Coldridge Church; Conspiracy; the Canns, Connections and Beatrix Cresswell Part One
Coincidentally, and to my delight and surprise - a week after I posted this trio of pieces inspired by Coldridge and the unsolved Edward V affair the mystery has made national news, I believe for the first time, Here is a link to the version published in The Mail. I've not read the first account in The Telegraph as I don't subscribe to that paper but see Edward V The Coldridge Mystery and it's also available on Yahoo
‘And finally did Elizabeth Wydville who died in 1492 in Bermondsey Abbey go to her grave with the knowledge that at least one of her sons was safe and living in rural Devon on his half-brother’s property?’ MedievalPotporri‘When the princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, sent her daughters out of sanctuary and into Richard III’s care in spring 1484, can she really have believed he had killed his nephews months earlier? Her daughters were a threat to Richard; the eldest, Elizabeth of York, was to marry Henry Tudor if he could win Richard’s throne. Yet they all survived. The simplest explanation for all this is that she knew her sons were safe’. The simplest explanation for all this is that she knew her sons were safe’.(Princes in the Tower)
It is not often that apparently disparate passions and projects come together in and from an unexpected source - in such a way that they demand that one stop everything else and step off at a tangent from a schedule to explore a different journey than originally planned - then lead unexpectedly to a new project interweaving all of them. Such happened to me back in the late summer during and after a mini day trip back to explore a couple of churches in Devon.
We all love a conspiracy! Such I found out of the blue in the second church of my tour. (The first church, Nymet Rowland, just up the rolling Devon hills from Lapford, with its porch entrance carvings of ancient spirals, sun-circle iconography and mysterious Roman letters spelling EMER was equally fascinating).
|Photo Harvest display Coldridge|
In the fifties, from fields near our home on the ridge north of nearby North Tawton we could see Coldridge on the sky line; it’s only four miles away and my friends and I, child sleuths, would sometimes decide to have an ‘adventure’ (mode of Lone Pine Club or Famous Five), take our duffle bags stuffed with sweets and drinks and wander through the fields and along paths and into nearby Ashridge woods. We’d get the occasional glance of the village on the far ridge. There'd be a mystery to solve. We were certain. We must wander along the lanes over the fields until we reached the place. But no, we didn’t ever quite make Coldridge. Usually our need to get back for dinner or for my friends to go back down to their own home at the bottom of our town called us back before we’d reached the end of the back lane out of Ashridge. Anyway, even if we had trekked that far, in those days the treasures of Coldridge church would have eluded us, although I’m sure we realised that the place was another of our special local landscape sites. We were daughters of the ridge and longed to become as familiar with the village on the other ridge as we were with our Wildridge … and Ashridge …
In the present day, I wandered round the nave at Coldridge investigating the church’s obvious and astounding historical treasures – the stunning pulpit with its grape-frieze; its C15 oak rood-screen with carved oak leaves and floral bosses; the barrel-vaulted roof with Tudor rose bosses and fantastic creatures - DevonChurchland calls the overall effect a ‘bobby-dazzler’.
Then I turned my attention to why I’d travelled here in the first place. My original reason for wanting to explore Coldridge church was to see first-hand where one of my grandmothers x three was married, in November 1826, nearly two hundred years ago. Having been baptised and I believe born in the nearby parish of Bondleigh, the woman in question, twenty years old Nan Passmore, apparently had no direct connection with this village. Just like so many others of our family's foremothers Nan was just a scribble of a name (actually a series of names depending which record you looked at – Nan, Nann, Ann, and Nancy) - had no real identity other than her connection with the places that the archives listed as places of baptism and marriage and the facts of her links with the menfolk in her life. Nan’s married life had been spent in Broadwoodkelly, another parish within a crow-throw from Coldridge.
So, I’d wanted to follow Nan Cann, see where her wedding journey led me; step inside the church, stroll up the aisle, conjure the young bride, my great great great grandmother tying the knot with Bartholomew Earland, the bridegroom - who, baptised in another of the mid to north Devon parishes, at Iddesleigh - may have been linked with nearby Nymet Rowland. I wanted to rekindle Nan’s life-journey. I hoped to stumble upon something, a clue which might suggest why the couple were married here, hoped also to find a few gravestones outside that might open up new avenues for genealogical research. (I did note several stones with a family name, which may eventually lead something more productive about my quest after Nan. But hey, that’s another story)!
