Tudor Women -
a Fragment of a Fiction
set in the C16,
in the time of poet
set in the C16,
in the time of poet
Anne Edgcumbe Dowriche
Photo Julie Sampson
My manuscript Writing Women on the Devon Land has a supplement, a sequence of fictional fragments, each of which is linked with one of the writers who appear in the main part of the book.
Tudor Words began after I'd spent several years researching Anne Dowriche and her poem The French Historie. I'd just visited Cotehele and Mount Edgecumbe and these places, the poet's childhood homes, played on my mind: their rooms; their furniture, including the walnut escritoire in the White Room at Cotehele, which was filled to the brim with little cuboid compartments. Little hidden spaces from where poems could spell themselves. Then there were the tapestries. Telling multiple tales. Lost in the loom I tried to imagine a long arm stretching back through the centuries to reach Anne. I worked out how many of my own fore mothers would be needed before a hand could could extend to touch that of the poet.
I wanted to evoke paranoia. As with her own epic poem The French Historie (from which quotes are taken in the fiction), Anne has to create subterfuge. It is necessary to protect herself; and those she loves. Elizabeth may be her sister, or a close friend; Piers is her brother...
In the 1580s England is a land of subjects whose hearts held secrets. For women of the period there was prohibition against talking. Silence was precious: like chastity, it was considered a woman’s greatest ornament. The consequent withdrawal into the mind was as an enclosure in a labyrinth which symbolised the unpenetrated enclosed purity of the body. Frequently this led to an emotional release into poetry. Elizabethan women widely circulated and exchanged their manuscripts. These thus fostered intimate networks linking women via the visible yet silent transmission of texts. Yet there is also subterfuge; at a time of crisis and conflict the subject could not be sure of the simple honesty of even her closest relations or friends. Words dissemble; there are enigmatic codes, treacherous desires. No one can be entirely sure who to trust. Many fear a pending apocalypse; the end of the world may be nigh. In Devon the Black Plague has been raging through villages since the mid C14 – there was a serious outbreak in Exeter in 1590; there have been several violent religious centred uprisings, such as The Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549; and in 1588 the Spanish Armada instigates threatening waves of anxiety throughout the county.
'The tide is turning
we are at a crossroads'
Trying to close the gap trying to find to remember.
After all it is not so long ago
y/our Great great great great great Grandmother reaching out behind stretching behind
could almost touch Anne’s friend with the tips of her fingers she exchanges a greeting, a smile.
'I give you my hand, it is a token the sign of this our trusted friendship. We are after all, of the same blood.'
Fear skulks in the kitchen corner, among spider-webs. It is the same fear. We are maybe days away from doom, but for us it is the first time: four ghostly horsemen are riding by.
But thank the Lord that set me safe
Within this pleasant isle
O happy England, thou from God above are blessed,
Which has the truth established with peace and perfect rest
Two Tudor women they’re sitting here it’s an inner-chamber a withdrawing-room
in the Elizabethan mansion an alcove a window-seat oak panels faded tapestries
this is a chamber of secluded groves
Great great great great great Grandmother catches drifts of their conversation
as she peers backwards over the high garden wall.
“Why look you so upon me?”
“Is it then a secret?”
The fire is spitting
'Take this a manuscript precious Read it only in the safety of your inner chamber.”
“Shall I know the secreted code?'
the slight shift of head the nodded acquiescence
Elizabeth’s hooded eyes under the pale bonnet dark curls coiled under her chin.
Behind, the dark escritoire
its many drawers
its writing desk folded down
disguise an array of hidden recessed compartments
Within them pages proliferate with poetry and prose
they scintillate with signs with rhythms
rhymes in the the words are circulating.
She takes up her quill
adds a drift of words dovetailing her signature to own her reading
this text is passed on.
Anne’s covert glance behind her chair
there low under tapestry
the corner panel has moved
Behind it hidden is the Priest’s hole from below whisperings and murmers
We shall soon see by Wars again
our Country set on fire
And perfuming this already lavender dusted air scents of wafting incense
'Two days ago in York between stones
Pressed to death First woman Law of Recusancy'
'Some say she harboured Priests for whoredom, while she left bread and butter and red herrings behind on the table for her husband and sons.'
'But, a Saint. She’s a Saint.'
Under the rushed earth of this parlour is the underground chamber that E called her hidden womb. Passages networks,
mazed like intricately webbed needlework.
Three descending steps
the door panel closing dully behind them.
Here, a cave, crimson velvet wall linings along the edges, red-chests
and on top luridly painted boxes,
church vessels and vestments hanging from brooding hooks.
Private trinkets of the Mass are everywhere evident:
a little pyx,
candlesticks, silver cruets,
chalices and palls.
Elizabeth’s walking openly with her paternoster beads.
Anne from the corner of her vision revisits a presence from her past,
her Mother another Elizabeth.
watching, waiting for her in the Solar,
looking through the squint into the Chapel.
... to be continued
Do also take a look at Looking Over the Lanes to Lapford ... and Away