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Archive for the tag “Knights Templar”

THE EARLS IN THE TENNIS COURT: A VISIT TO BISHAM ABBEY

Bisham Abbey was the burial place of the Earls of Salisbury, and also Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’ and his unfortunate grandson Edward of Warwick, executed on a trumped-up charge by Henry VII. The Abbey was destroyed in the Reformation, and on the grounds now stands the National Sports Centre, where many professional athletes train. However, it is less known that it is not just a sports centre but a hotel too, and that although the priory buildings are gone, the medieval manor house still remains.

The house is very striking–and what a history! It was first built and owned by the Knights Templar, passing into the hands of King Edward II when the order was dissolved. Elizabeth, the wife of Robert the Bruce, was kept in captivity there for a while, along with  the Bruce’s daughter, the tragic young Marjorie.

Later, in 1335, William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury purchased the building. He founded a priory that stood alongside the manor house, and he and many of his descendants and their spouses were buried there. Burials in the priory include:

  • William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury & 3rd Baron Montacute, d.1344 along with Catherine, his wife.
  • William Montacute.  2nd Earl of Salisbury, d.1397
  • William, d.1379/83, son of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
  • John Montacute. 3rd Earl of Salisbury, d.1400 along with Maud his wife
  • Thomas Montacute. 4th Earl of Salisbury, d.1428 and his two wives. He and his three-tier monument (as described in his will) can be seen depicted in the east window of Bisham Church.
  • Richard Neville.  5th Earl of Salisbury, d.1460 (aftermath Battle of Wakefield)
  • Sir Thomas, d.1460, son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (Battle of Wakefield)
  • John Neville, d.1471, Marquis of Montague and Earl of Northumberland (Battle of Barnet)
  • Richard Neville “Warwick the Kingmaker”, d.1471, 6th Earl of Salisbury and 16th Earl of Warwick (Battle of Barnet)
  • Prince Edward, 8th Earl of Salisbury & 18th Earl of Warwick, d.1499, son of Prince George, Duke of Clarence (executed)
  • Arthur Pole, son of Richard Pole & Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 1539

Margaret Pole, tragic daughter of George of Clarence and Isabel Neville, also lived at Bisham for a while, and a dovecote, still standing, is thought to have been raised by her.

The priory church was completely destroyed in the Reformation, although some of the cloister remains attached to the side of the manor house. Judging by its position, this would place the east end of the priory church, with its high status burials,  somewhere under the modern tennis courts. So  the Kingmaker and his relatives lie snugly under tarmac, much as Richard III lay in the buried remnants of Greyfriars.  If there was ever a move to locate them, it would be quite easy to identify the remains; if autosomal DNA could be extracted, they all should have close similarity to Richard (the 5th Earl being his uncle, and the Kingmaker being a cousin, and Edward of Warwick should share Richard’s Y-Dna through George, as well as a lot of autosomal DNA). Several of the skeletons should also show battle wounds, and several evidence of beheading.

Although the priory site has been obliterated, part of two tombs have, in fact, survived–although they are not in Bisham. In the tiny, sleepy village of Burghfield,  a few miles outside Reading, the broken effigy of Richard Neville, 5th earl of Salisbury lies in the porch next to a lady who is NOT his wife but most likely one of his ancestors. Records from the 1600’s describe how Salisbury’s effigy was ‘dragged to Newbury  by wild horses’! How it ended up in Burghfield is unknown but it seems the local lord had some Neville ancestry, so he may have rescued it because of that. Although the face seems to have been mutilated, Salisbury’s effigy shows a great deal of fine craftmanship and must have been very spectacular in its day.

Top left: Salisbury’s effigy, Burghfield; Top right. The tennis court where the burial most likely lie. The rest: Views of the manor house, including the cloister.

 

History in Peril: The Carved Cave at Royston

Beneath the street in the little town of Royston lies an unusual cave filled with medieval carvings that appear to date mainly from the 14thc, although some may vary. Discovered only in the late 18th century, Royston Cave has been ascribed to pagan cults and to the Knights Templar–however, I think, much more prosaically, it was probably a hermit’s cell or, as has been suggested, connected in some way with the nearby Augustinian Priory. Whatever the case, it is full of mysterious and evocative carvings, including  the Holy Family, St Lawrence with the gridiron that killed him, a St Michael (or George)  with an impressive sword, and a very fine crowned St Katherine. The carvings were at one time painted; in the 1800’s traces remained of yellow in Katherine’s dress and flecks of red paint on the Holy Family. Niches in the wall below the figures would have contained candles or lanterns.

Sadly, this ancient and evocative cave  has now been placed on the ‘at risk’ register with Historic England, as water is seeping from the street above and causing noticeable new damage to the carvings. An earlier infestation of worms that caused erosion of the figures was successfully eradicated several years back.

The owner is hoping that bringing attention to the latest plight will enable restoration work and new repairs and conservation work to be done.

Hopefully, this will happen in the near future, and perhaps an upside of the added publicity might be easier, more frequent access to the cave. At present it is only open for a few hours on a few select days per week, mainly during the summer months.

ROYSTON CAVE

ROYSTON

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