Thoughts on ‘Witch Child’ by Celia Rees

Today I share my review of ‘Witch Child‘ by Celia Rees, now out in a special 20th Anniversary edition. This is a compelling historical novel of the arrival of a group of Puritans in New England in 1650, of their encounters with the Native Indians, and a tale not only of religious intolerance but of the deep-seated fear human beings have of anybody who dares to be different.

Cover design for Witch Child by Celia Rees – 20th Anniversary edition

Having just finished reading The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, about Catherine Parr and the dangerous path she trod through religious fanaticism and intolerance, I feel my senses have been sharpened to this theme of rejection of women for being different. It seems that historical fiction is an excellent vehicle for this theme but sadly the theme is also highly relevant in today’s world.

Witch Child is a Young Adult novel and has been firmly established on the schools curriculum for the challenging issues it raises, vital for children to wrestle with, themes of intolerance, the true nature of freedom, the forces of conservatism, spirituality and female independence.

The book opens with a horrific account of the persecution of a woman in late 17th century England. Through the eyes of a young girl, we learn how her grandmother is dragged away – feared and reviled as a witch for her role of village “wise-woman and healer” – tortured then hanged for witchcraft. We are confronted with the intense hatred, fear and hysteria that flares up among the local ‘authorities’ (often self-appointed); their fanaticism aroused by another opportunity to publicly shame, humiliate and destroy a woman for being different.

As I read the story of Mary’s departure for the New World with a group of Puritans, I was keen to refresh my knowledge of this period of English history. As it happened, the Puritans sought freedom in another land to practice their own brand of religion freely. Ironically they took all their own prejudices and narrow-mindedness with them and transplanted it into the communities they built in New England.

I was moved by Mary’s growing connection with her two allies from the local Indian tribe, White Eagle and Jaybird. They too knew what it meant to be ostracised for bring just what they were. The themes of nature-connection are strong between the girl trained in ways of herbalism and intuitive healing, and the native people with their deep spirituality and knowledge of the earth and their environment, as with all First Nation peoples.

I loved the overriding structure of the book, pages of an authentic historical journey, found sewn into a late 17th century quilt, and the mystery with which the book ends. I know the author wrote a sequel, but this book left the way wide open for me to imagine exactly how I wanted it to end and what I hope happened to Mary next.

A compelling story from an author who has just brought out a new book, this time for adults, called Miss Graham’s War. Set in Germany in 1946, and published by Harper Collins in May 2021, this will be my next read.

Thoughts on the Tudors and ‘The Taming of the Queen’ by Philippa Gregory

The Tudors have been popular for the last few years, in books and films and TV programmes. And whatever we think of Henry VIII as a man, he was certainly a gift to history. For he must be one of the most memorable of all characters in the story of Britain. Never mind that he was a monster and a psychopath. It seems that Tudor propaganda has won out through the centuries, and many prefer to think of him as a colourful over-the-top character who started up the Church of England, ate an enormous amount, and killed a few wives on the way.

The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Although I myself love history, and read history books as well as historical fiction, I know that many, perhaps, learn most of history through reading historical fiction. That is why I believe our high quality historical novelists are so important to us, because they engage us in history and encourage us to imagine what it must have been like to be there, and to deal personally with characters like Henry VIII.

Such is the case with ‘The Taming of the Queen’ by Philippa Gregory which is the story of Henry’s last wife, Kateryn Parr. This novel was published in 2015 and although I have read several books of historical fiction by other authors, I haven’t read many Philippa Gregory novels, other than ‘The Boleyn Girl’. However I found this story of Kateryn compelling, and Gregory drew me in so that I felt I was there with Henry’s sixth Queen, navigating the mercurial character of the monster she was forced to marry, while keeping her love for Thomas Seymour a secret.

I was also captivated by Kateryn’s passion and intelligence, and her commitment to religious reform, as she led a theological study group in her palace rooms. Kateryn’s tragedy was, in the world of the Tudor court, “Nobody likes a clever, passionate woman.” We see that in the case of the religious reformer and courageous preacher Anne Askew who was ultimately tortured on the rack then burned at the stake.

