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MINSTER LOVELL HALL, HOME TO FRANCIS LOVELL VISCOUNT LOVELL

Reblogged from sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri
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Minster Lovell at sunset @Colin Whitaker

Minster Lovell Hall, Oxfordshire  lies in beautiful,  atmospheric ruins set amongst trees besides the River Windrush in the heart of the Cotswolds.     Pevensey describes these ruins to be ‘still the most picturesque  in the country’.   It was at least the second manor house to be built by the Lovells on that site, the first having been built in the 12th century.  William Lovell Baron Lovell and Holand (d.13 June 1455) already rich and having  increased his wealth by a  very advantageous marriage,  built the second Hall  some time after  his return from the wars in France in 1431(1)  Its unclear whether part of the earlier buildings were incorporated into the new one as Pevensey suggests or the old buildings were entirely demolished.  But undoubtedly  materials from the older buildings would have been recycled in the new build.   The foundations of the earlier house were discovered beneath the east and west wings in the 1937/39.   It remained  home to the Lovells up until the Wars of the Roses.

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A drawing of the Hall as it may have appeared in the 15th c.  Alan Sorrell

DIAGRAM MINSTER LOVELL

Site plan.  Minster Lovell . Photo A J Taylor

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The porch and  Hall from the north.  Photo @ Guy Thornton

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Same view of the porch and Hall from an engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck 1729

Undoubtedly one of the best known of the Lovells is Francis Lovell b.1457.   Francis was a close and loyal friend to King Richard III.  Both had been  wards of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker and both spent part of their childhoods at Middleham Castle although possibly not at the same time.    Francis’ life is documented elsewhere and I dont want to go into it too deeply here but suffice to say history has judged him kindly.  He seldom fails to get a mention in any fictional work about Richard and as far as I can tell he generally comes over as a good egg.  Of course there is the infamous rhyme that was pinned to the door of old St Paul’s.  ‘The Cat, the Rat and Lovel our dogge, Rule all England under an Hog’.  The author of the rhyme William  Colyngbourne, was later to get the chop, or hanged, drawn and quartered to be precise, under a charge of treason for another matter, although I should imagine the rhyme was burnt into everyones memories present  at the trial.  Strangely enough Colyingbourne was once employed by Cicely Neville, Richard’s mother and its been suggested he may have copped the needle when Richard wrote to her requesting Colyngbourne’s position be transferred to someone of Richard’s choice (2 ).   However I don’t wish to go off on a tangent here so back to Minster Lovell and the Lovells.

Its  unclear whether Lovell was at Bosworth as Richard had sent him to guard the south coast against Henry Tudor’s threatened invasion     Attainted of high treason after Bosworth in 1486 his lands were granted to Jasper Tudor, who held them until his death in 1495 after which they reverted back to the Crown.  However having survived the  aftermath of Bosworth,  June 1487  found Lovell at the Battle of Stoke, where, as the story goes, he was last seen making his escape (3)

After that Francis disappears into the mists of time.  This leads to the 18th century tale of   during  the process  of a ‘new laying’ of a chimney,  a  secret room was discovered  wherein  a skeleton assumed  to be that of Francis was found.   The skeleton, which was ‘sitting at a table. which was before him, with a book, paper, pen etc etc’, conveniently disappeared  into a puff of dust upon the room being opened (4).    The conversation which followed, if it ever happened, which I doubt,  can well be imagined  ‘what happened to the body dolt?’ – ‘it disappeared into a cloud of dust sir’.  Hopefully this old chestnut has been well and truly put to bed now.

Anyway – the manor house was built around a quadrangle with the southern side facing  the Windrush,.  Its hard to imagine a more idyllic site.  Approached from the north a diaper patterned cobbled  path leads up to the entrance porch which leads into the  hall.  The solar and private apartments are grouped to the west, the kitchen and service quarters to the east.  There was a chapel to the north of the hall above the entrance porch.  Nothing remains of the chapel today, the four windows of which can be seen in Buck’s engraving.

