Remembrance of a Wedding
In the sleepy village of Stanford in the Vale, now in Oxfordshire, but formerly within the boundaries of Berkshire, stands one of the lesser known Ricardian sites.
Stanford, like most English villages, is an ancient place. A corpse-path runs over the village green, and part of a cell once owned by Abington Abbey still exists, built into a later farm building still known as Abbey Farm. A Roman villa once stood close by, lost somewhere in now-grassy fields. However other secrets lie half-hidden in this rural setting, memories of a marriage long lost in time…
Looming over the quiet streets with their clusters of attractive cottages, is the tall grey spire of the parish church, which has a rather unusual dedication to St Denys. The church itself, although suffering some Victorian restoration, has a 12th century Nave, a 14th c south porch, and a 15th century spire and other additions. It also has an unusual reliquary that may have once held the finger bone of a Saint, lent to the church by the monks of nearby Abington Abbey.
However, it is the south porch, often missed by visitors, being on the far side of the church and not generally open for entry (the interior was used for storage when I visited!) , that is of greatest interest, for it is unique in the country.
Little exists to commemorate King Richard in the way of period architecture or decoration, barring the boar carvings and chancel arch head at Barnard Castle, several boars in Carlisle castle, and a boar pendant on the effigy of a supporter who was buried in Norbury Church. Even less commemorates Anne, who was Queen for such a short time before her death in 1485.
Here, in this unassuming Oxfordshire village, seemingly far from the doings of the great and good during the Wars of the Roses, there is a structure that commemorates both Richard and Anne. The south porch of St Denys was built in the 1470’s in honour of their marriage.
Stanford had been part of the Beauchamp inheritance, through Anne’s mother the Countess of Warwick. In 1484 Anne, as Queen, granted it in free alms to ‘Andrew Doket the president, and the fellows of the royal college of St. Margaret and St. Bernard within the University of Cambridge, which was of her foundation’.
Why this special attachment to this particular village and why the commemorative porch? Of course, the locals will tell you that Anne was very fond of her manor at Stanford, and that she and Richard were actually married in St Denys’church, hence the porch being added in their honour.
As with so many things about Richard’s life, the place where he married Anne is uncertain, although many say it was probably in Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster.
Could the marriage have been at Stanford instead? Less likely, but could the young couple possibly have visited the manor and church on their way north, and the building work undertaken to celebrate the brief, happy stay of the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Gloucester?
The south porch itself is sadly, today, in poor repair. It has an embattled roof, lined with shield plaques; the inner vault was apparently never completed. Above the door, the arms of York, the fetterlock and rose, impale the Ragged Staff of Warwick. Over the years the stonework has grown very soft and crumbly, flaking to an alarming powder even to a casual touch. As time goes by, the insignias grow fainter and fainter, less distinguishable. English Heritage has been notified and has spoken about restoration and conservation work being done in the future.
We can only hope that the uniqueness of this structure will be recognised and proper preservation given to these rare carvings commemorating the marriage of a highborn couple who, at that time in their lives, never would have imagined they would one day be crowned King and Queen of England.
Postscript: After Richard’s death at Bosworth, the lands of Anne Neville’s mother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick were briefly returned to her by Henry Tudor, including Stanford in the Vale. She immediately ‘granted’ all of them to him and his heirs male….