One of my favourite characters in the novel is Will Somers, the King’s Fool. He is so witty and clever, an acrobat, a juggler, a commentator and observer of the action rather like the Chorus in ancient Greek tragedies. He made the King laugh, he lightened the mood, then when his political satire became too close for comfort, he acted silly to relieve the tension.

“It is easier to stand on your head than keep the king in one mind,” he says. At another point, he remarks, “If I were a wise man I would be dead by now.”

In reading the story of Kateryn, I think the best safeguard any Queen of Henry might have would be her ladies-in-waiting and her gentlewomen of the bedchamber. All the queens depended on their ladies’ 100% loyalty and trustworthiness, their ability to sniff out danger ahead, and to warn of conspiracies in the making. Kateryn relied on Catherine Brandon, Anne Seymour, and her own sister Nan.

Nan, we are told, has served six of Henry’s queens and buried four. Nan forewarns Kateryn she is being targeted for criminal proceedings against her on the grounds of heresy; and as we can see from this novel, Henry changed his mind week by week about what constituted heresy. Bishop Stephen Gardiner (one of the top nasties of the Tudor court, along with the Duke of Norfolk) is assembling a case against Kateryn.

“He’s coming for you, Kat,” warns Nan, “and I don’t know how to save you…. they are changing the law ahead of me. I can’t make sure you obey the law because they are changing it faster than we can obey.”

Thomas Seymour, the man Kateryn loves and believes she has lost, tells Kateryn that he must marry; the Seymours need an alliance at court and he needs a wife who will speak for him; his choice is 12 year old Princess Elizabeth whom Kateryn knows “has a childish adoration for Thomas.”

Alongside this we are constantly brought face to face with the volatile, psychotic King – obese, an addictive over-eater, tormented by the pain of his leg ulcer and his inner demons.

Meanwhile conspiracies continue, and the question of what religion Henry believes shifts daily. A Howard plot to remove Kateryn, replace her with Mary Howard, and bring the country back to Catholicism, is revealed.

When Kateryn is forewarned that Henry has signed a warrant for her arrest, she is able to make her case to him. She submits to him and presents herself as an ignorant, subserviant woman, for the safety not only of herself, but also “of all who depend on this tyrant for their freedom. I can rack my pride. I can dislocate my shame.” Thus the Queen is “tamed”. He then physically abuses her; he whips and humiliates her in a shocking scene (I am not sure if historical evidence exists for this).

But by her willingness to appear “tamed,” Kateryn wins her life, and ultimately survives her marriage to Henry. The novel concludes after Henry’s death with Kateryn exalting in her freedom; she says she is free to be herself at last, may pursue her passions and interests, her commitment to religious reform, and write her books.

I must admit that reading this story I feel surprised that Kateryn didn’t suffer from post traumatic stress disorder afterwards; and perhaps she did. Tragically she only lived a further 18 months because (foolishly, we may believe, taking the long view) she married Thomas Seymour; and having become pregnant, she died shortly after childbirth. The fate of her little daughter Mary Seymour, following the execution of Thomas the following year, is unknown to history. It is thought she died around the age of two; but no evidence of this exists. Perhaps the truth will come to light one day.

Ultimately I found this book an emotionally engaging, enlightening and intellectually stimulating read, and Philippa Gregory’s reputation as ‘the contemporary mistress of historical crime’ is well deserved.

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Blog Tour and Book Review: The Healing by Joy Margetts

It is my pleasure today to be part of the blog tour for a beautiful new book from the publisher Instant Apostle, a book which is a debut novel for its author, Joy Margetts.

During the Covid19 pandemic many have spoken about the experience of lockdown, and some have felt it has been a time to reflect and step aside from all our normal busyness, and view life with new eyes..

Although I agree with that, nevertheless, I don’t think anything of what we have experienced can compare with the deep inner peace and healing that has for centuries been associated with the monastic lifestyle. In fact the two areas of spirituality seeing the most growth, are those associated with cathedrals and monasteries. Of course, a few years ago many of us enjoyed the TV Series The Monastery, when a group of people from all walks of life and varieties of faith or no faith, tried out life in a Benedictine monastery for a few weeks, to see the impact, if any, it might have on their lives.

