Skipping Qs or Rs, but Spending Time down in Sampford Peverell - Looking for Mid-Devon's Literary Links with a King's Mother

Writing Women on the Devon Land

 A – Z of Devon Women Writers & Places

Sampford Peverell Church & Richmond House once home of Margaret Beaufort
Sampford Peverell Church & Richmond House
once home of Margaret Beaufort
Photo Julie Sampson

Skipping Qs or Rs, 
but Spending Time down in Sampford Peverell - 
Looking for Mid-Devon's Literary Links with a King's Mother

        For the first time, I'm a little stuck in this A-Z. If anyone out there knows about a link between a woman writer and a Devon parish beginning with Q or R (she should have been living in any period ending 1965 or so - the time period of Writing Women on the Devon Land), well please do get in touch. She may have lived in the parish, or have written about the place or indeed stayed there at some point. I may have to give up with Q (Queen's Nympton? ) but R might be possible - Rackenford, Romansleigh, Rose-Ash? 

Lady Margaret Beaufort
Unidentified painter [Public domain]

       So, given the above comments, I've decided to pass on to S parishes, for which there are many choices. This time round I'm going for Sampford Peverell, whose connections with Henry VII's mother Lady Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond and Derby make the village an intriguing place to look at, especially for those who are interested in Devon's lost literary links. Sampford Peverell's Society website has a useful page about Margaret and the village, which notes how she had the old rectory built for her own use.

       I posted a short fragment of fiction about Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond and Derby on my previous blog Re-Imagining the Queen's Mother some time ago. The piece eventually became part of Matroyshka, a fictional sequence written around various woman who wrote in Devon. This blog also contains Imagining Translation, a short poem based on Margaret's links with Sampford Peverell.

          Both poem and fiction fragment were very much based on facts about Lady Beaufort, who is known to have visited and stayed at the village in 1467 (see Sampford Peverell Society).Then, twenty years later in 1487, a couple of years after her son became king, his mother spent time down in Devon again. By now, with popular consent she was called 'My Lady, the King's Mother'. 

Plaque in Sampford Peverell about Margaret Beaufort and the church
       During this time, as a keen and avid reader and translator, Margaret may have been reading a then popular chivalric French romance, called Blanchardine and Eglantine.[See note2). She is said to have purchased a copy of the text from Caxton, then commissioned him to print and publish it in the vernacular, which he did, in 1489.

    The historical narrative assessment of this important royal woman tends to stress her political involvements, and work as patron of other literary texts, but Margaret Beaufort is an important literary woman in her own right. She's considered by academics to have been 'Renaissance England's first female translator' and/or the 'first English woman in print' (see note1) and her own translations of two religious treatises are now being recognised as significant contributions in their own right to the canon of English literature.

      Margaret's contribution to the translated text of Blanchardine and Eglantine was as sponsor and patron of Caxton, but I have wondered if she may have studied the original work in French and perhaps used it as a practice text for her own later translations. Of course it is only in my imagination that she was reading and working on that text when she was down in her Devon manor, but given the dates, it is feasible to picture her in the process of turning over the story in her imagination as a theme for fictional re-invention. 

Mother of the man whose ultimate future depended on the outcome of the turbulent events in the autumn of 1483, during one of those especially critical periods, when the outcome of events taking place in the Westcountry would unfold and ultimately impact disastrously on the whole country, Margaret had taken centre-stage, masterminding the whole plot of the western based Buckingham Rebellion against Richard III.The support she gained in 1483 from
Westcountry noble-men may have left her with a soft spot toward the region and its people. Perhaps the manor at Sampford Peverell and its nearby villages (including Uplowman, where Margaret arranged for the building of the church) became a place of refuge for Margaret). Given that she also stayed at one of her other manors along the Devon lanes, at Torrington, Devon seems to have been close to her heart.

Uplowman church
now thought to be 
Margaret Beaufort 
wife of Thomas Courtenay
13th Earl of Devon

    The county may also have held a special place for her because many of her ancestors were rooted in the county, although Margaret may not have remembered her aunt of the same name, for she had died when her niece was only 5. (Granddaughter of Edward III, the earlier Margaret Beaufort had married Thomas, 5th Earl of Courtenay during the early upheavals of the Wars of the Roses. An effigy in Colyton church is now thought to be that of Margaret Beaufort Courtenay, Lady Margaret Beaufort's aunt).

       As well as her literary pursuits, Beaufort's interest in Devon may have been associated with the turbulent vicissitudes of the pre-eminent Courtenay family, whose main residence at Tiverton castle was less than two miles west along the trackways from Sampford Peverell. In 1467, Edward IV conferred the rich Devon estates of Henry, the latest attainted Courtenay Earl, on Walter Blount, 1st Baron Mountjoy, who'd recently been appointed Lord High Treasurer. By November of the same year that the Beaufort couple made their visit to Sampford Peverell, Blount had married, as his second wife, Lady Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham, who through her first husband, Humphrey Stafford 1st Duke of Buckingham, became Margaret Beaufort's mother-in-law. Just coincidence maybe. The Staffords' journey and stay in their Sampford Manor during that time was perhaps connected with that of the newly married Blounts, who may have been down in Devon viewing their newly acquired lands. The women had more than their respective lands in common. Like her daughter in law Anne Neville was a book addict and known for her piety and advanced learning. In her will she left Margaret several texts: 'a book of English called Legenda Sanctorum, a book of French, called Luun, another book of French epistles and gospels and a primer with clasps of silver gilt covered with purple velvet'. (See The Cultural Patronage of Medieval Women.)

        In and not far from the village of Sampford Peverell, there are still sites that in the fifteenth century must have been stand-out places in the landscape, likely to have been places-to-visit by the royal entourage. Just up the hill from Richmond House to the north (near the site of the original village) was the (probable) castle, which had been built just over one hunded years before -

Sampford Peverell had a castle or at least a castellated mansion built about 1337 and referred to as Sampford Castle. Its exact location is unknown but earthworks north of Sampford Barton may be the remains of this structure. There is also some evidence of either a possible moat or fish ponds. (Sampford Peverell Society)
Looking toward possible site 
of Sampford Peverell castle from the village
It's not easy to work out which family owned the castle in the late fifteenth century - it having passed through several prestigious locals' hands (including Dinhams/Aisthorpes and Peverells), but given that at this time it was Margaret herself who had inherited the manor from John, Earl of Somerset, I can't help wondering if she may even have stayed there herself. And then there were the nearby religious establishments - the Halberton Augustinian priory (or College) along the track toward Tiverton, at Halberton and the also Augustinian Priory just east at Canonsleigh, which I wrote about in an earlier blog-post The Mystery of the Ancrene Wisse and the Canononnesses at Canonsleigh. I'd love at this blog-point to be able to establish a link between at least one of the prioresses of Canonsleigh and Lady Margaret, who was famed for her charitable deeds, her piety and commitment to daily religious observance, and believe there may be some kind of close connection as yet unrevealed. 

      There are tantalising hints, waiting for someone who can fathom out the necessary archival documents to tease out the lost links. For instance, Margaret's extended royal networks may link to at least two, possibly more, of the abbesses who were prioresses of the abbey which was in Burlescombe only a few miles east of Sampford Peverell. The three prioresses whose time at the priory coincided with the framing period just before and just after Margaret Beaufort's lifetime, were Margaret Beauchamp (1410-49), Joan Arundell (1449-1471) and Alice Parker (1471-1488). Although the only one of these who I am able to identify with certainty is Joan Arundell, each of these names indicate that the prioress concerned probably came from one of the distinctive families who were knitted into the very genealogical fabric of the C15.

      Margaret Beauchamp of Canonsleigh may have been the Margaret Beauchamp who is named on some online ancestral sites as daughter of Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick and Margaret de Ferrers; given this Margaret Beauchamp's estimated birth date, circa 1376, she would have been the correct age to fit that of the prioress and try as I might (although there are several Margaret Beauchamps in this period), as yet I am not able to find any other who fits dates and other life-facts. It is said that this Margaret married a John Dudley and that following his death became a nun. But as yet that is all I am able to find about her, except that she comes from the heart of a well-known C15 female literary network and also hooks into the royal familial network during the Wars of the Roses - all facts which in light of her possible Devon connections and the possibility of literary associates - make her intriguing.

      In 1410, one of Margaret Beauchamp's sister in laws, Elizabeth Berkeley (first wife of Richard 13th Earl of Warwick,), ordered a translation of Boethius' De Consolation Philosophie, which was eventually printed in Tavistock, in Devon in 1525. Another of Margaret Beauchamp (the nun's) sister in laws, Richard's second wife Isabel le Despenser, who died in 1439, was also known as a literary patron; she commissioned John Lydgate to write Fifteen Joys of Our Lady. (See The Cultural Patronage of Medieval Women). Meanwhile. Elizabeth Despenser's daughter, who was nun Margaret's niece (and incidentally, just to confuse things even more, was one of the other woman also like her aunt, named Margaret Beauchamp), took up her maternal family habit and became literary patron; she is linked with Talbot's Book of Hours and is also said to have commissioned Lydgate's life of Guy of Warwick (See for example, Book Production in the Nobel Household). One of her husband John Talbot's sisters, Anne Talbot, married Hugh Courtenay 4th Earl of Devon; it was their son Thomas who married Lady Margaret Beaufort's aunt of the same name. Through Anne Beauchamp 16th Countess of Warwick, one of the daughters of her brother and his second wife Isabel le Despenser, Margaret Beauchamp, nun was great aunt of Anne Neville, Queen Consort of England, wife of Richard III. 

      I must repeat that I am not sure about Margaret Beauchamp of Canonsleigh's identity, but wonder if my hunch is correct and she was the nun-daughter of Thomas 12th Earl of Warwick. I hope any history buffs out there seeing this may be able to connect up the missing dots about this woman, who was prioress up until 1449, just after Lady Margaret Beaufort's birth.

      The next abbess, Joan Arundell, followed Margaret Beauchamp as prioress of Canonsleigh until her death in 1470/1. An interesting conjunction of events, for this was only three years after it is known that Lady Margaret Beaufort was staying at Sampford Peverell. If the various online ancestral trees are correct, then Joan Arundell was daughter of John Arundell who was Sheriff of Cornwall and Vice Admiral of England under Thomas Beaufort Duke of Exeter - who was Margaret Beaufort's great uncle. In his will of 1433 John Arundell left '20 marks to Joan my daughter at Camalye'.

Although from our contemporary perspective, Joan Arundell is on history's sidelines, during the turbulent years leading up to Henry VII's reign, men in her family and kin were often in the thick of the action. For example, the year before she died, in 1469, Humphrey Stafford, 1st Earl of Devon, one of the richest Westcountry landowners of the time, who was step-son of Joan's nephew John Arundell through Katherine Chideock, the latter's second wife, was executed by a local mob in Bridgwater. Stafford, a Yorkist, was from a cadet branch of the earls of Stafford and may have been in service for his distant cousin, son of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. A couple of years before, Humphrey Earl of Devon had been appointed Keeper of Dartmoor and Constable of Bridgwater Castle and he'd instigated the execution of Henry Courtenay 7th Earl of Devon. Things went badly wrong for him after this during some altercation in one of the skirmishes of the ongoing war. That's when Stafford was put to death. (See details on Luminarium).

      Other men in Joan Arundell's close family link up with literary patronage - which suggests that the women of the family were similarly engaged with books, reading and translation. Her great niece Elizabeth Arundell (daughter of John Arundell and his second wife Katherine Chideock, married Giles Daubeney, whose father William Daubeney is said to have requested Caxton to print an early book about Charles the Great. I'm not sure of the year, but presumably as Daubeney died in 1461, this must have been during the time of Joan Arundell's time at the Devon priory. This contact provides a clue that connects to both Canonsleigh prioress and Margaret Beaufort's own literary activities. 

