Last year we visited Haddon Hall in Derbyshire as part of our research, both for the upcoming workshop and the continuing trail of clues we follow as we look back through history. We learned a lot about the Manners and Vernon families who lived there and who were so important to the area. Following that visit, we went back to the church in Bakewell to visit their family monuments.
We had already seen many faces at Haddon Hall, and learned the stories of some of the inhabitants, but in a side-chapel at Bakewell were the magnificent monument of the George Manners, his wives and descendents.
The Vernon chapel is part of the Newark, the chapel whose history had so intrigued us. The tombs are located behind a fourteenth century oak screen and the chapel, sadly, seems to have become a storage ground for spare chairs and church equipment. I always find this disturbing…. it is a matter of respect. While I do not believe that the dead care one iota about how their monuments are cared for, I am very sure that the living family will care…and I happen to know at least one living descendant of the Vernon family.
Not only that, though, it is a lack of respect for the history that remains to us. I do not personally care for these grandiose monuments that seem designed to reinforce the power and presence of the families for whom they were built. I do care, however, that they give a very detailed glimpse into the lives of those families and the era in which their occupants lived.
No two dimensional painting can give a true idea of how clothes were worn… how their volume and drapery actually looked on a figure. Details of the fold of a veil or the set of a piece of armour are very easy to see and understand on these sculpted tombs. And there are other insights…
Most are carved with an epitaph and often with exhortations to the reader. They offer a glimpse into the spiritual mindset of the age, as well as shedding light on the social perspectives of the day. While some of the effigies on these monuments are stylised, others offer portraits sculpted in life.I have also always been struck by the fact that the very many babies who died in infancy are also remembered with as much care as the adults.
There are other monuments in the side chapel, including an alabaster effigy of a knight, Sir Thomas Wendesley who was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
Sir George Vernon (1510-1567) lies in state between his two wives, Margaret Tayleboys and Maud Longford. His father was Richard Vernon, and his mother Margaret Dymoke. The Manners and Vernon families had been linked for a long time and his daughter would continue that tradition in a most romantic fashion.
Dorothy Vernon (1545-1584), daughter of George Vernon, the ‘King of the Peak’, fell in love with John Manners (1534–1611) , against her father’s wishes. The lovers eloped and lived happily ever after…according to all the stories. Their family monument occupies the outer wall of the chapel and shows effigies of two of their four children… the other two were sadly stolen. There is something about learning their tales that changes the nature of these over-elaborate tombs… though the change is in the viewer, not the stone. For all I do not care for such monuments to wealth and power, learning the stories behind them made me care about the people, and so, on this visit, I saw beyond the cold stone to their lives.
Instead of ostentation, I saw a couple grieving over the death of their infant son, their first-born child. I saw an angry father forgive star-crossed lovers. I saw couples growing old and welcoming grandchildren into the world… then husbands burying wives and wives grieving for husbands. History is neither faceless nor without emotion. Nor is it cold. We still live and share the same stories, fashions may change, but the human heart still beats and dances as it always has.
If you missed my earlier posts, you can read about Haddon Hall, the Manners and Vernon families and some of the rather odd things we discovered, by clicking the links below: