Returning to a First View of Wroxton

Excerpt from Historical Perspectives of To A Strange Somewhere Fled

The Setting

Old Photo Village of Wroxton

Old photo of the Main Street and duck pond of Wroxton village

I hardly expected my 17th century Genoese journey through the writing of A House Near Luccoli to direct me back to Oxfordshire, England where I lived from 1974 to 1990. Then I began to consider a sequel that would require a destination for Donatella beyond Genoa. Her flight from grief returned me to a first view of “Wroces Stan” – old English meaning buzzards’ stone – a village mentioned in the Doomsday book grown out of ancient crossroads, valley slopes, ochre stone, straw thatch, Augustinian principals, and aristocratic privilege.

Where is Wroxton? Click here!

It was a place small enough to comfort and stately enough to unsettle, reclusive and inviting, its character formed as much by its lower as upper class  – as is seen in the character of demon-obsessed Tobias, who is based on a real village resident I had known – a world as wild as it was well-designed, its seasons defined by flowers, fungi, berries, and trees, ever increasing clouds, fog and frost, rain and more rain so sunny banks and deep shadows were always noticed.

Image corrected to original work. Colour space is Adobe RGB (1998) Gamma is Windows 2.2

Porch, Wroxton Abbey – early 17th century

Wroxton Abbey, situated in a secluded parkland to the southeast of the village, was documented as a manor in the 11th century. One hundred and twenty-eight years later, a tenant, Guy de Reinbeudcurt, founded an Augustinian priory there. Due to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, much of it was destroyed. What was left of its buildings and demesne was leased to the treasurer of Henry’s Court of Augmentations, responsible for the dissolved monasteries, Sir Thomas Pope, who was the founder of Trinity College, Oxford. In 1551 Sir Thomas granted his brother, John, a ninety-nine year tenancy, and in 1556 endowed the manor and lands to Trinity College that subsequently renewed the lease for John’s heirs.

Old Photo Great Hall Wroxton Abbey

Thanks to Fairleigh Dickinson University Wroxton College for this old photo of the Great Hall, including minstrel’s gallery. I can hear the 17th century violinist Nicola Matteis playing in the minstrel’s gallery – as Roger North put it “the staccatos, tremolos, divisions … every stroke delicious.”(Matteis is credited with changing the English taste for violin playing from the French style to the ‘newer’ Italian one)

Construction on the manor surviving as the central portion of its present structure was begun around the turn of the 17th century by John Pope’s son, William, the 3rd Earl of Downe. A lack of male descendants eventually passed the leasehold to the 3rd Earl’s daughters, and one of them, Frances, married Sir Francis North, the lawyer involved with the settlement of the Pope estate. Sir Francis was succeeded as 2nd baron by his son Francis; his great-grandson Frederick, the most famous North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, titled Lord, and serving as Prime Minister to George III, made extensive alterations to the grounds and some to the house. A library and chapel were most likely added by the famous architect and landscape designer Sanderson Miller in the mid 18th century, but a shortage of funds limited further enhancements. The current interior decoration and windows owe much to Prime Minister North’s granddaughter Baroness Susan, who also oversaw the completion of a south wing that finally gave the house symmetry as viewed from its west-facing front and fulfilled the North family motto: Animo et Fide Perage. Carry through to completion in courage and faith.

Cover Artwork cropped resized_pe cropped

Wroxton Abbey in the 1680’s by DM Denton

Baroness Susan’s Irish husband took her surname, and their son, William, managed the estate until his death in 1932 at the age of ninety-six, marking the end of over 250 years of the Norths’ occupancy. All the family’s effects were sold off and the Abbey was turned into a warehouse during WWII. In 1948, Trinity College of Oxford leased it to Lady Pearson, who rented out large portions, which caused extensive damage. Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey purchased it in 1963 and undertook an enormous effort to repair and modernize the building as well as restore and enhance the gardens and pleasure grounds, creating the splendid campus celebrating its fifty year anniversary in 2015.

Visit and like Fairleigh Dickinson University Wroxton College Facebook Page.

Antique Print of Wroxton Abbey

Antique Print of Wroxton Abbey

I was a junior in college, accepted into the program at Wroxton Abbey to study English history, literature, and theater, when my life-changing connection to Wroxton Abbey and village was initiated. A three month semester spanning the last chilly damp weeks of an Oxfordshire winter and the muddy beginnings and eventual warming and burgeoning of its spring turned into sixteen simple and complicated years of my calling Wroxton home.

Spring flowers in woods

Spring Flowers by DM Denton imposed on real photo of Wroxton Abbey woods

As I began writing To A Strange Somewhere Fled, what I thought would come out of my memories and feared would be limited by my experience and prejudice slowly emerged from a more informed and imaginative perspective, a past long before mine that not only furthered Donatella’s exploration into life and love, but made me more understanding and appreciative of the unique opportunity I’d had once and then again: to linger and live in Wroxton and even the Abbey itself, and make a little private history of my own there.

