10 times the Cotswolds made history
PUBLISHED: 17:06 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 17:06 13 January 2020
In the second part of Stephen Roberts’ fascinating delve into the Cotswolds’ historic milestones, we’re treated to civil war, Sudeley, Shakespeare and a dose of smallpox
- Worcester (1216)
So, we learned that young Henry III was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral, but what happened to his father and predecessor, the panto villain King John? Well, he was buried 30-odd miles north in Worcester Cathedral. John died in October 1216 whilst still immersed in the 1st Barons' War, the fallout from his attempts to renege on Magna Carta. Some say he perished from a 'surfeit of peaches' (a balanced diet is always advisable). Having expired at Newark (Notts), aged 49, a detachment of mercenaries escorted the corpse south into our part of the world and he was duly buried in Worcester Cathedral, in front of the altar of St Wulfstan. John held Wulfstan in especial affection and willed that he should be buried in Worcester. When we gaze upon King John's tomb today, we're not experiencing what was installed in 1216: a new sarcophagus and effigy was placed here in 1232.
- Evesham (1265)
I was weaned on the Battle of Evesham and the demise of Simon de Montfort as I was raised in the town and my alma mater sits adjacent to the battlefield. I even gave talks at the 750th anniversary festival, in 2015 (you might remember me in the sweltering yurt on the Crown Meadow). I digress. Henry experienced his own Barons' War (the 2nd) and became prisoner of their leader, de Montfort, who is often hailed, rightly or wrongly, as the father of parliamentary democracy, having called an unusually representative gathering in Spring 1265. Come August, de Montfort's adversary would be Henry's heir, Prince Edward. The battle fought at Evesham (August 4, 1265) was more of a massacre than a contest and de Montfort's dead body was cruelly treated. His legacy persisted though, as his vanquisher, as King Edward I, summoned the so-called 'Model Parliament' (1295).
- Radcot Bridge (1387)
Lesser-known battles appeal to me and Radcot Bridge (Oxfordshire) certainly fits that category, a dust-up between forces loyal to King Richard II and those opposed to him, the 'Lords Appellant', who would 'appeal' against the behaviour of five of the king's courtiers in 1388, effectively accusing them of treason, and asserting the judicial supremacy of Parliament (de Montfort would have been chuffed). Radcot Bridge (December 1387), where Richard's favourite, Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford (1362-92), was defeated by the rebels, signalled the end of the King's hopes of bringing his rebellious lords to heel, and would see him on the back foot for the next decade. De Vere escaped the debacle of Radcot Bridge, using the River Thames as his escape route, but would die five years later of injuries sustained whilst boar hunting. Richard II would be deposed in 1399 by one of the Appellants, Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV).
- Sudeley (1469 & 1483)
Continuing with a battlefield theme, some of the engagements of the Wars of the Roses, fought in the following century, were more famous, including Tewkesbury, in May 1471 (see Part 1). The Yorkist king, Edward IV, triumphed over forces loyal to the deposed Lancastrian king, Henry VI (the grandson of Henry Bolingbroke). Fighting alongside Edward was his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III to be). Richard had been granted Sudeley Castle by his brother two years before, in 1469, so was able to use this as a base in the build up to Tewkesbury (which is about 12 miles west). In 1478, he seems to have swapped Sudeley for lands in Yorkshire, which is where he developed his northern power base. It was when Richard seized the throne in 1483 that he became the proud owner of Sudeley for a second time, embarking on a series of 'improvements'. Richard's second tenure would be short-lived, as he came a cropper at Bosworth, in 1485.
- Stratford-upon-Avon (1564)
It's time to take a break from battles and wars and look instead at literature. It would be remiss of me to write not just one, but two of these articles, and omit the Bard. Shakespeare, of course, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, and, as a dramatist and poet, has been universally lauded as the greatest writer in the whole panoply of English Literature. His plays may not be to everyone's liking today (my GCSE students certainly seem to struggle with the intricacies of 'The Scottish Play'), but no-one can argue with the number of words ('zany' being my favourite) and pithy phrases ('some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon 'em') that he's given us. We're pretty certain Will attended the grammar school in Stratford, the house that he owned (New Place) is now a restored garden, with exhibition centre next door, and we know where he's buried, in Holy Trinity.
