I’ve just returned from a ten day tour, concentrating on all things fifteenth century – chiefly the White Rose, or the House of York. After three nights in the Cotswolds, four in York and two in Leicestershire, there are too many highlights to mention, so here are just a few …
An Evening at Warwick Castle
What better way to begin the tour than with an evening at beautiful Warwick Castle, steeped in history? It has so many links with the Wars of the Roses too, so where do I start?! Upon arrival Edward IV greeted us on horseback – in fact, the horse (Calamity Jane) was one of those who pulled the carriage at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011! We were given the opportunity to explore the Kingmaker exhibition, which I think has been very cleverly presented – it depicts the household of the Earl of Warwick preparing for battle in the fifteenth century. There was
also a chance to see the sumptuous State Rooms, which contain a wonderful collection of portraits and furniture – I particularly like the beautiful Victorian sideboard depicting Elizabeth I’s visit to nearby Kenilworth Castle.
Warwick holds a lot of fond memories for me – I first visited as a small child, and over the years I’ve done a vast amount of research relating to the Castle and town. Of course, Lettice Knollys, the subject of my second book, lies buried in the nearby St Mary’s Church, which is in itself well worth a visit. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to visit on this occasion. Nevertheless, our evening at Warwick Castle was certainly one to remember, and I’m looking forward to returning.
Little Malvern Court
I often find that some of the smaller sites are my favourites, and Little Malvern is no exception. Nestled in the heart of the Malverns, the setting and surroundings at Little Malvern Court are simply spectacular. It is a wonderful privately owned home, and as such it has a very welcoming feel to it. The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens, cared for by just a handful of gardeners as well as the owner. We were lucky enough to visit on a bright, sunny day to enjoy them fully. Moreover, the house is equally lovely, and its treasures include a magnificent Delaroche painting and wonderful medieval beams. But of greatest interest to me was the Priory Church which stands next to the house. It contains some beautiful – and important – medieval glass, depicting the family of Edward IV. These rare survivals, which include a depiction of the future Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower, are among some of the most important survivals in the country. These pieces are a dream for any medievalist!
Whilst Warwick and Little Malvern were treasures enjoyed at the beginning of our tour, Rockingham came close to the end as we left the Cotswolds and Yorkshire behind. We were so fortunate to have a private tour of Rockingham with the Head Guide, and it didn’t disappoint! There are so many layers to Rockingham’s history, and what I found charming was that so many of them were still visible today. The Castle has an important collection of sixteenth century paintings, including an early one of Elizabeth I. What added to its charm is the fact that it’s still a family home, and the family still use most of the rooms which gives it a cosy feel. I am also a Charles Dickens enthusiast, so I was delighted to hear that he too visited Rockingham on several occasions as a guest of the family.
I don’t feel that I can talk about my highlights without mentioning this extraordinary final morning of the tour. We arrived in the village of Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire, which we were visiting because of its connections with Elizabeth Wydeville. The hospitality we received was incredible, as we were greeted with tea and coffee and a presentation about the history of the village. But this was no ordinary presentation – it came complete with ‘live characters’ from Grafton’s history, including Elizabeth Wydeville and Richard III! What a wonderful surprise! We were then guided to the Church of St Mary the Virgin, where Elizabeth Wydeville’s great-grandfather lies entombed. On the way none other than Henry VIII, who was joined by Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard amongst others, greeted us.
It was such a unique and interesting way of presenting the village’s history, and one that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
I had a wonderful time stepping back into the fifteenth century, visiting some spectacular sites and meeting some exceptional people. Unfortunately however, all good things must come to an end. Until next year … !