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The diaper patterned cobbled  path leading up to the Porch

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Vaulting on the ceiling of the porch

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Interior of the Hall.  Photo @Martin Beek

In 1602 the Hall was sold to the Coke family who owned it until 1812.  It was during the ownership of the Cokes that the Hall was dismantled about 1747.  ‘The remains were then left to fall into decay although part of them were used as farm buildings (5). It then passed through several owners until finally in 1935, the then owner, a Mrs Agnetha Terrierre passed the ownership into the hands of the state.

THE SOLAR

The solar was accessed by a staircase south of the dais in the Hall.  Lit by two large transomed windows, both with tracery, it had a fireplace, traces of which can still be seen, and set of stairs leading up to the chapel.  The solar would have been the personal and private  chamber for the family.  Perhaps it was in this room that Francis spent time with his friend, now King Richard III, when Richard stayed at the Minster Lovell in 1483 during his Progress {pingback to 29 August} after his Coronation.

North West Building

This once two storied building, which probably contained further private apartments of the Lord and his family initially survived the  destruction of the 17th century and was being used in the mid 19th century as a barn –  a door being cut into one of the walls to enable carts to be driven in.  This unsurprisingly led to the roof collapsing.   Then a small cottage was built in that area, the foundations of which have now been removed.  All that remains of this cottage is a small fireplace built into the north wall and a window that was partially blocked up.   The upper floor had transomed windows with window seats on the west side.

WEST WING

There were five room in this wing which led to the South West Tower.

South West Tower

The tower consisted of 4 floors, the top floor having battlements.  Its slightly later than the rest of the buildings being later 15th Century.  On the ground floor were garderobes, the pit being on the side nearest the river.  A external staircase led to the first floor and access to the remaining floors.

On the East Side of the courtyard were situated the kitchens, bakehouse and stables.

ST KENELMS CHURCH

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‘Lovell’ tomb in St Kenelm’s church.   photo@Aidan McRae Thomson

We cannot depart the Hall without a look around  St Kenelm’s Church which stands close by.    Most of the church that can been seen today is 15th century built on earlier foundations.  In the transept can be found a fine alabaster tomb chest with the effigy of a knight.  The effigy’s armour and the costumes of the weepers  dates  it to the mid 15th century.  Traditionally a member of the Lovell family it could be either William Lovell d.1455 or more probably his son John d.1465 (6). Unfortunately  due to the lack of an inscription it cannot be said with certainty whose monument it is.

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St Kenelms Church seen beyond the ruins of the North West building.  Photo @Canis Manor

Entry into this  wonderful place, now in the care of English Heritage, is free of charge.  If you should ever fancy a wander around these evocative ruins I would suggest you wrap up and go in the quieter months.  The summer months  can be  rather busy with families picnicking and children splashing in the River Windrush.  And who can blame them – there are not many places that can match Minster Lovell for being quite so magical.

1) BHO Minster Lovell: Manors and other estates pp184-192

2) Richard wrote a letter to his mother 3 June 1484 requesting ‘my lord Chamberlaine..be your officer in Wiltshire in such as  Colynborne had’  Richard III Crown and People p105 Kenneth Hillier

3) According to Francis Bacon ‘there went a report that he fled and swum over the Trent on horseback but could not recover the other side and so was drowned.  But another report leaves him not there but that he lived long in a cave or vault‘.

4) Letter written by William Cowper, clerk of the Parliament to Francis Peck, an antiquarian 1737.

5) Minster Lovell Hall p3 A J Taylor

6) Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p151 W E Hampton

 

Medieval (sic) Murder Mysteries

This is a six-part series, first shown on “Yesterday” (a UKTV channel) in 2015 but is available to view on their website here. The producers used pathologists, coroners, historians, barristers and other writers to form their conclusions, some of which are more reliable than others.

