“At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay
And a pinnace, like a
‘Spanish ships of war at sea! We have sighted fifty-three!’ “
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Revenge, A Battle of the Fleet
The last week in September seemed the ideal choice for our family break in Devon. The weather gods were being kind, for a change and, as our holiday drew closer, visions of an Indian summer in the West Country swayed seductively before us. Then came the rain!
Before departure, I spend more time preparing my photographic gear than I do on such lesser matters as clothes and shoes. My wife regards this as yet another of my many eccentricities but I am hopeful that Macfilos readers will more readily empathise with me. For the anticipation of a family holiday accompanied by my camera is happiness indeed.
Our accommodation for the week was a house on the Western end of Dartmoor, near Lydford, just a few miles from the charming market town of Tavistock. My anticipation, however, had not featured rain.
First, though, a word about the gear I took with me. It deserves a sentence or two since I spent so much time in advance fettling the outfit. My trusty Fuji X-T2 with battery grip had the Fujifi
I also took along the 2x teleconverter as well for some long landscape shots across Dartmoor and it remained in use throughout the week. Of course, my Fuji X-T20 came along too but is now no longer attached to my much-loved Fujifilm XF16mm f/1.4 R WR.
You should know that recently I traded in this truly excellent lens for a new acquisition the Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS zoom. I expect there will be some sharp intakes of breath at such wild folly from prime lens aficionados everywhere. But the deed is done. I have long been a prime enthusiast myself but I now want a more flexible wide-angle capability. And keeping both lenses was not an option. I shall be evaluating this new (to me) lens in due course but, meanwhile, I am including my first efforts with it later in this article. Then came the rain!
Don’t mention the
Have I mentioned already that we had a lot of rain during our week’s holiday? To be fair, we did have one utterly glorious day and two other pretty good half-days but that was it. The rest of the time was indeed mixed: Sometimes wet, sometimes very wet and sometimes very, very wet.
And yet, that is not the whole story. For a start, wet has its own charm and so I took some images in the rain. This is not my usual choice but it took me out of my comfort zone. More importantly, there are of course great light variations before, during and after a rain shower.
Comparing the two images above of the Church of St Michael, D7 was taken in steady rain while D19 in the sun is quite a different shot.
During the week, I wanted to visit some places connected with the Grenville family whose history I have been researching with a possible book in mind. It is one of this country’s most illustrious families as I will explain later.
We decided to visit Bideford in Devon, and Kilkhampton, just over the border in Cornwall, since both locations were intimately connected with the Grenvilles. The house at Stowe no longer exists (its building materials were incorporated into other houses in the 18th century). It made sense therefore to visit the nearby church at Kilkhampton which was the place of worship nearest to Stowe.
Over the years here are many variations of the spelling of the family name: Grenvilles, Grenviles, Grenfells, Greynvills, Graynfelds, Greenfields, Grenefelds, Grauntvilds. I shall standardise on Grenvilles.
The Grenville family can be traced back with certainty to the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189) when a Grenville held half a knight’s fee in Bideford. By 1166 a Richard de Grenville is holding three knight’s fees and a half in Devon and Cornwall. For the next three centuries, Grenvilles held the manors of Bideford in Devon and Stowe, near Kilkhampton in Cornwall, living, for the most part, the lives of worthy county gentry while keeping the King’s peace as Justices for Devon and Cornwall.
The first bridge at Bideford across the Torridge river estuary was built out of wood in the last quarter of the thirteenth century. It was one of the longest mediaeval bridges in the country and had arches of unequal sizes for reasons which are not entirely clear.
But perhaps it was to cater for differing sizes of ships. However, when Sir Theobald Grenville (1343-1381) financed a stone replacement bridge in the fourteenth century, it was constructed by using the old wooden bridge as scaffolding, with the result that the stone bridge faithfully reproduces the inequalities of the original.
It is also probable that the siting of the bridge (original and replacement) was due to its close proximity to the Grenville manorial land in Bideford. The Torridge river is equally wide for hundreds of yards at this point, with no obvious narrow point.
One notable high-flier among the mediaeval Grenvilles was William Grenville (or Greenfield), who was Lord Chancellor of England from 1302 to 1305 in the reign of Edward I, and then, Archbishop of York from 1305 until his death in 1315, under Edward I until his death in 1307 and thereafter under Edward II.
This combination of one man holding high office in both State and Church successively was not uncommon at the time, for the solid reason that the clergy were usually the best
The next Grenville of note was Sir Thomas Grenville (1449 – 1514),
When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, Thomas was rewarded for his support by the new king and was made Esquire to the Body, as well as Sheriff of Cornwall, and later, in 1501, he was made a Knight of the Bath.
I am particularly interested in the life of one of Sir Thomas Grenville’s daughters, Honor, who was probably born at Stowe House, Kilkhampton, in 1493 and died in 1566.
At the time of her father’s death in 1514, she was twenty years old and unmarried. Sir Thomas’s will charged to ensure that his eldest son Roger should see her married well and left money for her dowry. Roger fulfilled his obligations and in 1515 married Honor to Sir John Basset, another prominent Lancastrian supporter.
Sir John was wealthy, with many estates and two manors at Tehidy and Umberleigh, as well as having three daughters by his first wife. Sir John and Honor then produced a further three sons and four daughters in the eleven years of their marriage.