That's me in 1974 - 2nd row from front, 4th from right

That’s me in 1974 – 2nd row from front, 4th from right

To A Strange Somewhere front cover

 

 

Historical Perspectives: You Can’t Write Historical Fiction Without Them

My new novel To A Strange Somewhere Fled includes, at its end, a look at its historical aspects. Here is an excerpt:

“(The) history of private men’s lives (is) more profitable than state history.”

~ Roger North, from his General Preface & Life of Dr. John North

 Roger North (Sept. 3, 1651 – March 1, 1734) and Francis North (October 22, 1637 – September 5, 1685):

I didn’t have to imagine a male protagonist for the sequel to A House Near Luccoli to contrast the temperament and lifestyle of the charismatic and roguish composer Alessandro Stradella. English biographer and lawyer Roger North well-suited that role, especially as Donatella landed on his doorstep.

Portrait of Roger North by Peter Lely

Roger North by Peter Lely

Rather timid, even unsociable, Honorable was Roger’s title and the core of his character. He lived slowly, carefully, with a firm sense of belonging to his family, country, and the reaches of his intellect and interests—“practical diversions” that included writing, philosophy, architecture, mathematics, horticulture, sailing, and music.

Roger was born at Tostock, Suffock, the sixth son of the 4th Baron Dudley North and Anne Montagu. Despite a fifteen year age difference he was very attached to his eldest brother, Francis (great-grandfather to Lord North, Prime Minister of Great Britain during most of the American Revolution), and benefited from Francis’ professional and personal connections that took them both to the heights of Charles II’s court. In 1682 Sir Francis was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and Roger began his service as King’s Counsel. Although staunch royalists, neither was comfortable with the cutthroat political environment of Restoration England.

Thanks to Sir Francis’ marriage to Frances Pope who died in 1678, Wroxton Abbey became his and Roger’s retreat from London. The Popes had been leaseholders of the Abbey since the middle of the 16th century, transforming it into the Jacobean manor house still evident in its present structure. Sir Francis bought out his sister-in-laws’ inheritance and his descendants continued their tenancy of the Abbey well into the twentieth century.

Wroxton Abbey - late 17th century by DM Denton

Wroxton Abbey – late 17th century by DM Denton

 

Portrait of Sir Francis North by Peter Lely

Sir Francis North by Peter Lely

“As to musick”, Roger and Francis carried on the North tradition of pursuing its appreciation, study and performance for familial and social pleasure, and solitary distraction. Their grandfather had traveled in Italy and took a great liking to the music he found there. Roger received instruction from the English composer John Jenkins, and possibly other masters including the spirited Italian violinist Nicola Matteis. It is likely that Roger played the viol, theorbo, harpsichord, organ, and even the violin. He observed and participated in the musical scene of London, his thoughts on theory and performance leading him to eventually publish The Musicall Grammarian (1728). The Seventeenth Century volume of Blackwell’s History of Music in Britain references Roger at least twenty-eight times.

Roger penned biographies of his brothers, a wandering autobiography titled Notes of Me, and even a Discourse on Fish and Fish Ponds, continually and painstakingly recording his reflections and findings on countless subjects. He was one of the executors of the estate of the famous portraitist Peter Lely, and guardian to the painter’s son, John, and daughter, Anne. His architectural talents came into play with improvements made to the north wing of the Abbey and the addition of a coach house and stabling, and he also managed extensive tree planting on the estate.

Notes of Me Book Cover Beyond the scope of To A Strange Somewhere Fled, the untimely passing of Sir Francis in 1685 was an oppressive blow to Roger personally, but also professionally for he had lost a true companion and ally at Court. After Sir Francis’ death he spent a little more time at Wroxton Abbey with his brother Dudley and, while winding up their brother’s affairs, they found some distraction in setting up a laboratory and forge there. Charles II died the same year as Sir Francis, and the next Roger was appointed Attorney-General to Queen Mary of Modena, but by 1687 he had turned his back on Royal and Parliamentary conflicts and uncertainties and devoted himself to writing and the improvement and self-sufficiency of the estate he had purchased at Rougham in Norfolk.

Roger was a quieter, plainer, more cautious, modest and moralistic figure than Alessandro Stradella, but no less singular, creative or complex, which made him as interesting to write about. He exhibited a similar if less reckless compulsion to engage himself in the possibilities of the gifts he had been given and to scoff – less openly and, as it turned out, less perilously than Stradella – at a society that expected him to behave as if he was compliant with it.

 

Roger North_pe_pe

From Wainwright Engraving of Roger North with a page from Notes of Me

 

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back tobardessdmdenton. Thank you.