Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Who was Ursula Fulford of ‘Great Fulford’? Was she a Writer?

fulford monument Dunsford (2)
Fulford monument in Dunsford Church
      Inside Dunsford Church there is an elaborate and impressive monument which has effigies of the C16/17 Sir Thomas Fulford and his wife Ursula Fulford. Smaller effigies of their seven children line up behind the couple; they kneel before an open bible. At one time there was apparently a sixteen line inscription in verse beneath the monument which stated that 'Thomas Fulford … died the last day of July A.D. 1610'. The verse commended Fulford for his ‘true Piety’, his allegiance to the Protestant faith, his dislike of ‘Popish Crewe’ and also confirmed that ‘he loved his Mate in all his life./For being a true and virtuous wife’.

       I was reminded about Ursula and the monument as I watched the recent Country House Rescue episode featuring Great Fulford, with the present Frances Fulford and his wife Kishanda running rings around entrepreneur Simon Davis. I wondered if Frances’ ancestor Ursula may have had as cussed and eccentric character as that of her C21 descendant. Certainly, some individuals from Ursula's extended family circle still exist in folk-memory because they are remembered for their involvement in various scandals and dark deeds. I wondered if Ursula’s niece, Lady Dorothy Dodderidge, whose resplendent yet grisly effigy is one of Exeter Cathedral’s most notable tombs, may have borne some resemblance to her aunt; if so maybe we can allow ourselves to imagine an impression of Ursula’s features, to capture an eidolon.

‘A fine early C17th tomb bearing the effigy of Dorothy, Lady Dodderidge. She is shown reclining upon a cushion nestling a skull, a classic "memento mori" symbol reminding us of our mortality. The last line of the gilded plaque behind her bears the date (in Latin) primo Martij Anno Dom: 1614, meaning that she died on 1st March 1614. Dorothy died fourteen years before her husband, whose tomb lies next to hers’. (Photo: © Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)
        I visited Dunsford church several years ago, after first reading about Ursula and the Fulford monument in an academic paper by Micheline White: White proposed that Ursula Fulford, ‘although previously unknown to feminist historians and literary scholars … appears to have been a poet’.1 At the time I was researching Anne Edgcumbe Dowriche’s local familial links and the Fulford family were linked within the Edgcumbe’s extended family circle. So I found and photographed the Fulfords’ effigy …

         … It turns out to be quite a feat locating and finding Great Fulford within the intricacies of mid-Devon summer lanes. Hedges are high and roads in any case circuitous in the often densely wooded areas north-west of Dunsford. The day I visited, during the brief July heat-wave and hot on my own Fulford trail, it seemed that I was circling the perimeter of the place again and again, not able to view the manor, even from a distance. So when I came back home there were no photos of the house, or estate on my phone – not even in on the sky-line or from a distant gate-way. My only pixel-based impressions were of the surrounding district, with Dartmoor just rimming the skyline.
Around Fulford looking towards Dartmoor
       I’d been going round and round in ever widening circles, finding a host of features to appreciate in the scenery, yet not locating the hidden heart of the ancient manor house. The Fulford’s extensive landscape acreage was elusively mirroring my search for its once upon a time mysterious woman occupant, though  I did find a photo of a Fulford gatehouse online, on geograph, which takes you a little nearer to the estate's centre:
       For I have found no record, no indication of any evidence connecting Ursula with any written text. And I know there is little likelihood of anything yet to be found. Compared to her near-contemporary Anne Dowriche’s  well documented authorship of the epic poem The French Histoire, this absence would suggest that that apparent lack of record only serves to suggest that maybe Ursula was not a writer, at least in any conventional sense. Yet, I need to remind myself that the very label of ‘woman’ as ‘writer’ during the C16, the period in which she was living, was more or less a misnomer; that if she did write there would be all kinds of hindrances to a production of preserved text for posterity. The only way to begin to trace lost trails to what may have been occulted texts is through close examination of examples of contemporary documentation such as ‘panegyric volumes, printed sermons, city documents, wills and funeral monuments’ (see White in note below) – many, if not all authored by men, but sometimes making reference to a woman.

        For example, Ursula Fulford, as Micheline White points out, who was from a Devonian family with Protestant, though not radical goals, was highly praised by John Chardon at a speech for the commemoration of the defeat of the Prayer Book Rebellion in Exeter, given in 1594 and printed in the following year. Both Ursula and her husband Thomas were recognised for their ‘joint effort to further the progress of Protestantism’; they were viewed as champions of the ‘Holy Gospel’ and of the ‘printing press’. Ursula is also praised in three long Latin poems by Chardon, which ‘suggest that she wrote devotional and elegiac verse’. Another who spoke for Ursula Fulford publically was John Gee, who was minister of Dunsford church: he offered her and another woman a collection of prayers. Both he and Chardon appear to have drawn on Ursula’s  status to promote their own work. The Fulford monument at Dunsford church with effigies of Thomas and his wife, reflects the sense of status they enjoyed (see White below).

        So there are clues. But that is all.

Family and Friends
        However, even if I have not found Ursula the writer, I have found all sorts about the ever-widening familial circles surrounding her – just as I have gathered a complex of associations from the landscape near her married home. One day someone, if not me, may be able to assemble the pieces and begin to re-construct some of the missing jigsaw of her life.

       Ursula Fulford was born Ursula Bampfield, circa 1566. She was only some ten years younger than Anne Dowriche and like the Dowriches – whose family held Dowrich House some twelve or so miles north of Fulford House - her core family unit was drawn from a closely connected network of leading families from Devon and other westcountry counties. Between them they accounted for many if not most of the south-west’s most prestigious manors and estates. These include place-names, which for the most part, are either still known and visited; or, are in the process of being restored and remembered for their unique historical importance: Barrington-Court; Poltimore House; Brympton D’Evercy; Buckland Abbey; Combe Sydenham; Powderham and Sudeley Castle. Some of Ursula's direct ancestors were employed at the royal court, a few of them were directly involved in some of the most dramatic and significant events of the era, so it is possible that Ursula and her husband were familiar with and participants in various social, religious and political activities at the court of Elizabeth Ist and later on, of James Ist.  Meanwhile, interestingly, her extended familial contacts hooked Ursula directly into chains of connection to some of the country’s most acclaimed and gifted C16/17 writers and musicians. 

        After her marriage to Thomas Fulford sometime in 1580, the year in which the 27 year old inherited the Fulford’s estates after his father’s death, Ursula Bampfield presumably moved into the Fulford seat at Great Fulford, just north-west of Dunsford, and some eight miles west of Exeter. Ursula’s husband Thomas was the eldest son of John Fulford and Anne Denys. His father was one of the wealthiest men in Devon and just before his death had completed a lavish rebuilding of his house (See John Fulford The History of Parliament)  so Ursula's early married life must have been spent in surroundings of sophisticated Elizabethan luxury.This late C16 generation of Fulfords included several colourful characters who Ursula may have become acquainted with. For example, Faith Fulford, who was probably daughter of John Fulford and so Thomas' sister (but see The Voyagers and Works of John Davis, the Navigator) - who had married the famed explorer in 1582, dared to challenge societal expectations of married women's behaviour. Kathy Emerson explains in Who's Who of Tudor Women ; see Faith Fulford:

'During one of her husband’s long absences at sea, Faith took a lover by the name of Milborne, a counterfeiter. When Davys returned to England in June 1593, Milborne made false charges against him that led to his arrest. Davys was free by the following March. Unfortunately, details of what happened next are lacking. Since Davys was planning to remarry in 1604, however, Faith must have died at some point before that. Divorce would have been possible but unlikely, and usually did not permit remarriage'. 

Near Great Fulford
        Before her marriage Ursula Bampfield may have been born and probably spent her childhood at her parents’ home, Poltimore, near Exeter, which her father, Richard Bampfield, had built during the 1550’s, possibly during the early years of his own marriage. During that period Poltimore, like Great Fulford, was in the process of change and improvement. Local legend has it that the Poltimore family almost lost their main estates in 1528, on the death of Edward Poltimore, Richard’s father. According to the stories, Richard was kidnapped, leaving the trustees of Poltimore bickering about their shares in the properties.There are various versions telling the tale of what happened to Richard, several of them leaving romantic descriptions about how as a young boy he was brought up by his kidnappers’s servant, taken away from the district and hidden, until one day an estate tenant rescued him and was able to prove his true identity because of a distinguishing birth mark. The story concludes that Richard was brought back to Somerset where he stayed at Combe Sydenham, one of the seats of the Sydenham family, and eventually married one of the Sydenham daughters (who was to be Ursula’s mother). He is supposed to have returned to his inherited property in 1550 and duly began re-building and replenishing the house.

