Saturday, 18 February 2012


Though I was brought up no more than 16 miles from Warwick, we hardly ever went there, so it remains terra somewhat incognita. I read that no less than eight different families appear to have held the Warwick peerage during the past millennium, so anyone can be forgiven for getting muddled about who did what in Warwick itself. Richard Neville (the Kingmaker) built the Guildhall, whilst it was the earlier Beauchamps who adopted the familiar bear and ragged staff as an addition to their coat of arms.

This lovable-looking bear, though, holds his ragged staff in a rather unusual manner - he is one of several in different poses slung under the eaves of the charming courtyard of the Lord Leycester Hospital. The Hospital, really a glorified almshouse, was founded by neither a Beauchamp nor a Neville, but by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, favourite of Elizabeth I, and younger brother of Ambrose Earl of Warwick. Robert and Ambrose are entombed in the Beauchamp Chapel in St Mary's, Warwick, which is dominated by the golden 15th Century image of the Kingmaker's father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp - hands apart, so he can keep his eyes on the ceiling bosses portraying God the Father and Mary Queen of Heaven.

Those members of my book group who met in the Chapel this morning were lucky in finding a guide who was both unassumingly knowledgeable and generous with it. After we had marvelled at, in particular the carving and glass, she moved on with us to the Chancel, where we beheld the stunning alabaster images of Richard's grandparents: they were, it seems, my 20th great-grandparents for what it's worth - hardly a very exclusive claim, however, in this era of internet genealogy. (Added to which, we have - assuming no intermarriages - more than 8 million other ancestors of that generation.)

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