Imagine the following scene: it’s the year 1488 and this is the village of Sampford Peverell in medieval Devon. We’re looking up at the narrow slit window of the Solar in the newly constructed Richmond House that’s beside the church. (Now, the restored Rectory overlooks the canal where swans sometimes glide).
Digital zoom. See, through the window, there’s a red-carpeted floor, tapestry laden walls and at the window seated in a red-upholstered chair is Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of the recently crowned Henry V11. Dressed in a red square cut dress and white chemisette with gold and jewelled edging, a pearl necklace at her neck, she’s embroidering a linen panel with what appear to be intricate and highly coloured floral designs. We watch her lift her head to beckon to the Lady in Waiting who’s standing in shadows in the doorway behind; she passes Margaret a book of vellum pages and we hear a gentle frisson of movement as she begins to leaf through the pages, occasionally pausing to look out through the window to stare, not at us, but at the pastures, scrubs and woodlands which encompass the boundaries of her own Estates. Indeed the intended reason for her visit is to provide a settled base from which she can re-organise these west-country lands. In any case this place is her Devon refuge – how many times has she fled here during the turbulent times of Richard III?
The entourage has lately arrived - locals had lined the streets to watch her train of thirty or so horsemen and servants, with Margaret seated in the litter on a pile of silk-covered down cushions embellished in cloth of gold. John Masefield has been dispatched to Exeter to collect firewood and provisions. At dusk they’ll sip spices and wine with plenteous delicate and dainty victuals to taste; there’ll be fish, fruit and fowl with freshening bowls of rose water.
She’s reading again; intently; immersed in the text. She is pleased with this first translation and will now instruct Caxton to translate and print the story. Blanchardyne and Eglantine is a chivalric romance, for the readership of ‘gentyl yonge damoyselys’ – (what we’d call a sensation novel); for Margaret it’s a welcome diversion from the doctrinal modes of Scala Perfectionis that she’s herself translating with the help of her Carthusian friends. Known as an a devout Religious, Margaret has equal zest for the cut and thrust of real life.
She leans forward, reads again –
Blanchardyne gallops towards the reluctant Eglantine; he’s resolved to kiss her and
‘smote hys courser with the spore for to kysse her as he furth by her went, wherof happed that she loked backward for to se what he was that so hastely rode after her … both theyre mouthes recountred and kyst eche other fast’
- only pausing to lift a cup to her lips; it’s gold, wreathed with a blue columbine and in its little bowl, a white heart …
(This is an excerpt from a longer imaginary piece based on the real life of Countess of Richmond, Margaret Beaufort who owned estates in Devon and herself spent time living in the village of Sampford Peverell. See also earlier piece Royal Women and Devon; Imagining Translation)
(copyright julie sampson)