The high esteem in which Sir John held his wife, Honor, was demonstrated by the fact that on his death on 31 Jan 1528 he left her a life interest in all of his property and the management of his daughters including those by his first marriage,
But Honor had not finished her rise in the world. In 1529 she made a second marriage to a member of the extended royal family, to Sir Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, who was the illegitimate son of Edward IV and therefore half-uncle to Henry VIII. Despite his Plantagenet blood, Arthur was not considered a threat by Henry VIII because of his illegitimacy. In fact, the king had long trusted Arthur and had made him a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, a Privy Councillor and Vice-Admiral in 1525.
Early in 1533, Henry VIII appointed Arthur Plantagenet to be King’s Deputy in Calais. It was a much more important role than it sounds because Calais, together with 120 square miles of the surrounding country, was England’s last remnant of continental possessions.
Furthermore, all diplomatic visitors to England passed through Calais on their way to London and conversely returned via Calais at the end of their visit. The King’s Deputy in Calais was therefore responsible for meeting, entertaining and obtaining information from all such royal and diplomatic travellers in order to further the king’s diplomacy.
Honor had already visited Calais the year before her husband was made King’s Deputy there. In October 1532 she was one of six ladies chosen to accompany Anne Boleyn, the new Queen, to Calais to meet King Francis I of France. Henry VIII was eager to obtain Francis’s seal of approval for his new Queen, including his support against the Pope in the ongoing dispute over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Honor had danced with the King of France, wearing a set of jewels said to be worth £100,000. All quite some achievement for the daughter of modest gentry stock.
In the Tower
The King had come to believe that Arthur Plantagenet had been plotting against him and accordingly had him imprisoned in the Tower. At the same time, Henry VIII ordered that all the Lisle’s correspondence since 1533 should be seized, as well as that of anyone else who had corresponded with them. In all, three thousand letters were gathered as potential evidence to be used in the trial of Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle.
After two years, Henry VIII realised that the grounds upon which he had imprisoned his half-uncle were baseless and commanded his release. This glad news was so overwhelming for Arthur that he had a heart attack and died that night.
It is believed that Honor, Lady Lisle, heard of her husband’s pardon before she heard of his death which must have been very hard. She retired to Umberleigh, one of her Basset homes, with two of her daughters, Mary and Philippa.
After that, little is known of Honor’s life beyond two instances. In 1556, she had her income increased by £120 a year when the Lisle’s suit in Chancery for some lands was settled in her favour. Secondly, in 1558, Honor and Arthur’s grandson, also Arthur, made a deal with George Basset, his uncle, in which Arthur acquired Umberleigh with Tehidy going to Honor for life, afterwards reverting to George.
Honor died at Tehidy in 1566 and was buried in Illogan church nearby.
Thanks to Henry VIII’s mistaken belief in Arthur Plantagenet’s treasonable activities, the three thousand Lisle letters are readily available. I have started reading them but may be some time on this task.
On Sir Thomas Grenville’s death in 1514, he had willed to his younger son, John, “if he be disposed to be a priest, to have the next avoidance of one of the benefices of Bideford or Kilkhampton”. John had indeed become a priest and, accordingly, in 1524 became the Rector of St James the Great in Kilkhampton where he remained until his death in 1580.
This stability of service was outstanding in an era of astounding change. John weathered all the changes of the Reformation, a period of conspiracies, religious conflict and executions.
He served seven Bishops of Exeter, both Catholic and Protestant, as well as four sovereigns: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I (not forgetting Lady Jane Grey, squeezed into nine eventful days between Edward and Mary). Kilkhampton church also has a Grenville chapel which contains Sir Bevill Granville’s monument. Above the screen are the arms of John Granville, First Earl of Bath.
Grenville of The Revenge
We now turn to Sir Richard Grenville of ‘The Revenge’. At Bideford, close to the quayside and Sir Theobald Grenville’s bridge, is a house with a plaque which celebrates the achievements of Sir Theobald’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandson as below:
The house itself is today nothing special as none of the exterior of the original remains. However, the foundations and some interior walls still retain traces of the original house.
Richard Grenville was born in 1542, the son of Roger Grenville, but lost his father in a terrible maritime disaster. Roger Grenville was captain of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, which keeled over in the Solent in 1545 and water rushed in through her open, lower gun-ports. Richard Grenville grew up to be one of the great sixteenth-century heroic adventurers being a soldier, an armed merchant fleet owner, a coloniser of the New World, an explorer and, on his ship ‘The Revenge’, an outstandingly courageous sea captain.
In the famous battle, Sir Richard Grenville, Vice Admiral of the Fleet under Sir Thomas Howard, with his one vessel, fought a three-day battle against fifty-three Spanish ships, succeeding in sinking some and badly damaging many others. ‘The Revenge’ was boarded three times but each time the Spanish were repulsed. ‘The Revenge’ was ultimately overpowered and Sir Richard Grenville died of his injuries shortly after capture. He was however honoured by his Spanish captors in light of the heroic action against overwhelming odds.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a famous poem about the Battle of Flores and Sir Richard Grenville’s heroic action in which he pitted ‘The Revenge’ against the Spanish fleet.
I recommend that anyone who does not know about Sir Richard Grenville should read this short ballad as it is readily available online. The first three lines are:
“At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay
And a pinnace,
We should also mention Sir Richard Grenville’s grandson Sir Bevil Grenville (1596 – 1643) who was a brave leader of Cornish soldiers in War. He died in the Battle of Lansdown,
There are several further notable Grenvilles whom I haven’t covered in this article so it is fair to say that the family is one of the most illustrious in our history. It was inspiring to visit Bideford and Kilkhampton as well as to see much of the land in which they lived and worked. We certainly had a cracking holiday despite copious rain.
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