Joy Margetts, author of The Healing

The Healing by Joy Margetts (published April 2021 by Instant Apostle)

Based partly on the author’s own experience, but transferred to 12th century France and Wales, this warm-hearted, compassionate and touching story draws the reader into the relationship between injured warrior/nobleman Philip de Braose (based on a real historical character) and his kind and compassionate mentor Brother Hywel of the Abbey Cymer in Wales.

We journey with Philip and Hywell from Philip’s near death on a French battlefield, and along the way we explore Philip’s traumatic past, and follow his path of healing and transformation, spiritual, emotional and psychological, as well as physical.

The book has the feel of a spiritual classic – a damaged, world-weary character meets a wise mentor who with gentleness and goodness opens up to him a new way of seeing the world and his place in it. Philip is a young man cast adrift, wounded in body, mind, and spirit, and his journey back to Wales with Hywell is a journey from despair to hope and new life. As the journey progresses, Hywel has many lessons to teach Philip, lessons in grace, humility, kindness, compassion and discernment.

Eventually we learn the back stories of both Hywel and Philip, and the tragedies, sorrows and regrets they have both suffered, and how they have come through them. The ability to move forward calls upon all their resources of forgiveness, both of others and of themselves.

Ultimately the story takes a surprising turn and rises to a very moving outcome.

Highly recommended.

The Healing by Joy Margetts is available from Instant Apostle, from the author’s own website http://www.joymargetts.com or from all online book retailers.

Joy’s social media links are as follows:

Website

Facebook Page

Book Reviews: Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell Trilogy

Having just finished reading the third in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, rather than posting one review here, I thought I would bring together my three reviews, each originally posted online soon after I read the book.

Hilary Mantel, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and The Light

Book 1 – Wolf Hall

Now I’ve finished Wolf Hall, I feel as if I’ve been an insider, in the world of Henry VIII. I bought the book following a friend’s recommendation. She said she found it so powerful that she couldn’t read anything else for quite some time after she’d finished it.

And certainly I’ve changed the view I previously held of Thomas Cromwell, whose mind we occupy throughout the novel. Upon reading Hilary Mantel’s account of this man, I admire him and can understand his role in relation to Henry, and his extraordinary gifts as he navigated Henry’s changing whims.

As to Henry himself… what was his prayer? That he might have a healthy, long-lived, legitimate male heir to take over the English Throne for the Tudors, and carry their dynasty well into the future. Of course, in the end, his dynasty only lasted for 118 years, considerably less than the Plantagenet dynasty which had gone before.

I can imagine now how he must have felt each time Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn miscarried a child. He felt professionally devastated and personally anguished; frightened that he had incurred the displeasure of God; afraid that after having been in his hands the throne would go where he did not want it to go; afraid his hopes and dreams would never be fulfilled; afraid that this was God’s punishment. After all, the English Throne was his professional business, his livelihood, his calling.

Now, of course, with historical hindsight, we can judge him as wrong and foolish and deluded, if we wish: see he was wrong to have Anne Boleyn beheaded; and wrong to have various people brutally slaughtered for not agreeing with his divorce, and for not thinking the right things at the right time about religion, and for thinking he, Henry, was wrong.

But what should he have done instead, according to us with our historical hindsight? Some may think he should have stuck with Anne Boleyn, forgiven her, and lived out his life married to her.

What actually happened? Ultimately the English throne became strong and proud under Elizabeth I – though she died childless and thus failed to extend the Tudor dynasty, she is still considered by many to have been England’s greatest monarch

So we may well say that God answered Henry’s prayer – but not in the way he expected.

This philosophical rumination has been inspired by Wolf Hall simply because so many of us are familiar with the Tudor story – but in fact the narrative of this novel only goes as far as the execution of Sir Thomas More leaving the downfall of Anne Boleyn still in the future.

Perhaps the thing that most fascinated me about Wolf Hall is the way the reader follows through delicate, graceful, civilised conversations – gentle, balanced, measured… and then out of them comes a decision to burn someone alive, or have them hanged, drawn and quartered.

One sentence in the book goes as follows: “all that youth, beauty, grace and learning, turned to mud, grease, and charred flesh.”

Emotionally stirring, moving, shocking and instructive, what you learn here of human nature will stay with you.

