St. Barnabas, like Brampton Bryan village and neighbouring castle, was destroyed in 1643 in the civil war. It was rebuilt in 1656 by the Castle’s family, the Harley family. The head of the family in the 1640s and much of the 50s was one Sir Robert Harley, who was one of the Godly leaders in Herefordshire. His wife, Brilliana, had been home during the seiges of the 1640s, and fell fatally ill during one of them. Her letters – some 200-odd, to her husband and eldest son, Edward – have survived and have been extensively studied, particularly in Jaqueline Eales’s book, Puritans and Roundheads. I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit the grounds of the castle in 2015 with Herefordshire Victoria County History. The Castle is privately owned (by the Harley family, and is not usually open to the public) but on that occasion we ran out of time to visit the church, so that one was missed out – until 4th September 2017, at least.
I’m finally at a point in Coward where I feel like things are falling into place much better. The big questions of the period – Was the Civil War inevitable? What were the causes? – are becoming apparent, and the principle theories are slowly revealing themselves. What is also slowly revealing itself are the reasons why I have struggled with this period previously. Before now, if anything was mentioned post 1603, my mind just shut down, and I stopped thinking, learning, engaging. Anything to do with James or Charles or Cromwell or the Civil War.. nup. not interested. Bye bye….
And now all I can think of is how incredibly short-sighted I was. I think part of the problem may have been Children of the New Forest, the 1847 classic by Captain Frederick Maryyat. This was a much loved book as a child, and I always condemed the nasty roundheads for taking away the Beverley children’s home and parents, and killing that heroic King Charles! It firmly prevented me from even wanting to understand the parliamentarians, much less the Godly (aka Puritans), and I never really looked past the stereotype of kill-joy, aescetic boring bible-thumpers.
However, I’m now pushing that to one side. I understand the Godly better, why predestination was so key to them (which always seemed slightly ridiculous to me, the whole idea of the Elect and the Damned, it just didn’t seem to give people any kind of incentive to behave well, you know? and now I get it – if you behaved badly then you were the Damned anyway, because the Elect would never behave in that way to begin with). More importantly I understand where it came from, from Ephesians II:8, in a letter by St. Paul: ”For it is by His grace that you are saved, through trusting him: it is not your own doing. It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done’. I understand why the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church was so Calvinist and how this got changed to become the Church of England that we know today. Reading of the battles that they had over the moving and railing off of communion tables, from a central location to the east, where they are now, understanding how that happened, its led a lot of things to fall into place and I feel somewhat happier as a result.
More importantly, I’m starting to fall in love with this period. There’s always a certain element of a hump for me to overcome when I first start researching something. When everything is new and it’s hard work and then all of a sudden you’ve got the basics down, and further reading is about slotting things into that framework and it becomes much easier. I find the fascination, it becomes less of a chore and more of a joy. Today marks the point of the joy (although the chore may well return) and I fell in love with the Stuarts. I’m at that point where I don’t want to put my book down. I’m engaged with the people, the events, and I want to keep reading to find out what happens next. That curiosity.. that is what always drives me as a historian. I want to know – what happened to that little guy who got swept up in the big events? What happened to his wife and children? Why did this happen? What did he think about it, was he supportive, completely behind it or was he forced into action? What did his wife think? The other people around him? Did they agree? History is made up of the decisions of individuals, the beliefs, actions and relationships of people and it is that that fascinates me. That actually brings me on to what I think the other reason why I may have failed to engage with this period before now is to do with how it got sold to me as a child: previously, it had been a very high politics approach – Kings, court, politics. Nothing wrong with that – its that that grabs me about the Tudor period – but … I don’t know. The Tudor period is full of women in one way or another, from around 1509, and it was those that I engaged with – the Stuart period, by contrast, is much more devoid of women. James and Charles just didn’t have the same glamour, the same bling, I suppose, to a restless, hyperactive intelligent child, as Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. It was their relationships that I adored – Anne’s with Henry, Elizabeth’s with Robert Dudley. Yes, I’m a romantic at heart, I suppose!
I had a lovely email too today from a fellow historian, who is working in the medieval period. He’d actually been chatting to a friend of my mother’s who got totally the wrong end of the stick about what I’m doing and what my primary research interests are, and I got a very garbled message to contact this chap on this address about a conference. Although I had to put him straight on what I actually was doing a lovely conversation has developed out of that and he’s now reading some of my work, which makes me happy.
I’m also one month into the two month or so wait for news on whether the journal will accept my article This has developed out of work done for my undergrad dissertation, but substantially improved since then, and I am very hopeful it will succeed (and if it does, it will be published in October). It is also the same subject I am delivering a paper on at the conference in November so .. fingers crossed!
Right. time to have an ice-lolly and write my shopping list – a trip to the supermarket beckons as the fridge is getting a bit empty!