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Archive for the tag “St. Bartholomew’s”

Blanche Mortimer – The Grandison Monument

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In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

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Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward ll.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger, was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detailed  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

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The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

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Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

 

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Blanche’s lead coffin

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Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

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St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

 

Churchdown Hill and the Battle of Tewkesbury….

 Photograph from Sulis Manoeuvre  blog

(Photograph from http://sulismanoeuvre.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-chosen-hill-church-scratchings.html)

The Gloucestershire village in which I live, Churchdown, is down in the Vale of the Severn, at the foot of the Cotswolds. It is dominated by one of two outlier hills in the area, Churchdown (or Chosen) Hill and Robinswood Hill. Both are on the outskirts of the city of Gloucester. Churchdown Hill, an Iron Age hill fort, boasts an early mediaeval church, St Bartholomew’s, which is visible for miles around, including from the M5. Both church and hill are landmarks. The above picture gives some idea of the church and hill, with the panorama of the vale visible on the right. The view stretches for miles, and the Malvern Hills are easily seen.

Why am I writing about this in Murrey and Blue? Because the hill has a connection with the Battle of Tewkesbury, 4th May 1471, when the Lancastrians were crushed and Yorkist Edward IV was firmly on his throne at last.

During the build-up to the battle, bad weather drove Margaret of Anjou and her invading Lancastrian army ashore at Weymouth. On the same day another Lancastrian army was crushed by Edward at Barnet. She decided to march into Wales, where one Jasper Tudor had raised yet another Lancastrian force. If she joined with him, they could surely overwhelm Edward, who was in London.

When Edward received information about Margaret’s movements, he raised his own army again in double-quick time (not easily done as he’d let many of them go after the victory at Barnet). Then he set off for the west to defend his throne again, with Richard of Gloucester at his side. They intended to meet up with George of Clarence, who was rejoining his brothers after disloyally deserting them to further his own ambitions with the Earl of Warwick.

There was almost a battle at Sodbury Hill, just northeast of Bristol, but Margaret and her Lancastrians marched swiftly north through the night, passing close to Edward’s unknowing army. By morning they had reached Berkeley Castle, in the Vale of the Severn. Their aim was to cross the river, but it’s wide and tidal at this point. The nearest bridge was at Gloucester, and that was where Margaret made for next.

But Edward was on to her now, and sent instructions to the Governor of Gloucester that he was to close the city gates to the Lancastrians. This was done and Margaret could not gain entry. She had precious little time now, because Edward was coming up behind her, and so she had no option but to march on north, toward Tewkesbury.

This is where Churchdown Hill plays its part in the story. It was a vantage point par excellence, and Edward sent his scouts to the top to see exactly what the Lancastrians were up to. From there they watched Margaret being refused entry to Gloucester, and then the commencement of the march north. The church of St Bartholomew was there then, and perhaps the bluebell woods as well, for it was bluebell time. Or maybe the hill was bare, except for the church. Whatever the hillscape, it provided Edward with all the help he needed to put an end to Margaret of Anjou’s ambitions for her son, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales, another Edward.

It would be good to think that Richard accompanied the scouts to the hilltop, and shaded his eyes against the sun as he observed the enemy. But perhaps that would be too much to hope.

The Battle of Tewkesbury was decisive, and secured Edward on the throne for many years to come. It also proved his young brother Richard to be a fine soldier and strong leader. George of Clarence was never fully trusted again, but at Tewkesbury the three York brothers were united.

This union did not last, of course, and George continued to be troublesome. Eventually he paid the ultimate price for letting Edward down once too often. Richard, of course, was loyal and faithful to the end. April 1483, another springtime, brought Edward’s untimely death, and many unwelcome truths about his private life. Those truths changed Richard’s world forever, and brought about his own untimely death at Bosworth. I blame his cruel demise as much on Edward as Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort et al.

If you wish to learn more about St Bartholomew’s church, please visit the following site: https://www.standrewschurchdown.org.uk/new/history  Better still, visit the church itself, which is very beautiful, and is reached up a narrow, steep lane that cannot have changed much in hundreds of years. There is a car park at the top, so do not fear having to accomplish that lane on foot. Unless you want to, of course! So difficult could access be in bad weather, and for those no longer young and spry, that a second church, St Andrew’s, was built down in the village. But St Bartholomew’s stands proud on its outlier, and every morning, when I open my door, I can look right up at it. A great sight to enjoy.

Another great site is http://sulismanoeuvre.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-chosen-hill-church-scratchings.html, where I found the above photograph. There are many more pictures and interesting facts about the graffiti at St Bartholomew’s.

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