Dowriche House through the trees
My poem about the C16 Devonian poet Anne Dowriche was in an earlier post and I have written about the life of the C16 Devonian writer/poet and about her epic poem 'The French Historie' in the Devonshire Association's Transactions 2009, suggesting some of the possible contexts and historical intertexts through which to interpret her poem. It had always seemed puzzling that an unknown wife of a clergyman (of Lapford and Honiton) and daughter of a prominent Elizabethan Devonian family should be the author of a 2,400 line poem, a long and inherently gory narrative epic about the long-winded French Wars of Religion during the C16. Why did she not for instance, compose sweetly toned Elizabethan lyrics, or sonnets, in the mode of Campion, Dowland and their ilk?
I can't resist now making a start towards writing another piece after my own recent research, which seems to suggest that Dowriche's impetus towards the writing of the poem came more from her response to the life-experiences of people in her close familial and friendship circles than from a stance of objective distance. I believe that Anne must have known some of the participants in the turbulent events taking place in France during the religious wars of the C16 - especially those clustered around the years which culminated in the Bartholomew Massacre of 1572. Her poem may well include narration of some of the events there, which she absorbed through talking to individuals who had been present, particularly during the turbulent days around the massacre itself. Her position at the heart of a complicated intersection of familial threads may have meant she was close to several of those individuals who were passionately engaged with the historical developments of the French dramas, who then related to her their own responses and reactions to what they had seen. Or, possibly, she heard stories from a close relative of one of those involved. Perhaps, as a women recognised for her writerly and poetic gifts, she was asked to work on a narrative of the massacre.
Anne’s interest in France and in particular in the unfolding of the religious changes there could have begun with events that happened long before those recounted in her poem. Perhaps her deep engagement with the country across the English channel was instigated because of her intimacy with those she knew who lived much closer to her own home – her own close female relations - who themselves were intimately related to some of the men occupied with the events taking place in France. Anne also probably knew some of the women who were ladies in waiting at the French, as well as English court. Three of her female kinswoman may be particularly significant; they, in turn may have introduced the writer to women who were at the heart of some of the turbulent events in France and as well, linked her through their own children to other women central to all that was happening through their relationships to various male protagonists.
... A sister, sister-in-law; a niece, Anne’s family’s contact with people high up in the leagues of C16 French social strata may have begun through her connections with them. They were Catherine Edgcumbe-Champernowne, Mary Carew-Dowriche and Margaret Edgcumbe-Denny. Each of these woman could have brought Anne into close proximity with people who had been embroiled with the French turmoils. All of them were part of a tangled maze of familial webs – connecting Carews/Edgcumbes/Dowriches/Champernownes/Dennys and other local high-status families - which would again have allowed the writer to be party to varying threads of the events as they unravelled through the years up to 1589, the year of publishing of her epic poem.
Coat of Arms at Dowriche House (Edgcumbe/Dowrich - recording Anne's marriage to Hugh Dowriche)
Catherine Edgcumbe, one of Anne Dowriche’s older sisters, married Henry Champernowne and so brought the Edgcumbes of her generation into the extended networks of that famous Protestant Devonian family, members of whom were directly bound up with and affected by what was happening over the channel and by the repercussions on Protestants for years afterwards. Henry, who had inherited Modbury castle, raised a troop of supporters, from gentry in the south-west, amongst them his cousins Gawen Champernowne and Walter Raleigh, to accompany him in support of the Huguenots in France. Henry, as leader, was involved in negotiations re French protestants some years before their expedition. He was killed at Rochelle whilst fighting there, in 1570, and so brings a direct link between Anne Dowriche and the French wars. From Henry Champernowne the links build up and take us right into the heart of the conflicts and those individuals at their centre. The commander of the Huguenots in France was Count of Montgomerie, who after unwittingly killing his friend Henry II in 1559 during a friendly joust and having incurred the wrath of Catherine de Medici, had departed for England. Apparently, Montgomerie, racked with grief, stayed in the country for some ten years and converted to Protestantism, before rejoining the civil war in France where he fought on the side of the Prince of Conde and Admiral de Coligny. He survived the Bartholomew Massacre, in 1572, but was later captured by the Guises and was publicly executed at Domfront, in 1574.
Meanwhile, perhaps whilst he was in England with his family – quite probably staying with the Champernownes in Devon, Montgomerie's daughter Roberta (or Gabrielle), who was renowned for her beauty and accomplishments, met Gawen Champernowne. The couple married in 1572 in Normandy, thus uniting the interests of both their families, and incidentally bringing the proximity of the Montgomeries closer to those of the Edgcumbes through the kinship of the cousins Gawen and Henry, whose wife Catherine had been an Edgcumbe. Gawen Champernowne had supported his father-in-law and after the latter’s execution lost much of his fortune, whilst his wife lost everything, because the vast estates of her father were confiscated.
All these events were happening before Anne Edgcumbe/ Dowriche’s own marriage, in 1580. She would have been quite young, probably in her twenties and perhaps may even have stayed as a companion to her elder sister in Modbury, whilst Henry was abroad, or, after his death, when Catherine was widowed. Anne may have met the Count of Montgomerie. She was probably of a similar age to Gawen, who was born in 1555; so probably Anne, the writer, was as well about the same age as Roberta who returned to England with her husband and bore eleven children at Dartington, their home.
Gawen’s sister Elizabeth Champernowne – also first cousin to Henry, Catherine Edgcumbe’s husband is another woman who takes the extended link of connection into the realms of other fascinating familial territory in terms of the background contextual web to Anne Dowriche’s poem. In 1576 – only four years before the Dowriche’s own marriage - Elizabeth married Edward Seymour, 1st Baronet of Berry Pomeroy. Edward was grandson of the infamous Edward Seymour 1st Duke of Somerset/Lord Protector, linked not only with two Queens (his sister was Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII and his brother Thomas married Catherine Parr after Henry VIII’s death), but also with the life of his nephew Edward VI. And, in terms of the context of Dowriche’s french connections, the three renowned ‘Seymour sisters’, who became acclaimed in 1550 for their 103 Latin distiches, titled Hecatodistichin written to commemorate the death of the famed french Protestant writer and humanist Margaret of Navarre, were the Duke of Somerset’s daughters via his second wife Anne Stanhope, thus Edward the 1st Baronet’s step-aunts. Their famed text brought the works of aristocratic and educated English women to the fore and also allowed them recognition in France. Anne Edgcumbe/Dowriche must have known about the Seymour women and there may have been threads of connections between them, their work and her life and text on the subject of French history.
The centrality of Anne Dowriche’s sister Catherine to the background context of her poem can be taken further, for Catherine’s son Richard Champernowne, Anne’s nephew, married Elizabeth Popham, who was daughter of Sir John Popham the judge of recusants, who officiated at the trials of Mary Queen of Scots and later, of Robert Southwell and Walter Raleigh. The marriage of Elizabeth and Richard took place a year after Anne Dowriche’s own wedding; they were also of a similar age, although Anne was Aunt to Richard.
Individuals from earlier generations of the Champernowne family may well have had an impact on Dowriche’s writing. Henry’s Aunt Catherine Champernowne/Carew, (who was Walter Raleigh’s mother), who would have been in her fifties/sixties during the turbulent years of the French civil wars, had become renowned for her refusal to give up Protestantism during the reign of Mary. Catherine had converted during HenryVIII’s reign and even sat with the martyr Agnes Prest the night before the latter's execution. Catherine spent the remainder of her life in the west country and died in debt in 1594, but had presumably gained the reputation of being a steadfast and courageous woman. Anne Dowriche may well have known her and talked with her during family get-togethers; Catherine certainly was still alive during the period of the composition of French Historie.
Anne Dowriche’s sister in law, Mary Carew/Dowriche, was wife of Hugh’s brother Walter Dowriche. Mary was a niece of Sir Gawen Carew; he had married a sister of Charles Brandon, second husband of the Duchess of Suffolk, who had become Mary Queen of France, after her first marriage to Louis XII, King of France. The Carews were known as a family of ‘zealous Protestants’ and Mary could have provided yet another link between poet Anne Dowriche and individuals who were, or had been, involved with events at the English and French courts. Her cousin Sir George Carew, Vice Admiral of the English Fleet, whose main estate in Devon was at Polsloe Priory, had distanced himself from his Catholic upbringing and openly supported Protestant groups. His wife, Mary Norris or Norrys, was maid of honour to Anne Boleyn as well as probably to Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard; she became lady in waiting to both Mary and Elizabeth and in 1545, after her husband’s death during the sinking of the Mary Rose, remarried Sir Arthur Champernowne. Mary was mother of Gawen, consort of Roberta Montgomerie, so her connection to the Edgcumbe family came through both Carews and Champernownes. Although she died in 1570, well before the completion of Dowriche’s poem, Mary Champernowne may have regaled the writer with tales of her long years of experience at Court. Interestingly, on her maternal side, Anne Edgcumbe Dowriche’s Grandmother, Elizabeth Wolvedon had been lady in waiting to Mary Tudor, Queen of France, so the writer may have assimilated fragments of historical information from both lines of her family. There are indeed more links between her female relatives and ladies at court, as will become clear in a minute.
