The following post is the third of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is chock full of commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!
Lacock Abbey and Romance
While I’ve visited the village of Lacock, wandering through the charming little town which was filmed as Meriton in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice on two occasions, both were group tours not allowing enough time to visit the Abbey. All I could do was peer longingly through the iron gates and vow someday to return. Next time.
It was on one of the tours that I learned the connection between Lacock Abbey and a book I had recently read by Elizabeth Chadwick, For the King’s Favor. Highly recommended for any fan of British history! It’s the story of a former mistress of Henry II who is torn away from her son and married off to another. A small part in the story is played by the illegitimate son, William Longespée, brought up in the king’s household. It turns out that William married Ela, 3rd Countess of Salisbury and became the 3rd Earl of Salisbury. (Yep, a title that could be inherited by a female, believe or not!)
It must have been a happy marriage, not only because they had at least eight children (not that unusual in those days), but because when he died, his widow founded an abbey in his honor, endowing it with rich farmlands which returned large profits from wool. The inscription on her tombstone indicates that she was a very well-loved lady:
Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns. She also had lived here as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full of good works.
In the sixteenth century during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, Lacock Abbey was fortunate to escape destruction when it was sold to Sir William Sharington for 783 pounds, and he turned it into a private residence, demolishing the church and making extensive renovations, apparently showing quite good taste. His tastes were expensive, however, and later on he was convicted of embezzling from the Bristol Mint.
A Famous Elopement (Don’t try this at home!)
From Coaching Days and Coaching Ways:
Here [Lacock] there is an Abbey with a romance attached to it, which tells how a young lady, discoursing one night to her lover from the battlements of the Abbey church, though strictly forbidden to do so by her papa, remarked “I will leap down to you” (which was surely very unwise), and leapt. The wind came to the rescue and “got under her coates” (the ulster I presume of the 16th century) and thus assisted, the young lady, whose name was Sherington [sic], flopped into the arms of the young man, whose name was Talbot, and killed him to all appearances fatally dead on the spot, at which she sat down and wept. Upon this the defunct Talbot, who had been only temporarily deprived of breath, came to life again, and at the same moment the lady’s father, with a fine instinct for a melodramatic situation, jumped out of a bush and observed that “as his daughter had made such a leap to him she should e’en marry him,” meaning Talbot, which was rather obscure, but exactly what the young lady wanted, and married she was to Talbot, whose Christian name was John, brought him the Abbey as a dowry, and lived happily ever after.”
As much as I enjoy Mr. Tristram’s turn of phrase, there are times when I have doubts about the accuracy of his statements. While it is true that a Sharington owned Lacock Abbey, I cannot find that he ever had any children. Nonetheless, it is true that Lacock Abbey was owned by Talbots in its later years, including the famous William Henry Fox Talbot, who is credited with the invention of the calotype process, a precursor of photographic processes of the 19th and 20th centuries. I even saw his grave at the Lacock cemetery just outside the village. So…who knows? It might be true!
Visiting Lacock, Lacock Abbey, and the Fox Talbot Museum
While you’re there, why not stay in a timber-framed cottage located right in the heart of the village? A bit pricey, perhaps, but it has four bedrooms and sleeps six, and what better way to relive the past than to live in a charming cottage in a quaint little town for a couple of days! (You might also check out the bed and breakfast establishments available in the village.)
Update: Lacock Abbey stumbled upon this post and informed me that the young lady who accidentally “killed” her lover was Olive Sharington, daughter of Henry Sharington, who inherited the Abbey from his brother William, who had no children. Mystery solved!