           The effigies of Richard and Elizabeth Bampfield, Ursula Fulford’s parents, are in Poltimore Church:
‘In the south transept is the tomb with recumbent figures of Richard Bampfield and Elizabeth his wife; he died on May 29th 1594, and she on March 4th 1599. The male figure is arrayed in armour with his sword by his side, around the neck is a ruff; the head, which is bare, rests on a cushion, and the feet on a dog. The female figure is clothed in flowing gown tied in at the waist with a girdle, but open in front to show the skirt; she wears a ruff around the neck and a close-fitting head-dress with a flap turned up over the head from the back, her feet rest on a ram’.
        A recent writer describing Poltimore concludes that its ‘appearance must have been stunning’ (See A Devon House: The Story of Poltimore). The house’s features included stone-mullioned windows, beer-stone chimney pieces, fine carvings and decorative plasterwork. As well as Poltimore  in 1590 Bampfield began the construction of  Bampfylde House, in Exeter; and he also owned Court Hall, another manor at North Molton. Richard’s heir, Ursula’s brother Sir Amyas Bampfield took over both of these properties after his father’s death in 1594. He improved the Exeter house but preferred to spend most of his time at the latter seat; his monument and effigy are in North Molton church. His wife Elizabeth Clifton was daughter of Sir John Clifton from Barrington Court and it is their daughter Dorothy whose tomb is in Exeter Cathedral.

      Sydenhams and Brydges
        Amyas’ younger sister Ursula must have spent time in all these fine family properties, as well as at other west country estates. The siblings’ mother Elizabeth Sydenham’s family’s main seat was at Brympton D’Evercy in Somerset, once considered ‘the most beautiful house in England’ and now, in the C21, a popular wedding venue. At one time the Sydenhams were thought to be England’s largest landowners, but their fortunes fluctuated during the C16. Presumably Ursula Bampfield had been named after her grandmother Ursula Brydges, who had married Sir John Sydenham, Sheriff of Somerset, Although John Sydenham died by the end of the 1550’s, Ursula Brydges was alive for ten years or so after her name-sake granddaughter’s birth, (her will was proved in 1576), so her granddaughter may have had opportunity to travel over the county’s boundaries to Somerset, to visit her in Brympton D’Evercy.

        Ursula Brydges was sister of John 1st Lord Chandos; he and other members of the Brydges family were closely associated with the royal court. Their father Giles Brydges, had been knight of the body to Henry VII, and John Brydges, great-uncle to Ursula Fulford, held a life-time of service to the king and was as well a significant figure in local government. High Sheriff of Wiltshire from 1537, before that,
  ‘He was knighted in France, 13 Oct 1513; accompanied Henry VIII to Calais in Oct 1532, when Henry visited Francois I; was with Henry VIII at Boulogne in 1533; was appointed constable of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, in 1538; attended Henry VIII as a groom of the privy chamber when the King received Anne of Cleves in 1539; was at Boulogne in 1544, when he was appointed deputy-governor of the city; and in 1549 was fighting there against the French.’ (See Tudor Place).
During Mary Tudor’s reign John Brydges helped suppress Wyatt’s rebellion. He also accompanied Lady Jane Grey to the scaffold, where apparently he was so moved by her gentle spirit that he begged her to leave him a memorial of her writing:
‘She granted the request by inscribing a very pathetic farewell to him in an English prayer-book, which is now in the British Museum’ (Harl. MS. 2342).
       As well as her father and brother Ursula’s maternal grandmother Ursula Brydges/Sydenham also had sisters and nieces who were in Queen Mary’s privy chamber, as nurses, maids of honour and gentlewomen of the chamber. Her sister in law, Elizabeth Grey/Brydges, probably accompanied Princess Mary Tudor in 1514 when Mary went to France to marry King Louis and was still a senior attendant at court at the time of Mary’s death in 1559. One of John and Elizabeth Brydges’ daughters, also named Mary, was involved in a major scandal in 1559, when she was accused of attempting to murder her husband George Throckmorton. In the end she was acquitted after her mother Elizabeth pleaded for her, apparently using the following words:
             ‘She’s given much to palmistry/but has nothing to do with poisons’.

      The Brydges women seemed given to notoriety. Another Elizabeth Brydges, (third generation on from Ursula Brydges, daughter of Giles, 3rd Baron Chandos) but only some ten years younger than Ursula Fulford (who was her distant cousin) became embroiled in a series of affairs at court, where she was a maid of honour.(see Elizabeth Brydges’ story here).

         Ursula Brydges/Sydenham and her husband brought up a large family at Brympton D’Evercy. One commentator noted that ‘their extensive brood were significant local figures’. Their granddaughter Ursula Fulford evidently had a bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins, many of whom would have been immersed in significant contemporary events. The intricate local histories and tales of many of their respective lives have lasted well and still remain in the folk-memory of the C21 local collective unconscious.

       The ‘brood’ and their children included:

        Ursula’s uncle George Sydenham, who inherited the title High Sheriff of Somerset and the Sydenham estate at Combe Sydenham. His daughter, Elizabeth, born 1562 - so just four years older than her cousin Ursula from Poltimore  – married Sir Frances Drake as his second wife. Elizabeth married Drake five years after her cousin married Fulford and after Drake’s death Elizabeth remarried Sir William Courtenay of Powderham (1553-1630);

        Ursula’s (and Elizabeth’s) aunt Mary Sydenham, married John Fitz of Fitzford, near Tavistock. Their monument is in Tavistock church. Fitz seems to have been a dubious character, even with his legal potency and prestige:
‘The John Fitz commemorated in St Eustachius Church followed the family tradition, working as a counsellor-at-law for a while. He accumulated enough from legal fees to retire at an early age to Fitzford where he devoted much time to the study of astrology and the casting of horoscopes …  In 1575 while his wife was in labour giving birth to their only child, John's reading of the heavenly charts gave him cause for great alarm. He observed the relative positions of the planets at this time to be most unpropitious, and he urged the midwife to do her utmost to delay the birth by one hour or his offspring would be fated to suffer a violent and untimely death’. (Devon Perspectives)
     Their son, Ursula’s first cousin John’s life, true to his father’s foretelling, was notorious and his end bleak. He married Bridget Courtenay who was daughter of Sir William Courtenay, so step-daughter of Ursula’s other cousin Elizabeth. Several local writers have since told the story of the Fitz family, including the C19 Anna Eliza Bray in Fitz of Fitzford. And here, at Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, is one version of the story reprinted online. John and Bridget Fitz’ daughter Mary, remembered as Lady Howard, apparently followed the tradition of  her own father’s notoriety and has left to posterity one of the most well-known legends based on the Dartmoor locality, that of Lady Howard’s Coach.

       After John Fitz’ death Mary Sydenham-Fitz moved to Walreddon, (see Anna Eliza Bray’s description of the Walreddon estate, near Tavistock), before remarrying Sir Christopher Harris of Radford:
‘During the reign of Elizabeth I, Sir Christopher Harris (b. c1553 - d.1625) represented Plymouth in Parliament and was also Vice-Admiral of Devon. His naval connections meant that he regularly entertained at Radford the finest captains in the fleet including the victory celebration of those who fought against the Spanish Armada attended by Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Howard and Hawkins amongst others’.
‘He was known to be a very close friend of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was the executor of Sir Francis Drake's will and was in regular correspondence with Queen Elizabeth's closest adviser Cecil.
The Harris family owned Radford house and estate for over 500 years:
‘Comprising over 50 rooms it was one of the largest houses in the area with an architectural style and prestige on a par with Lanhydrock in Cornwall’.
The Armada Service, now kept at the British Museum, belonged to the couple. The silver dishes were said to have been used by Sir Christopher Harris at a celebratory dinner.