Anne’s niece, the rather formidable Margaret Edgcumbe/Denny, provided another contact with women who were established within the English court. Margaret’s mother in law Joan or Jane Champernowne - who was incidentally another aunt of Henry Champernowne, (Anne, the poet’s sister’s husband) - began as a maid of honour to Katherine of Aragon and remained at court during the tenure of the king’s next five wives. She had converted to Protestantism, just as had her sister Catherine and in 1548 had taken on responsibility for the care of the young Princess Elizabeth and her household when they were sent to the Denny home at Cheshunt. Although she died in 1553, around the time of the poet’s birth, the legacy of Joan’s life-story must have provided her extended family circle with rich anecdotal material on which to muse.
Incidentally, another twist in this maze of lost connections is the possibility that the famous Kat/herine Ashley, tutor of Elizabeth I, may have been Joan’s sister. Mysteriously, no one seems as yet to be able to establish for certain but if she was – and indeed whoever she was, as a Champernowne Kat is likely to have been on the radar of the Edgcumbe network, though not alive when Dowriche was a child.
Margaret Denny herself also became a favourite maid of honour to the Queen. It may well have been Anne Dowriche’s intimacy with her sisters, sister-in law, nieces as well as with several other females within her extended family, themselves members of the royal court in both France and England, which allowed her as writer dual understanding and empathy of both the dramatic events unfolding in France and of the developing trends taking place within literature itself. During the period of the C16 the focus of literary preferences was increasingly changing and there was even a tendency to emphasise the importance of women’s contributions per se. Women of the French aristocracy, such as Margaret of Navarre, who died in 1549 a few years before Anne Dowriche’s own birth, gained repute as major writers and in Navarre’s case, obtained recognition as an icon of the Renaissance. Anne Boleyn was said to be one of those select few members of the salubrious literary salon of Margaret. Margaret’s family were central to the unfolding of the religious turmoils taking place in France. Her daughter Jeanne d’Albret was recognised as a spiritual leader of the French Huguenots. Her first marriage at the age of twelve to William ‘the Rich’, brother of Anne of Cleves, had been arranged against her will. In later years, it was the marriage of Jeanne’s protestant son Henry of Navarre (Henry IV, Henry of Bourbon) to Margaret of Valoise, six days before the Bartholomew Massacre and two months after her own death in suspicious circumstances, which was the pretence for the massacre itself.
I have already noted that several of Anne Dowriche, the poet’s women ancestors and relations had responsibilities in the courts of both Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Her kinswomen at court could have opened doorways for her, peep-holes into the dramas occurring in France; potentially they may have acted as catalysts for her own career as poet-writer and several of them may have been at or near the heart of some of the most notorious happenings at the English and French courts.
The most curious of the women who were at court in terms of Dowriche’s own personal life is the enigmatically named ‘Lady Edgcumbe’, who was named as lady of the privy chambers of Anne of Cleves and then Catherine Howard. Said to have reported that Anne of Cleves had remained a virgin throughout her marriage, this Lady Edgcumbe had accompanied Anne of Cleves on her arrival in England; was present at her ill-fated meeting with the King at Rochester in 1540 and after the Queen’s demise had had her duties transferred to the new Queen, Catherine. Lady Edgcumbe was initially implicated in Catherine’s downfall, but luckily for her, was cleared of any wrongdoing. It is not certain what happened to her after the Queen’s execution, but it is assumed that she left the court departing for her Devon estates, to look after her own children. An earlier Lady Edgcumbe, usually identified as Catherine St-John, step-mother of Anne Dowriche’s father Sir Richard and thus Anne’s step Grandmother, had been lady in waiting to Anne Boleyn. There is considerable uncertainty about the identity of the ‘Lady Edgcumbe’, (which also, incidentally, feeds right into the still somewhat unestablished theories as to who was the real mother of Anne herself).
There is even the possibility that the Lady Edgcumbe who served at court was the woman identified as the poet’s mother, (Elizabeth Tregian), but on present evidence, I think that is unlikely. Possibly the two Lady Edgcumbes assumed in history books were in fact one and she same.
Whoever she was, whatever her name, the 'Edgcumbe' woman/women in question must have been one – or both - of the following: step-grandmother; step-mother; her father’s previous wife; or mother of the writer. Although the lady was presumably not alive by the time that Anne Edgecumbe-Dowriche was born, (or, if she was her mother, must have died shortly after her birth), her life-story around individuals at court must have left a wealth of family lore which became the centre of talk at social occasions in Devon's Elizabethan halls. It seems possible that the Elizabethan daughter of the Edgcumbes, born circa 1550-55, began to absorb tales of courtly intrigue and renaissance humanist doctrine, often about the country across the channel, when she was very young and that over the years the stories became entrenched in her mind.
By the time she was a young lady budding writer, Anne had met and heard so much about not only other young ladies from noble birth who had written esteemed texts inspired by French individuals, but also met many people who had in one way or another become embroiled in the events happening in that country - especially after the Bartholomew Massacre - that the project to set the narrative down as a poetic epic began to formulate in her mind.
Looking out towards Plymouth through the trees at Mount Edgcumbe