From the novels of Sir Walter Scott to Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, medievalism takes many forms in today’s popular culture. Medievalists study not only the Middle Ages, but the various reuses and recontextualisations of the Middle Ages into the modern world and up to the present day.
This affects medieval archaeology too. Medieval archaeologists need to be aware of the subtle appropriations and blatant reuses of the medieval past. This is not only a subject of inherent interest, but also because these reuses often involve archaeological evidence – material cultures, architectures and monuments. Furthermore, medievalism can be heavily implicated in the packaging and selling of medieval heritage from monasteries and castles to the tombs of kings and museum displays of medieval life.
For me, medievalism’s most disturbing forms transpire when closely tied to romantic nationalism. One of the most disturbing of recent neo-medievalist statuary can be attributed to this spirit.
In the Denbighshire town of Corwen close to the heartland of Owain Glyndwr’s lands and power, his nationalist legacy is honoured in an armoured equestrian uttering a war cry. I discuss this statue briefly here. Like it or loathe it, passing through Corwen on the A5 one cannot but marvel at the silently howling rider.
What struck me recently as particularly ridiculous is the adoption of this statue by the Wrexham branch of Burger King. Not only is this odd because Corwen, where the statue is located, is 20-21 miles away (depending on which route you take) from Wrexham. Moreover, Corwen is not in Wrexham borough but in neighbouring Denbighshire. The sense of this escaped me at first, a rather random citation to the region’s medieval past.
So hence my instinct is to dismiss this as an attempt by a global corporation to root itself in a local area with insensitivity to the local geography, history and archaeology, let alone a lack of awareness of just how recent and fantastical this statue actually is. Perhaps Burger King did not want to adhere itself to Wrexham’s particular history and its own statuary, including its memorials honouring the 20th-century war dead, memorials honouring the mining heritage and disasters of the area and so on. Instead they selected this pseudo-medieval fantasy and had to go as far as Corwen to do so.
Then, as an archaeologist, I thought: context is everything. Perhaps by choosing a Corwen statue rather than one from Wrexham, Ruabon, Chirk or Llangollen, an attempt was being made to draw ‘My Burger King’ into a regional as well as a Welsh identity, rather than a peculiarly Wrexhamite one.
The photographs of the statue are on opposing faces of a screen – facing both outwards to those entering and inwards to those seated in the restaurant. Perhaps Owain is communicating a complex multivalent message to those working in and consuming the fast-food chain’s premises. Is he offering a challenge to any who tries to steal his Whopper? Maybe he is suffering from indigestion after too many fries and serves as a warning to those who enter and try to eat too fast? Is he calling out to the people of Wrexham to rise up, mount up and mobilise their chicken nuggets for an assault on neighbouring English Chester?
Probably no-one on both counts, but these were the questions going through my mind as I awaited my Bacon Double Cheeseburger meal…
Incidentally, it will interesting to see if BK get in touch with an explanation… I presume they have a legal team who spend their time scouring the internet for negative coverage, so it will be interesting to see if I am asked to remove the picture below: