Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Towton - remembering the dead

In previous posts I have written about the battle of Towton, fought in a snowstorm on Palm Sunday, March 29th 1461, south-west of York and probably the biggest and bloodiest battle fought on English soil. Two years ago I posted Palm Sunday Field 1461 and Towton links, and last year I wrote The Battle of Towton - 550th anniversary.

This year I thought I would post in particular about the graves of some of the dead.

There is an introduction to the battlefield archaeology of the site here, and the excavation of a mass grave discovered at the site of the chantry chapel built by King Richard III in the village of Towton itself is recorded in Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton 1461, published by Oxbow here in Oxford.

Apart from this and the large grave in the churchyard at Saxton vide infra there are two monuments in the area of peers who fell in the battle. The first is on the edge of the battelefield in the churchyard at Saxton.

All Saints Church and Lord Dacre's Tomb, Saxton
Ranulph or Ralph Dacre, Lord Dacre, was the second son of Thomas, Lord Dacre, wh had died only three years earlier. His mother was Philippa, a daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and an elder half-sister of Cecily, Duchess of York, the mother of the victorious King Edward IV.Lord dacre's wife was a FitzHugh of Ravensworth, so he was very much part of northern noble society.
Ranulph was a loyal Lancastrian and at the Battle of Towton, he commanded the Lancastrian left wing. After fighting through the day, he removed his helmet to drink just as the Duke of Norfolk’s men arrived on the field. Moments later, he was killed by an arrow, fired by a youth hiden in some bushes nearby. This is commemorated in the rhyming phrase "The Lord Dacres was slain in the North Acres. He was buried in the churcyard at All Saints Church at Saxton under a table tomb. Legend has it that he was buried upright with his horse. This was apparently confirmed when in the eighteenth century a horse's skull was discovered near the tomb.
A cross on the battlefield has been given his name. It is the scene of a small service each year on Palm Sunday, in memory of those who fell in the battle.
Source: The Richard III Society website: www.richardiii.net
Image and comments (adapted and extended) from uistin on Flickr

Behind the tomb is the long communal grave which was made by William Hungate of Saxton in the early sixteenth century to contain bodies moved from the battlefield. Even today it is of recognisable elevation.

A few miles away in the church at Methley is the tomb of Lionel Lord Welles KG. Like Lord Dacre he was a man in middle age at the time of his death. Legend, again, has it that after his death in the battle his body was concealed in a snow drift, and then brought in a sack by night to Methley.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lives of him and his sons by Michael Hicks can be read here and there is another online account of his life with links here.

In the Waterton chantry in Methley church - incidentally the church is a treasure house of good things to see - is his tomb and that of his first wife. She was born Joan Waterton, and was the neice of Bishop Richard Fleming; the very fine tomb of her parents lies opposite theirs in the same chapel, which appears to be of later date than the tombs. The Welles tomb appears to have been moved from an originally free-standing position to its present place against the south wall.

Lord Welles' effigy is clearly later than 1457 as he is shown wearing the Garter, an honour he only received that yearas shown as KG, but it is unlikely, in the circumstances that the tomb was erected after his death. He clearly planned to be buried there. The effigy is virtually identical to that of Lord Hungerford and Moleyns, who died in 1459, in Salisbury cathedral. Both the effigies of Lord and Lady Welles are of high quality, with the details of the fabric of her dress and mantle and his tabard rendered in fine detail. Both are weasring the Lancastrian collar of SS. Lionel's effigy has undergone repair - his nose is a replacement - and the whole tomb underwent a full restoration in 1988.

Tomb of Lionel, Lord Welles and his wife, Cecilia, Waterton Chapel, Methley Church

The tomb of Lord and Lady Welles in Methley church


After Joan's death he remarried, Margaret, the widowed Duchess of Somerset, who was the mother of Lady Margaret Beaufort. She clearly intended to be buried at Wimborne with her previous husband Duke John. Their tomb can be viewed in my post The tomb of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset at Wimborne Minster.

Of your charity pray for the repose of the souls all who fought and of all who died at Palm Sunday Field


Anonymous said...

'old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago' indeed... May they rest in peace.
[Valerie, NZ]

Chevalier David Waterton-Anderson, KSG, OMM, OLJ, OMLJ. said...

Dear John,

Very glad to see you are still thriving. Lionel Lord Welles (as you rightly explain) married my ancestral kinswoman. But her name is well documented as Jane Waterton, not Joan or Cecily. The confusion has arisen I believe, as her mother's name was Cecily Fleming and her brother Sir Robert Waterton, married a co-heiress of the Everinghams and was called Joan.

Warm regards, Chevalier David Waterton-Anderson, KDSG, OMM, OLJ, OMLJ.