      Cultural Connections
        Several  women contemporaneous with and closely linked to Ursula Fulford seem like her to have been recipients of either literary or musical dedications, allowing for the possibility that she may well have been actively involved with others who were at the forefront of the C16 cultural cornucopia.

        Through her brother Amyas Bampfield's in-laws Ursula must surely have known K/Catherine Darcy and her daughter Katherine Clifton, Duchess of Lennox/Lady Aubigny, both of whom were named by a male author or composer in a musical composition or literary panegyric. Dowland composed four pieces for Katherine Darcy- see Galliard for Katherine Darcy - wife of Gervase Clifton, who was brother of Amyas' wife Elizabeth), whilst Ben Johnson praised Katherine Clifton for her virtues in  Epistle. To Katherine, Lady Aubigny, from The Forest. 
        Katherine Brydges, another of the Brydges women, who was a distant cousin of Ursula Fulford, through her grandmother Ursula Brydges, was praised by the poet George Gascoigne. This Katherine was known at court for her particular beauty and in the poem 'In prayse of the fair Brydges, nowe Lady Sandes', Gascoigne named her as the damsel at court who 'doth most excel' and praised her for her 'sweet face'. Yet another woman from the Brydges family received dedications from the poet Robert Crowley; Elizabeth Brydges was also known as a translator of psalms and proverbs. Her identity however remains elusive and as yet I have not been able to verify her as close kinswoman of Ursula Fulford's. 

       Another kinswoman, Elizabeth Sydenham, wife of Francis Drake, was similarly named and praised by the Cornish poet-preacher Charles FitzGeffrey; he called her  'the beautous and virtuous Lady Elizabeth'. Whilst such a dedication may seem less than significant in terms of confirming a woman's involvement within contemporary circles of literary endeavour, various intricate but forgotten connective threads between family and friend networks of the time may indicate that these dedicatory lines were, or rather are, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of teasing out lost female writers of sixteenth century texts. For, Charles Fitzgeffrey, a westcountry man, was also known to others within the networks of individuals known to mix in the Fulford's circles - either as kinsmen or women, or as people with whom they socialised or worshipped. As well as Elizabeth Sydenham FitzGeffrey dedicated texts to other westcountry women, including Anne Moyle of Bake, who was the daughter of the translator and writer Anne Lock Prowse. Prowse moved to the south-west when she married the mayor of Exeter in 1579 and Micheline White believes that Prowse, as wife of the mayor, must have been present at the occasion of the speech given by John Chardon in Exeter in 1594, in which he lavished praise on the Fulford couple (See above and note below). FitzGeffrey's poems suggest that those who were recipients of his dedications and praise must have been not only learned people but also, individuals who must have circulated and shared various writings amongst each other. There have to be many forgotten links - literary and otherwise -  between many of these individuals, and perhaps by gradually following their archived Ariadnian threads towards the lost centre, in the future someone will be able to locate not only a manuscript composed by Ursula Fulford, but also glean some sense of who she was, as person ... 

        ... My Ursula Fulford quest has only recently begun; I have other notes which are relevant to her but they will need to be assimilated before collating online. I hope to continue to trail her as and when I have the time. So watch this blog-space. Meanwhile, recent projects to reinvigorate the Fulford's fortunes apparently include autumnal ghost-hunts. Perhaps a shade of Ursula Fulford might materialise from Fulford's impenetrable Tudor walls ...

     1.  Micheline White,  “Women Writers and Literary-Religious Circles in the Elizabethan West Country:  Anne Dowriche, Anne Lock Prowse, Anne Lock Moyle, Elizabeth Rous, and Ursula Fulford.” Modern Philology 103.2 (2005): 187-214.

copyright (c) Julie Sampson September 2012.


  1. Anonymous4:03 pm

    I am fascinated by yoyu research...I too have been researching the Fulfords as I am related somewhere in the line of the younger sons....not the ones that ingherited Gret Fulfod...I have BEEN THERE AND a painting on the wall from 16thC looks just like my brother and I....so as u can imagine,im hooked,Christina Grace Fulford Tett

  2. Thanks for this. Fascinating and hope to hear more about your research one day.


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