Book 2 – Bring Up the Bodies

When it comes to the art of making momentous decisions on the basis of throwaway remarks, idle boasts, gossip and loose talk, the Tudors gave us a masterclass. But isn’t this in some measure the story of our own lives, though we never know how momentous any of our decisions may be? Perhaps that’s part of the reason why we are so fascinated by the Tudors.

In language sometimes poetic, elegant and stylish and at other times crude, ribald and cruel, to match her subject matter, Hilary Mantel continues to chart Thomas Cromwell’s course through the treacherous marshes of Henry VIII’s bizarre emotional and mental life, to the downfall and execution of Anne Boleyn.

Whilst reading Mantel’s compelling narrative, I felt as close as I possibly could be to the personal experience of “Master Secretary” Cromwell himself. (In fact I wondered if he ever suffered burnout or stress from working for an unstable boss like Henry.) In such an environment, the news that you’ve got your own final appointment at the Tower must almost come as a blessed relief.

I look forward to being guided through Cromwell’s journey to that final appointment in the next novel in Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy.

Book 3 – The Mirror and the Light

A highly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy: from my experience of Hilary Mantel’s skills as a storyteller, I had come to expect the most lyrical, musical and graceful writing, covering all registers, along with the horror, spiteful gossip, cynical manipulation, brutality, paranoia, religious extremism, lies, betrayal and twisted thinking.

Yet I also felt moved and touched by Thomas’s relationships with his loyal lieutenant Rafe Sadler and his son Gregory. (Afterwards I couldn’t resist looking up all Gregory’s many descendants, from his marriage with Elizabeth, Jane Seymour’s sister). In this book I particularly enjoyed Thomas’s conversations with Ambassador Eustache Chapuys, who always speaks his mind about Henry; he cannot be a traitor to this king but only to his own master, beyond England’s borders.

Sadistic cruelty, jaunty chat, razor-sharp observations: all is recounted, and intermittently we are uplifted by the most fluid, entrancing, poetic prose, which somehow draws the events from micro to macro, rippling backwards and forwards in time, as the high stakes, the pity, and the terror stalk these pages along with the merciless, paranoid king.

Hilary Mantel’s genius is to make us feel sorry for Henry as a human being, whilst his monstrosity is plain to us; and also we feel compassion for Thomas Cromwell himself, navigating the power games and political marriages; and even for the Lady Mary, daughter to Henry by Katherine of Aragon, despite the fact that we know what her future held for her.

The story is told ‘looking over Thomas Cromwell’s shoulder’. In the final part of the book, recounting the Anne of Cleves crisis, the reader feels such a sense of impending doom as Henry behaves like a spoilt, dangerous child, whilst Thomas Cromwell and Hans Holbein try so hard in good faith to make this all work. But Thomas is now on his inexorable downward slope, finally toppled by his refusal to promise anything he does not believe he can deliver, and criticised for not being firmer with Henry when the king shares his plan to take a disastrous course of action.

Henry is described in various places as ‘mutable… mercurial…. impulsive.’ Yet, at times of greatest peril to those he once loved or counted as friends, when a word from him would save them, he remains hard and stubborn.

I feel that Hilary Mantel has done great honour to Thomas Cromwell in telling his story as she has – with such grace, wisdom and discernment.

Finally, two examples of her inspired turns of phrase:

Thomas moves close to his moment of execution:

He feel netted by the past, suspended in some high blue instant, strung up in air.

And this, as Thomas, incarcerated in The Tower, takes his leave of The Queen’s Lodgings, to be transferred to the grim and austere Bell Tower: He says goodbyes to the goddesses, a last flitting glance over his shoulder. No trace of Anne Boleyn. He remembers her saying – was it in this very room ? – ‘Be good to me’. He thinks, if I see her again, perhaps this time I will.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 4: St Mary’s Church Warwick

This is the fourth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Gothic Tower of St Mary’s Warwick at night. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

The gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick is the defining feature of the town of Warwick, which can be viewed from miles away, especially by those approaching from the direction of Stratford-upon-Avon along the A429. I can imagine that in past centuries travellers would have reached the top of the hill and said, “Ah! here’s Warwick!”

From the top of the church tower you may obtain an excellent view down onto Guy’s Tower in Warwick Castle; and likewise, from Guy’s Tower, one of the very best views of St Mary’s Warwick may be obtained.

