasured fragments made into an abstract pattern, since nothing coherent remains to be restored.It is so rare as to be almost inconceivable that a rural church in an area of extreme Puritanism could have protected its ancient glass from the iconoclasts.
3)If the present glass fits its windows as a unit, how was that achieved and when?
4)If the heraldry displayed now is claimed to be at least a good copy of earlier destroyed glass, on what authority was it reconstituted and by whom?
This last question may well point to a rare concurrence of a comparatively recent restoration of an earlier church with a scholar of heraldry and a patron of wealth and crafstmen capable of replicating the lost work within an exact match of the window framing of the original church.If that should be so, then Shropshire has a gem that has escaped modern scholarship and the matter should be redressed. It is something that will be easy to check on.For one thing, the techniques of regaining the skills of medieval glaziers was not achieved until the middle of the nineteenth century.Until then, all coloured glass was pale and poor; and afterwards, the regained techniques tended to be used to garish ends, not to the honourable replacing of old heraldic arms. So, I fear, unless there is something truly remarkable waiting to be discovered, we are more likely to be looking at an undisciplined hotch-potch of pseudo-medieval restoration, which is, alas, a recognized and common manifestation of the Romantic Movement in England.
But how I hope to be wrong!
Sorry about my maintained moans.This life has been dogged by a quotation from "Under Milk Wood" by Dylan Thomas:"I want to be Good-Boyo; but nobody lets me."