The village of Tarrant Crawford really isn’t a village anymore. If you type the address into your Satnav, it will vanish from the screen while driving down the nearby main road–there are no signposts and the only other road visible is a simple farm track fringed by thick trees. However, here at one time was an important Abbey where a Queen and a Bishop both lie, their graves now vanished.
It is definitely worth pulling into the layby and walking the half-mile down the track, a dead end that leads only to the modern farm and a little church with a slim narrow tower. This is all that remains of the abbey and the accompanying lay church for the vanished village.
Tarrant Abbey was founded in 1186 by Ralph De Kahaines, whose name is echoed in the nearby village of Tarrant Keyneston. It was later refounded as a Cistercian nunnery. It became very rich, and later became the burial places of two notables, Queen Joan of Scotland and Richard Poore, Bishop of Salisbury, who was a ‘local boy’ and was baptised in the little church.
Queen Joan had a rather unhappy life. She was the daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme. Joan had been promised as a bride to Hugh X of Lusignan. This may have been a way of ‘saying sorry’ for the fact that John had ‘stolen’ Isabella from Hugh’s father when she was just twelve years old. However, Hugh X did not seem exactly keen on the match, and when the dowager Queen Isabella went to Lusignan with her younger daughter, Hugh decided he preferred his father’s former betrothed, and married her instead. However, Hugh and Isabella did not want to return Joan to England as they wanted to keep her dowry, so she was essentially a captive of her own mother and former betrothed. However, the Pope eventually intervened in the matter and Joan was sent back to England, where negotiations went on for her to marry Alexander II of Scotland. On June 21, 1221, the couple were married at York Minster–the bride was only eleven and the groom twenty-three.
Joan was put into the care of Alexander’s mother, Ermengarde, who pretty much ruled her son’s court. Even when Joan grew older and took her place at her husband’s side, her position in Scotland was never strong. As she entered her late teens and twenties, she had still not produced an heir, and there were whispers of an annulment, but it never came to pass for the Scots feared it would result in a war with England.
Joan accompanied King Alexander to several negotiations over territories in 1236/7; however, at the end, it is believed she became fully estranged from her husband and asked to spend time in England with her family. Her brother, King Henry III, gave her several properties to reside in, while Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Provence (another missing queen), planned a pilgrimage to Canterbury with her sister-in-law.
However, the pilgrimage never happened for Joan fell ill the next year and died in the arms of her brothers, Henry III and Richard of Cornwall. She was buried at Tarrant Crawford Abbey at her own request and Henry had a beautiful tomb with an effigy built in her memory.
However, this was all destroyed by Henry VIII in the Reformation. The scanty remains of the Abbey can be seen in the equally ruinous buildings of the farm at the end of the track. A few blocks from a possible bridge lie tumbled in the clear, shallow river. Only the lay church remains, its insides still bearing beautiful although faded medieval wall paintings. Local legend has it that the two medieval tomb lids inside the church are Joan and Bishop Poore’s but it is more likely they were from the tombs of the nuns.
Another local legend says that Joan was moved from the abbey church to the graveyard and buried in a golden coffin…In any case, she is yet another of the forgotten royals whose graves have disappeared in time.