St Mary’s Church, Warwick, as seen from the top of Guy’s Tower, Warwick Castle. Photo credit Abigail Robinson.

At St Mary’s you may find one of the greatest medieval treasures in the UK, retaining the glorious craftsmanshp of pre-Reformation England: the magnificent, richly ornamented Beauchamp Chapel.

The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

The Chapel contains several tombs of the Earls of Warwick and other famous historical individuals, such as Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his wife Lettice, and their infant son who tragically died young, and was known affectionately as the Noble Impe.

Here is an extract from my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

The Beauchamp Chapel was consecrated in 1475.

   Within it you may find the tomb of Ambrose Dudley (earl from 1561 to 1590), who was granted Warwick Castle by Elizabeth I and whose brother Guilford married Lady Jane Grey. Also entombed in the Chapel is Sir Robert Dudley, [image] Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, who died in 1588 and here lies alongside his second wife, Lettice Knollys; and also the tomb of their son, the Noble Impe, (image) who died in infancy in 1584.

   Of particular note, too, are the long scrolls of plainsong music carried by angels, while the feathered figures of other angels play musical instruments of the period. They may be seen high in the tracery of the side windows, and on occasions St Mary’s hosts concerts by musicians such as the York Waits, who play replicas of the very medieval instruments – shawms, rebecs and sackbuts among others – played by the angels.

   On a number of occasions visitors report the sound of a ghost choir singing psalms in the chapel when there’s nobody there.

   If you stand in the nave and looks toward the chancel and altar, you may admire the vaulting of flying ribs, one of the finest examples on this scale in England. There are many memorials in this part of the church, and underneath it is a vault which was commonly called the bone-house or charnel house.

   A mysterious dark figure is often seen at the altar in the evenings when the verger comes to close the church. When the verger moves down the aisle to ask him to leave, the figure disappears into the choir stalls and doesn’t reappear. A search of the choir stalls shows them to be empty. So far no research has uncovered the history behind this figure.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

Find out more by preordering Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Paranormal Warwickshire Part 17: Coughton Court, Alcester

This is the seventeenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Coughton Court Alcester Warwickshire
First view of the house at Coughton Court, Warwickshire (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The Tudor house at Coughton Court, for centuries the family seat of the Throckmorton family, is one of the loveliest National Trust properties in Warwickshire and it has a variety of gardens, both formal and natural, including an enchanting bog garden.

view gazebo bog garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view along the path to the gazebo in the bog garden at Coughton Court Warwickshire

The grounds slope down towards the banks of the River Arrow.

river Arrow at Coughton Court Warwickshire
The River Arrow at Coughton Court Warwickshire
garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view of the garden at Coughton Court (National Trust), Alcester, Warwickshire

The grounds are particularly notable for a stunning walled RHS garden which was designed by two members of the Throckmorton family, Clare and her daughter Christine, professional garden designers.

Nearby are two churches: the nearest, St Peter, is Anglican and was built in the late 15th century by Sir Robert Throckmorton. It began life as a Catholic church but after the reformation became Church of England.

The paranormal tale which I recount in my book Paranormal Warwickshire is connected to the graveyard of the Anglican church.

Anglican church of St Peter and graveyard at Coughton Court Warwickshire
The Anglican Church of St Peter at Coughton Court, Alcester, Warwickshire

Beyond that the Catholic Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Elizabeth was built in 1855, when the family could at last worship openly as Catholics. The family have remained true to their Catholic faith for many generations, and in the sixteenth century they found their way around Elizabeth I’s religious laws, as so many Catholic recusants did in those dangerous and turbulent times.

Catholic Church Coughton Court Warwickshire
The Catholic Church at Coughton Court National Trust, Alcester, Warwickshire

Another curious anecdote relates to the coat of arms which formerly hung over the front entrance. To find out more, do preorder Paranormal Warwickshire here.

View towards Front entrance Coughton Court Warwickshire
View towards Front entrance Coughton Court Warwickshire

The Throckmorton name is of course linked to the Gunpowder Plot and a fascinating exhibition in the house tells the full story.

view gazebo bog garden Coughton Court Warwickshire
A view along the path to the gazebo in the bog garden at Coughton Court Warwickshire

Discover more about the intriguing history, the curious anecdotes, and the many poignant associations with the most dramatic periods of English history at Coughton Court in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 16: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the sixteenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon is known as Shakespeare’s Church, because the Bard was baptised there, and because he is buried there. The story of his association with this church, and the presence of several clues that he may have drawn direct inspiration from the church and its graveyard for his literary works, makes this church a place of pilgrimage for those who love Shakespeare.

Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The church is located beside the River Avon beyond the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it has strong spiritual resonance, for many reasons beside the fact that it is a place of worship, and has been a centre of holiness for centuries.

William Shakespeare Engraving First Folio 1623 by Martin Droeshout
William Shakespeare Engraving First Folio 1623 by Martin Droeshout

Speculating about Shakespeare’s own faith, and his position on matters of religion, has long been a fruitful area of debate and enquiry among Shakespeare scholars, and it is fascinating to hunt for evidence of his own beliefs within his works – and to draw our own conclusions from this.

Shakespeare monument Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Shakespeare’s monument above his grave in Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Since he lived in times of great religious turbulence, it has been speculated that his own father had true Catholic sympathies (despite the fact that at the reformation, he was forced to whitewash over the medieval splendour on the walls of the Guild Chapel). It is known, too, that during Shakespeare’s period of schooling, the young boy destined for literary greatness would have come under the influence of a schoolmaster who was a strong Catholic.

Shakespeare's grave Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

As in matters of politics, so in matters of religion – and since they were inextricably bound up with one another, Shakespeare would have needed to tread a delicate tightrope as he wrote his plays. What he wrote cannot be seen in isolation from the pressures that would have been placed upon him by Elizabeth I and James I. And yet his originality of thought, his humanity and profound insight into human nature shone through all this.

Clopton Chapel Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Clopton Chapel, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson). One of the paranormal tales told of this church concerns a young girl who was a member of the Clopton family.

One of the most often-told tales of this church concerns the inscription upon Shakespeare’s grave.

Inscription on Shakespeare's grave Holy Trinity Church Stratford upon Avon
Inscription upon Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon forbidding anyone to disturb his bones – so far the warning has been honoured, despite applications for permission to investigate his grave to find manuscripts which are rumoured to be buried with the Bard

Discover more about the intriguing history, the curious anecdotes, and the many poignant associations with Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park

Coughton Court, Alcester

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 9: St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

This is the ninth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Baddesley Clinton photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Manor House at Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

The medieval manor house at Baddesley Clinton is one of my favourite National Trust properties. Full of secrets and stories, this is the style of architecture I most love, timber-framed, set within a moat, full of secrets and stories, with its nooks and dens and unexpected corners and disappearing staircases… and of course the much-loved priest-holes.

St Nicholas Owen 1550-1606 master priesthole builder photo credit Wikimedia commons Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
St Nicholas Owen 1550-1606 master priest-hole builder photo credit Wikimedia commons Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Not so much loved, I imagine, by the sixteenth century Jesuit priests who had to hide in them for days to escape Elizabeth I’s priest-hunters; although they would certainly have been grateful for the sanctuary, knowing the alternative; arrest, trial and execution by hanging, drawing and quartering.

No, we are the ones who have the luxury of loving the priest-holes; for today we gaze with awe and wonder at the sheer ingenuity, physical strength and building skills of the master priest-hole builder, Nicholas Owen (later canonised by the Catholic church).

The original house was built here in 1400. Its name derives from a Saxon called Baeddi, who first cleared the site in the Forest of Arden where the house stands, and the de Clinton family, who dug the moat in the 13th century.

For 500 years the house was owned by the Ferrers family, passing from father to son for twelve generations. The Ferrers family remained loyal to the Catholic faith despite periods of persecution after Henry VIII’s split from Rome.

Edward Ferrers built much of what we see today, from 1526 onwards.

The Quartet in the Great Hall Baddesley Clintond painting by Rebecca Orpen Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gifted artist Rebecca Orpen (1830-1923) came to live at Baddesley Clinton in 1867 with her husband Marmion. In this painting she shows herself and Marmion with her aunt Georgiana and Georgiana’s husband Edward in the Great Hall. Known as The Quartet, they were all artistically gifted, and filled their lives here in this lovely manor house with poetry, painting, writing and music.