Well, there you have it, one of my own personal passions - family history. Not directly connected to writing blogs or poetry or texts about neglected women writers from Devon you might think, or generally with the life-journey of a poet – one of my ‘other’ main creative passions - though in actuality during the long solitudes of lockdown the disparate interests had already begun to draw closer. As I began to trace some of the so-called Gateway ancestors ideas following the discovery of Bartholomew Earland, I’d started drafts of a sequence of poems whose focus was and is a kind of poetry ‘mapping’, an evocation of some of these long lost 'gateway' women, many of whom, even though their names and complicated kinships appear on archival records, have left not even a recorded snippet or trace of their own unique life-journey; and in this respect they are nigh identical to the other 'commoners' in one’s family history, whose names in the listings occur with the bare fact of an accompanying baptism, or and marriage or, and if you’re lucky, a burial date. In common, all these women, aristocratic, or poor as church mice, are history’s invisibles. Here is the beginning of one gateway poem in the as yet (unpublished) sequence:
Before leaving Coldridge church I returned to sit in one of the pews to have another more careful read through the guide book. Make sure I’d not missed anything of importance. Well, I had! In behind the rood-screen (and not easily reached as its now used as vestry) there is an effigy, not your common-or-garden memorial of a once Lord of the local manor, but a late C15/early C16 mystery man. (Didn't get a photo when I was there but here is a link to the amazing image on the out of this world website Devon Churchland).
‘The effigy is wearing chainmail under his robe and the story goes that John turned up in Coldridge in 1485 after the battle of Bosworth. IF he had been Edward he would have been around 15 at that time. There is however reason to believe that he had arrived earlier in 1484. His mother Elizabeth Wydeville had emerged from sanctuary at Westminster accompanied by her daughters on the 1st March of that year. She had reached an agreement with Richard III and wrote to her son Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, who had owned Coldridge prior to it being confiscated by Richard, but was now in France with Henry Tudor, to return home as Richard would pardon him. Two days later on the 3 March a trusted follower of the king, Robert Markenfield was sent from Yorkshire to Coldridge. Was this to keep an eye on the young lad who had been king for such a short time, Edward V, and who had been secreted away at the former property of his half brother, Dorset, a property which was about to returned to him if it had not already been done so?’
Currently, I understand Philippa Langley, whose determination was responsible for the discovery Richard III at Leicester, is leading an investigation into the intriguing Mystery of the Princes and that one avenue of exploration is that centred on Coldridge.
And it is in the spaces of credulous unknowing that the second project I mentioned above comes in. My drafts of a manuscript about the lost history of Devon’ s women writers includes sections in which I try to re-imagine the lost lives of women of the higher classes from the deep past of our local history through non-fictional re-castings and fictional imaginings. For example, in Heliodora; an Excerpt I’ve tried to evoke two women of high status during Roman times, at the site of the large Roman fort, 'Nemetostatio' at North Tawton. I’ve researched and written about the mysterious medieval poet Marie De France, (whose identity is as yet un-established) and have concluded that it is possible that she may have been brought up in an aristocratic family in mid Devon. (See Excerpt How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?). I wrote a poem and then fragment of fiction about Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, who'd often stayed at her various manors in Devon.
I’ve also investigated and found records of names and fragments of writing that seem suggestive of networks of literary communication threading between women from various families of high status. When I came across papers written by Micheline White about some Devon based C16 literary ‘power couples’ I decided my theory was vindicated. ("See Power Couples and Women Writers in Elizabethan England: The Public Voices of Dorcas and Richard Martin and Anne and Hugh Dowriche.” In Framing the Family: Narrative and Representation in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, edited by Rosalyn Voaden and Diane Wolfthal).
I’d come to believe that many of the forgotten noblewomen, chunks of whose lives were spent in and around their Devon estates, left traces of significant contributions to our lost literary history, which if known about might help challenge the norms of the canonical understanding of the county’s literary history. However, gradually I’ve almost reconciled myself to seeing that I was on to a lost cause. A non-starter. To begin with, as a background and by default Devon is often considered as a county on the side-lines of important history. Too many historical reports cast aside comments which denigrate Devon as a county of rural 'yokels’, a backwater of the country where people who mattered did not congregate or live and certainly did not feature in events of national significance. For example, apropos the Coldridge church, as the writer of the brilliant blog DevonChurchland, comments: ‘why would a small church ‘in a gritty little village lost in the boondocks of Devon’ have such a wonderful royal and extremely rare window?’ If Devon per se is not important in the unfolding of history's narratives, then the lives and writings of long lost and forgotten women whose secrets - literary and other - are squirreled away in the archival deposits of various Record Offices/Heritage Centres etc., might as well be denigrated and abandoned to their desolate fate. In actuality, this default belief is so far from the facts that it is ridiculous. Just as a start, as far back as the notorious murder of Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury several of the murderers were Devon men. Then there’s the Sampford Courtenay or Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549; there’s the Spanish Armada 1588; connected to Coldridge's mystery there’s the Perkin Warbeck Rebellion (more of which later). Through the centuries intricate networks of powerful people of both sexes planted firmly on Devon’s soil contributed to the unfolding of history’s national happenings. When it comes to the women, who frequently inherited lands and title and through marriage passed them onto add to the wealth of their often previously less well-off spouses, they are everywhere in archives, between lines in small print, often cast aside in favour of often detailed information about their husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles or cousins.
|In Coldridge Church looking towards Rood Screen|
I'm grateful for the generous help given by Holly Morgenroth of Exeter Museum.