Wednesday, 27 October 2010

St. Mary, Eastwell

     Eastwell church, or what is left of it, stands about one mile to the north of the magnificent gates to the once great estate of Eastwell Park.  The large ornamental  reed-covered lake is inhabited with water fowl, and the old deer park now converted to farmland, and here amid this romantic setting - looking rather forlorn and mysterious - sits the ruin of St. Mary's, like a classic illustration from one of M.R James' ghost stories.  All that is left of the original building is the west tower and the shell of a window beside it, but the most significant remnant is found standing pathetically alone, surrounded by rubble, in what would probably have been the north wall of the chancel.  It is a stone tomb with the inscription: 'Reputed to be The Tomb of Richard Plantagenet 22 December 1550.'  He was the illegitimate son of Richard III, and his story came to light in the 18th century when the Earl of Winchelsea was examining the Parish Register.  He found an entry "Richard Plantagenet was buried the 22nd daye of December 1550."

The tomb of Richard Plantagenet
      When Eastwell was being rebuilt in 1540 the owner, Sir Thomas Moyle, observed that during his breaks, one of the bricklayers would often be reading a book which he hid whenever anyone approached.  He came upon him unobserved one day and found that the book was in Latin.  Puzzled by this, he questioned him about it.  The bricklayer told him that he had been brought up by a nurse whom he had taken to be his mother and, when still young, had been sent away to a Latin master and taught to read and write.  His only visitor was a gentleman who came occasionally to pay his board and keep.  When sixteen, the same gentleman took him on a journey.  They rode to Leicester and, on Bosworth Field, he was taken to the tent of King Richard.  The King, embracing him, told him that he was his father, and that the next day he had to fight for his crown.  He told the boy that, if defeated, he would be sure to lose his life and that if this happened, never to reveal his identity, as he would be in danger too.  The King gave him a purse of gold and, the next day, kept his date with destiny.  Following his father's defeat, the boy had himself apprenticed to a bricklayer, and eventually came to Eastwell where he worked and lived until his death at the age of eight-one in a small cottage that he built just east of the church - now long since gone.

     I felt strangely moved, standing here in the  ruins by this lonely tomb picturing the quiet, dignified man (the last of the Plantagenets), living his life in obscurity here as a simple mason.  It also shed fresh light on Richard III, whose actions as a caring father seem completely at odds with the monstrous picture Shakespeare painted of him.  It makes one wonder if he simply suffered a bad press.

1 comment:

  1. found the church ruin quite busy on a sunday walk, which reduced the atmosphere of mystery...