Hidden in the heart of rural Warwickshire is a Saxon Sanctuary I only recently discovered.
It’s in St Peter’s Church at Wootton Wawen, situated between Henley-in-Arden and Stratford-upon-Avon. In the Lady Chapel, an exhibition tells the story of Wagen’s woodland village in the Forest of Arden.
Wagen was a Saxon lord who owned the land (the “manor”) of Wootton before 1066. And I thought of him as I looked through the exhibition. When William the Conquerer took over, he swiped that land from Wagen and gave it, (as was the way of many English monarchs) to a pal of his. In this case the lucky recipient was Robert of Tosny, Earl of Stafford. History doesn’t record what happened to Wagen.
As I wandered around the church, I mused upon the lessons of history, and whether I can learn anything from them, in my life.
Along with the Saxon Sanctuary, three other streams of thought played into my musings – a recent TV programme on the 50 greatest treasures found by members of the public; a BBC TV drama production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”; and our planned visit to Bosworth to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III was killed, thus signalling the end for the Plantaganets and the rise of the Tudors.
Here are a few historical snippets that sprang into my mind, in no particular order:
A Viking with “bad attitude” buried his plunder meaning to come back later and collect it – but he never did. It lay in the earth until it was found by chance 1300 years later.
Henry V triumphed at Agincourt, then married Catherine daughter of the King of France. Their son Henry VI was a bit of a wash-out as a king, and would have preferred not to be king at all; he shrank from the role whereas his father had been famed for his valour. Following Henry V’s death when his son was 9 months old, Catherine went off and married Owen Tudor and thus started the Tudor dynasty.
When Richard III fought Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Henry was the rank outsider, and Richard would have been expecting to win. Shakespeare has him saying, “A horse! A horse! my kingdom for a horse!” He probably never said it but with those words Shakespeare exactly captures not only the poignancy and significance of that moment, but gives us a metaphor for human life many can recognise.
Mary I believed she’d restored Catholicism to England. She meant to secure a Catholic future – but whatever she achieved was only temporary. Her pregnancy turned out to be a phantom one, she died, and the throne passed into the hands of her protestant half-sister.
So I meditated on the fickle changes of fortune, and how they interface with our lives.
Consider the following:
What might have happened if:
– Richard III’s (metaphorical) horse had been available at the moment he needed him?
– Mary I had had a successful pregnancy which led to the birth of a healthy baby, thus securing a Catholic Tudor dynasty in England?
– if Harold had beat William at the Battle of Hastings in 1066?
– if James II had won the Battle of the Boyne?
– if Charlotte, the beautiful daughter of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, (as beloved as Princess Diana was when she died in 1997) had safely given birth to a healthy child, and lived to claim the throne and reign for 60 years, before Victoria was ever thought of?
– if Edward VIII had not met Mrs Simpson?
Some of these events could be interpreted as arising from errors of judgement and human failings; others from quirky twists of fate.
Many potentially great or significant people have been swallowed up by fate and removed from the arena of the world; and thus prevented from affecting the destiny of the human race. Shakespeare was well aware of that.
So what do I deduce from this? And is this something that can apply to anyone who has a dream or vision or sets out upon a course of action with a great goal in mind – such as a creative writer who would like their words to be read by many?
Simply that success or failure is not determined by hard work and striving.
Certainly “hard work and striving” cannot just be dispensed with. But perhaps we have to live with a healthy knowledge that that they may in a moment be swept away, and rendered irrelevant, by a quirky twist of fate.
What do you think? Do you share my fatalism? Or are you a historian who disagrees with my interpretation of English history? Do consider leaving a comment!