Many curious tales are told of the house, many by National Trust staff. One of the tales concerns the lingering presence of an unfortunate 15th century priest, one Willelmus Foster, who was killed by the hot-headed owner of the manor, Nicholas Brome (1450-1517) in a fit of misdirected jealousy.

It is in St Michael’s Church, close by the manor house, that we may find ample evidence of Nicholas’s attempt to make amends. This is a fascinating story in which repentant Nicholas went to elaborate lengths to save his soul, according to the accepted beliefs of the time.

The tower of atonement St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The tower of atonement at St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He funded the construction of two towers in two churches, one of which is at the church in nearby Packwood, and the other of which is here at Baddesley Clinton. They are called the Towers of Atonement.

Nicholas also became a member of eight religious fraternities, praying each day for the souls of their members. Thus he was spared the usual penalty for murder, according to the law of the land (i.e. paying in the traditional manner for murdering the priest). It may also have had something to do with the fact that he was the lord of the manor.

It makes a fascinating story for us today, and it is recounted in the church, where Nicholas may be seen kneeling in prayer, resplendent in the stained glass of the east window.

Nicholas Brome stained glass east window St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Nicholas Brome kneeling in prayer – in the stained glass east window St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He did however, as a final spiritual insurance policy, make reparation for his sins by directing that he be buried just outside the west door of the church, under the step where the doormat is placed, so all who entered the church might walk over him.

Nicholas Brome under doormat St Michaels Church Baddesley Clinton photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Plaque marking burial place of Nicholas Brome under doormat of St Michael’s Church Baddesley Clinton (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Sp

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 7: Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

This is the seventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Former cloisters Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Looking over the remains of the former cloisters at Abbey Fields, towards the churchyard of St Nicholas Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Abbey Fields in Kenilworth are a well-loved open space with a lake, adjacent to the thirteenth century parish church of St Nicholas. For centuries this land belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, before it was dissolved in 1538. This abbey gained its status in 1447 having previously been a priory for Augustinian canons.

remains former chapter house Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of former chapter house of St Mary’s Abbey, at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today parts of the cloisters remain, as do stones from the former chapter house, and also parts of the gatehouse and arch leading from Abbey Fields into the churchyard.

Remains of arch Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of arch at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The lake here would have formerly been one of the stew ponds where the monks bred fish for their tables.

lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

When I walk through Abbey Fields, past the cloisters, along beside the Finham Brook, or through the archway into the shady and atmospheric churchyard, I cannot help but think of those former inhabitants, the monks and the abbot, and of their daily ordered existence for so many centuries on this land where I walk.

Poignant feelings arise: an awareness, perhaps, of those who have occupied this same space before us, and who have imprinted upon it their hopes and dreams, their faith and doubt, their joys and sorrows.

Curious incidents have been reported here; both eerie sensations, and sighting of apparitions. You can find out more about these in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, which is coming out in November.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 5: St Mary’s Church Warwick

This is the fifth in my series of glimpses into the pages of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night – photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

St Mary’s Church Warwick stands close to Warwick Castle, at the heart of England’s history. The church foundations date back 900 years, and it is believed a Saxon church stood here before the Norman conquest. The first Norman earl of Warwick began a collegiate foundation here modelled on the cathedrals of St Paul’s, Lincoln, York and Salisbury; and his son completed it in in 1123.

Beauchamp Chapel St Marys Church Warwick - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick – photo credit Jamie Robinson

The church therefore has been a centre of faith for many centuries, and the rich atmosphere within this magnificent building bears testimony to that. St Mary’s holds many treasures, the greatest of which is the elaborate Beauchamp Chapel, commissioned by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick from 1401 to 1439. The chapel today offers us a rare glimpse of medieval splendour, much of which was destroyed in English churches after the Reformation.

Gothic tower St Marys Church Warwick sited over the street photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick. The earlier tower was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1693. Sir Christopher Wren advised on the best location for the new tower and recommended that it be sited over the street (photo credit Sheila Robinson) Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Around and behind the church building we are drawn into a different world: in the graveyard, many curious tales are told by those who walk among the tombstones.

Gravestone of eight month old Mary Ann in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Warwick. Curious anecdotes surround this and other graves of children in the south-eastern corner of the graveyard

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.