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An angelic Tudor mystery in Devon….

The great hall at Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon, is a magnificent example of 14th-century architecture, but there is a little oddity that not everyone will notice. It concerns the supporting figures on the corbels supporting the five-bay hammerbeam timber roof.

The figures are angels holding the heraldic shields of the families that have owned the Hall. The lord who built the hall in the 14th century was John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, Duke of Exeter. He was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers, and his angel is displayed on the left above. All the other angels (bar one), are the same, including those of Margaret Beaufort, who owned the Hall from 1487-1509, but is not thought to have ever visited it. The estate then reverted to the Crown.

Sir Arthur Champernowne gained possession of Dartington Hall in 1554 (he exchanged other properties with Thomas Aylworth, Lord of Dartington) and his descendants owned the property until 1925, by which time it was derelict. The Champernownes were of Anglo-Norman descent, and influential, especially in the West Country.

Now for the oddity. At some point, perhaps under the auspices of Sir Arthur, one of the angels in the great hall was altered. It is on the north side of the roof, and yes, like its fellows, it displays a coat-of-arms (that of the Champernownes) but the figure holding the shield is no longer an angel. Instead it has been changed into a Tudor serving man, with his wings severely chopped. (See illustration on above right.) Now, I am not the one claiming the figure is a Tudor servant, it is described as such by Anthony Emery, who has written a large work on Dartington Hall.

Why has this angel been changed? Emery states that the Champernownes cut back this corbel, but gives no reason. Was it an attempt by Sir Arthur to show that he was a loyal servant of the Tudors? I cannot think of any other reason. Can you?

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