From beheaded Queen to a US President
Cycling through my local countryside still throws up many interesting diversions. Though I have dallied in Fortheringhay many times in the past, I still stop from time to time to pay my respects to the history of this remarkable place. Its church, with its octagonal lantern tower, is a beacon on the horizon from many miles away, just like the Cathedrals of Ely and Lincoln. There is a magnetic field that draws you irreparably in its direction. And that is no fortuitous accident. These places were designed to be visible statements of power and faith.
Amongst many notable historical events associated with the
village, the birth of Richard III has to be the most outstanding, followed perhaps by the imprisonment and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. The former enjoyed a pitifully brief sojourn as King, dying during the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and many would maintain he had usurped the right of his nephew, Edward, to the crown of England. A much maligned character for many centuries, Richard III is now having his credibility restored by the efforts of the Richard III Society, and their attention to the visible memorials around Fortheringhay testifies to this.
Almost a century later, Mary, a member of the Scottish Stuart dynasty and a prominent Catholic, proved to be a serious threat to the protestant England of Elizabeth I, especially after her ‘unholy’ alliance with Catholic France through her first marriage. She was arrested and imprisoned in Fotheringhay Castle (which now no longer exists), tried and executed in 1587. Her execution was an immensely popular public spectacle, drawing crowds from far and wide, and the legends of the mishaps and cruelty of her execution are well documented. I always find it hard to cycle through Fotheringhay without a pause for reflection. For a small village, the place embodies a disproportionate importance in the history of this island.
Even smaller than Fotheringhay is the tiny hamlet of Achurch (in Anglo Saxon meaning “church by the water”), a community of fewer than 20 houses (it takes 30 seconds to cycle through it!), but again of disproportionate relevance to the history of this country (and, indeed, the world). Nothing remains of the iron-age, Roman or Anglo Saxon settlements, but its ancestral connections with John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the USA, gives this tiny settlement a huge amount of historical credibility. Years later, and by contrast, Achurch was the birth place of a little known cartoon artist whose Lord Kitchener recruitment poster became one of the most iconic pieces of art of the First World War era. His name was Alfred Leete who, in addition, did promotional art for companies like Rowntrees, Bovril and Guinness.
Cycling the rural lanes and byways is a perfect way of discovering little hidden corners, and the archival research of enthusiastic local historians gives proud testimony of the historical importance of otherwise tiny communities.
Posted on August 13, 2011, in Aspects of Britain and tagged Achurch, Alfred Leete, Fotheringhay, history, John Quincy Adams, Lord Kitchener, Mary Queen of Scots, President of USA, Richard III. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.