The first episode, which surely misses the mediaeval timescale, is that of Christopher Marlowe, stabbed in a Deptford tavern in 1593: in self-defence, a brawl or a targeted assassination? Marlowe’s possible involvement with heresy or espionage, Raleigh or Cecil is investigated in depth. The riddle of Edward II‘s fate at Berkeley Castle is tackled next – could he really have died by poker or suffocation or could he have escaped? Their conclusion points in the latter direction, although the current Berkeley heir leans towards the ultra-traditional legend.

The third show is about Arthur of Brittany, son of Geoffrey and nephew of John, who seems to have been disposed of in a particularly grisly manner in Brittany – blinding and castrating, either of which could have been fatal through shock. Several Byzantine Emperors, from 800 onwards, had been blinded, to prevent them from ruling effectively and castration would prevent him from reproducing, although death would not necessarily be intended. The fourth, again un-mediaeval, case covered Amy Robsart’s fall down a staircase at Cumnor, Oxfordshire after sending her servants away – accident, suicide, murder to free her husband Dudley to marry Elizabeth I, murder to stop him from ever marrying Elizabeth? Both suicide and murder are less probable, as the pathologist argued, because Amy might have survived as an invalid for a few years and remembered her assailant if there was one. There was no mention of the cancer I have heard, elsewhere, that she suffered from, although the staircase is the series emblem.

Inevitably, the “Princes” feature, in part five. Sadly, as with Edward II, many of the “experts” may understand their own professions well but seem not to appreciate the level of “Tudor” propaganda and have not approached the case with open minds, which skewed their conclusion against the high probability of one or both being sent to Burgundy. The final case was that of Juan (Giovanni) Borgia, the acknowledged son of a Pope (Alexander VI), who was definitely murdered and dumped in the Tiber – but as a random victim, by his brother Gioffre, the Orsini family or someone else? An Orsini had just died in a Papal prison.

Britain’s top burial sites?

This Sun article, which originally confused Richard’s Leicester with Henry I’s Reading, lists what they consider to be Britain’s top burial sites, although there is no detail on the supposed “Princes” in that urn, especially now that there is evidence to test the remains.

Are there any others you might have included?

IN AN OXFORDSHIRE VILLAGE

In a beautiful, sleepy Oxfordshire village stands the church of St Mary the Virgin.  Once this village was a much busier place, with ornate Almhouses known as ‘God’s House’ (now partly a school)  and a lavish manor house that was near enough a palace.  Other than a wall of the old dairy, not one trace of the manor now remains above ground,  but in the 15th century this was the home of Alice de la Pole, wife of William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk.

Alice was the grand daughter of one of the most famous English writers of all time, Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame.Her father was Thomas Chaucer and her mother Maud or Matilda Burghersh who are both buried in the church in an altar tomb set with fine  brasses and covered in the wheel symbol of the de Roets and the leopards of the Plantagenets. Alice was married  three times, first to Sir John Philip, then Thomas Montagu  Earl of Salisbury, and finally to William de la Pole. Her son, John de la Pole,  married Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and John’s son, Alice’s grandson, was John Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III made his heir after the death of Edward of Middleham.

Alice’s husband William was murdered when his ship was intercepted by a huge royal warship called ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ while  crossing the Channel as he went into exile. Immediately he knew doom had befallen him; he had been told years before by the astrologer Stacey that he must ‘beware the Tower.’ Taken on board the enemy ship, he was beheaded with ‘many blows’ from a rusty sword and his body displayed for all to see upon the sands at Dover, his head stuck upon a stake.

Alice inherited  many lands and manors from her husband and as she loaned  a considerable amount of  money to the Crown, the lands and titles were not placed under attainder. At one point she was constable of nearby Wallingford castle and as such custodian of  both the ill-fated Henry  Holland Duke of Exter (later to suspiciously ‘fall off’ a ship and drown after Edward IV’s French campaign) and Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. Years before, Alice had been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies in waiting.

Alice died in 1475 at the age of 71. She has a large and elaborate alabaster tomb of exceedingly fine workmanship. On top lies the effigy of a strong-featured but peaceful-looking woman wearing a coronet; below the top, in a recess, lies a macabre memento mori monument of the Duchess as a decaying corpse, a grim reminder of the transience of life.

 

 

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