They say an English man’s home is his castle. A place of security, safety and privacy. A house surrounded by a moat, with a drawbridge and huge wooden doors that can be firmly locked and bolted at night fits the bill precisely.
In the geographic heart of England a small country house called Baddesley Clinton has stood proudly for more than six centuries. This house has witnessed the Tudor Kings and Queens coming and going. The House of Tudor produced six monarchs from 1485 to 1603, the most illustrious of whom were Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. The medieval, moated house of Baddesley outlived them all. The house saw allegiance to the Pope in Rome replaced spectacularly by Henry VIII when he passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Henry declared himself to be head of the ‘Church of England’ and therefore no longer subservient to the Church of Rome. The result was a purge on all ‘Papists’ who had to worship in secret, fearful of the next knock on the door. The house was originally owned by the Brome family, who were traditionally sympathetic towards Catholics. When Nicholas Brome died in 1517, the house passed to his daughter Constance who was already married to Sir Edward Ferrers, Sheriff of Warwickshire. Whilst the family were always discreet about their religious inclinations, at least three priest holes (hiding places for priests) have been discovered in various corners of the house.
BADDESLEY – The house witnessed the persecution of Catholics who were seen to be treacherous and untrustworthy at regular intervals. Fear and suspicion were everywhere. By the early 1600s Baddesley was fully fortified. The house was equipped with gun-ports and a drawbridge over the moat. Just a few years later in 1605, Guy Fawkes, a Catholic sympathiser had attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Fortunately for our democracy and national independence he failed.
The priest hole beneath the kitchen at Baddesley Clinton dates from this period and was used to shelter Jesuit priests…
Here’s a first hand account from Father John Gerard, Jesuit Priest:
‘It was about five o’clock in the morning – I was doing my morning meditation, Father Southwell was beginning Mass and the rest were at prayer, when suddenly I heard a great uproar outside the main door. Then I heard a voice shouting and swearing at a servant refusing them entrance. But a faithful servant held them back, otherwise we should all have been caught. Father Southwell heard the din. He guessed what it was all about, and slipped off his vestments and stripped the altar bare.
Outside the ruffians were bawling and yelling, but the servants held the door fast. They said the mistress of the house, a widow, was not yet up, but coming down at once to answer them. This gave us enough time to stow ourselves in a very cleverly built sort of cave. At last the leopards were let in. They tore madly through the whole house, searched everywhere, pried with candles into the darkest corners. They took four hours over the work but fortunately chanced on nothing…
The priests, five in total, hid in a priest hole under the floor boards – their feet in water for several hours until the ruffians had departed’.
BACKGROUND – In 1625 Charles I ascended to the English throne following the death of his father, King James I. In the first year of his reign, Charles offended his English subjects by marrying Henrietta Maria, a Catholic French princess. Later he responded to political opposition to his rule by dissolving Parliament on several occasions and in 1629 decided to rule entirely without Parliament. Quite reasonably Parliamentarians objected to the power of the king and his careless approach to the hard-won democratic system. In 1642 the bitter struggle between king and Parliament for supremacy led to the outbreak of the first English civil war. The civil war raged from 1642-1651 it led to the over throw of King Charles and a brief Republic established by Oliver Cromwell. King Charles was tried and found guilty of treason. He was executed in 1649 in front of the Banqueting Hall in Central London. He is the only English monarch to have met such a dreadful fate.
TIME PASSES – During the 17th and 18th centuries the house and estate at Baddesley Clinton was in decline. Then in the second half of the 19th century when Marmion Ferrers was in residence the fortunes of the house began to improve. Marmion married Rebecca Orpen in 1867, and two years later they were joined at Baddesley by her aunt, Lady Georgiana Chatterton, and her second husband, Edward Dering. The four friends became known as the Quartet and they devoted their time to restoring the house, renewing its exceptional interior architecture and contributing to the reception rooms with paintings, redecoration and general improvements. Lady Georgiana developed the chapel and prayed there daily. The house remained in the Ferrers family until 1940, when it was purchased by Thomas Walker, a relative of the Ferrers family. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1980.
CURIOUSLY a jaunt through Middle England on a sunny autumnal day provided me with a synopsis of English history from medieval times to the Victorian era. It reminded me of the religious struggles of days gone by and the lack of religious tolerance that existed between ‘Papists’ (supporters of the Pope in Rome) and ‘Protestants’ (Members of Henry VIII’s impetuously created Church of England).
UNSURPRISINGLY – Baddesley Clinton has been used as a film location on numerous occasions. In the last ten years the following films have been filmed here: Elizabeth – The Golden Age (2007) with Cate Blanchett and also The Virgin Queen (2006) with Anne-Marie Duff and more recently – Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (which sounds brilliant) starring Lily James (2016)….Now I don’t know about you but Pride, Prejudice & Zombies….that sounds like an unbeatable combination to me!
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