- Stow-on-the-Wold (1646)
I'm back on the battlefield again. When the Bard died in 1616, during the reign of James I, the realm was relatively peaceful, but this wouldn't last and civil war between King (James I's son, Charles I), and Parliament, divided the nation a quarter century later, from 1642. In Part 1 we went to Worcester, where battles were fought at either end of the wars. There was also a battle at Stow, in March 1646, which was the final battle of the 1st Civil War. It was a Parliamentarian victory, as so many were, by this stage. Fairly equally matched armies came to blows in the early hours of the March 21, when it was still dark, with the Royalist commander, Sir Jacob Astley, leading a fighting retreat into the streets of Stow itself. Some of the Royalists fled, prompting a surrender on Astley's part, who would live beyond the end of the wars, dying in 1652.
- Berkeley (1749)
The Cotswolds didn't just make history when people came to blows. Men died at Evesham, Radcot Bridge and Stow, but, at Berkeley, a man was born who arguably saved more lives than any other human being. Now, Berkeley isn't all positive stories, as the castle was the scene of the assassination of Edward II in 1327. The vicarage, however, was the scene of Edward Jenner's birth, in 1749, and he would find fame as the 'father of immunology'. Settling back in Berkeley, following a stint in London, and by then in his mid-20s, it was here, back in the village of his birth, that he worked through his theories that led, in time, to an effective vaccination against smallpox. Jenner's work is now credited with saving the lives of nine million people a year worldwide. No other Cotswold-born person can surely have had such an impact on the human race.
- Lower Broadheath (1857)
I'm into births now and feeling that we need to introduce a spot of culture into proceedings. When Edward Elgar was born in Lower Broadheath, near Worcester, in June 1857, it was the beginning of a life that blossomed into English music's most significant composer since Henry Purcell, who'd died before the end of the 17th century. What I like about Elgar is that he loved Worcestershire. I was born in Worcester, and I too love Worcestershire. Unlike this émigré though, Elgar spent most of his life in the county. He particularly liked the Malvern Hills, which inspired him. I like them too, especially when I'm not walking them. If one work made a star of Elgar, it was the one we know today as the 'Enigma Variations'. We used to have Elgar in our hands, as well as in our heads, as he was the face on the reverse of the £20 note, that is until he was replaced by economist Adam Smith, in 2007.
- Blenheim (1874) & Bladon (1965)
Joseph Stalin said it was the only occasion in history when the future of the world had depended on the courage of just one person. We're talking, of course, about May 1940, Winston Churchill, and his pugnacious declaration that we would 'never surrender' when all logic suggested we should capitulate and seek terms with Hitler. It's no wonder that Churchill frequently sits top in polls of our 'Greatest Britons'. He was born in aristocratic Blenheim Palace in November 1874, and, following his death, in January 1965, would be laid to rest amongst his people, in the churchyard of Bladon. He was a hugely controversial character, a conviction politician who crossed the House of Commons, not once but twice, his career pockmarked by inglorious failure, as well as his leadership during this nation's 'finest hour'. When the moment came, however, he was 'in the right place at the right time'.
- The Cotswolds (1933)
Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Campden, the Slaughters, Oxford and Witney - what do these places have in common? Well, they were all visited by the famous author JB Priestley (1894-1984), for his 'English Journey', which was published in 1934. Priestley recorded what he saw of England, countryside and industrial, good and bad, which helped build a consensus that change was needed, together with a welfare state. Of the Cotswolds, however, he wrote lyrically of 'the most English and the least spoiled of all our countrysides'. Priestley met a Cotswold mason ('old George'), heard about Cotswold 'games', including 'shin-kicking', and visited the then owner of Snowshill Manor, the eccentric Charles Paget Wade. GCSE students might know Priestley for his play, 'An Inspector Calls'.
- A Dictionary of British History (Ed. JP Kenyon, 1981)
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1973)
- Classic FM - The Friendly Guide to Music (D Henley, 2006)
- Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became PM (N Shakespeare, 2017)
- English Journey (JB Priestley, 1934)
- Worcester Cathedral (worcestercathedral.co.uk)
- Parliament (parliament.uk)
- Cotswold Journal (cotswoldjournal.co.uk)
- RSC (rsc.org.uk)
- Visit Stratford-upon-Avon (visitstratforduponavon.co.uk)