          Thomasine Arundell, who was another of Joan Arundell's great nieces, (she was another of John Arundell's daughters by Katherine Chideock, and sister of Elizabeth), married Sir Henry Marney; he was a member of Henry VII's privy council and in Lady Margaret Beaufort's household.

Alice Parker, the third Canonsleigh prioress who took over from Joan Arundell in 1471, is also interesting to consider in light of possible links with Lady Margaret Beaufort. I'm not totally sure of who she was, just like her predecessors she is now on the margins of history, but all the signs are that Alice was one of the Parker family who were Earls of Morley. The Parker/Morley genealogical network is not easy to trace and there are differing accounts of them online. But as far as I am able to make sense so far, Henry Parker, 10th Baron grew up in Margaret Beaufort's household and was known as a translator. He was son of Alice Lovell Parker, 9th Baroness of Morley and William Parker, who was standard bearer to Richard III. Alice's brother Henry Lovell, 8th Baron Morley married Elizabeth de la Pole, who was daughter of Elizabeth Plantaganet. The name Alice recurs through Parker family generations - one of them was Alice Lovell Parker's daughter. However, that is as far as I can get, because the dates as given do not fit that of the Canonsleigh prioress. Possibly Alice at Canonsleigh was one of the daughters from one of the earlier cadet branches, or alternatively, the estimated dates which are provided on the online sites are not correct. Hopefully one day someone will work out who Alice, prioress, was.

        I'm wading a little deep here with this cross-section of mid to late C15 aristocracy in terms of their possible literary and social links with the prioresses of Canonsleigh and/or Margaret Beaufort. I do not pretend to have discovered anything important, yet nor have I covered half of the possible networks of connection. It's surely just the tip of a lost literary iceberg. I'm just trying to lay out how, with a little perseverance, the story of Margaret Beaufort and Devon branches out into a welter of literary and historical possibility.

           Dedications and inscriptions found on a variety of printed books from this era indicate that books were passed on between sisters, from mothers to daughters or other sororal pairs and between women from extended kinship groups. It's not difficult to re-invent a scene in a shadowed solar chamber high up in the Devon manor house next to the church, where a group of women (along with other female kin) all at the top of the social hierarchy and all closely allied to the royal family, pour over one of their beloved books. The readers might occasionally glance up and out through the window with its tiny criss-crossed glass panes and gaze over the landscape panning out over the low-lying patchworked lands of the Culm valley, with its scrublands and sheep-grazed strip lands. No sign of the canal snaking quietly beneath the trees and through the meadows, where we, now, can step onto the towpath and walk for miles west or east admiring the natural tranquillity of the scene. No sign of the once presence of a woman who's left us with such a rich literary and historical legacy; though hidden in our past, she still surely hovers in the very ether of this place.

Looking toward Sampford Peverell church
from the canal.
See also: Imagining Translatiion
1. PATRICIA DEMERS Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme
Vol. 35, No. 4, Special issue / Numéro spécial : Women's Translations in Early Modern England and France / La traduction au féminin en France et en Angleterre (XVIe et XVIIe siècles) (FALL / AUTOMNE 2012), pp. 45-61
2. Thomas Penn, Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England, (Penguin, 2011), 311.


Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Popular posts from this blog

L ... Looking along the Lanes toward Lapford ... and Away

A Zeal Monachorum author who was 'Queen of Romance' - Margaret Pedler's 'big R' fictions and Devon

Women Writing on the Devon Land More Posts

Cottage at Cheldon

The cottage holiday-home of author Elizabeth Stucley in the 1960s. See Her-Story at Hartland.

Cheriton Fitzpaine Church

At Cheriton Fitzpaine church where Jean Rhys is buried. Gravestone on left of porch. See Caribbean Seas at Cheriton Fitzpaine.