Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Meet The Dacres

Herstmonceux has a famous and very splendid 15th century castle- a transitional building halfway between castle and country house- which has a moat and gatehouse but is built of brick- and would have crumpled before the siege engines and artillery of the late middle ages. It was built by some people called Dacre and it's them we've come to see.

They're to be found at the church. You approach the village and the church is signposted off to the left. You drive. And you drive. And after a while you think you must have missed the turning only you haven't because the church, it turns out, is nearly two miles away.

The village used to be in the same place as the church. No-one knows why it moved but it may have had something to do with the Dacres getting royal permission to enclose 600 acres to make themselves a deer park.

Onsite peasants might have frightened the horses or- worse- helped themselves to a deer or two.

The church is an architectural jumble. I like architectural jumbles. Some of it is built in brick- just like the Castle.

The Dacre Chapel is an appendage to the north of the chancel. The door was shut and there was a note pinned to it requesting that people who wanted to use it to do spiritual things which weren't in the Christian tradition should contact the vicar first. The tone of the note left it uncertain whether the vicar is a bigot or remarkably open-minded. I guess one would have to phone him to find out. I was afraid the door would be locked, but it wasn't. There was no-one around- except for the guy mowing the grass who was wearing headphones- so I could have Hare Krishna'd to my hearts content but I didn't.

And here, at last, are the Dacres: Lord Dacre (d.1533) and his son, Sir Thomas Fiennes (d.1528)

Or are they. Because if that's who they are why are they wearing Milanese armour that's half a century out of date? The most likely solution is that the effigies are second hand- and originally represented a couple of brothers called Hooe- and that the Dacres acquired them at the everything must go sale following the dissolution of Battle Abbey and then had them customised to represent themselves. There's a learned article I've seen referenced (but haven't read) which calls the tomb a "palimpest". Anyway it's gorgeous. Here's a view of it from the chancel side...

Everyone remarks on the gaudiness of the paintwork- which dates from the 1970s but is apparently authentic.

The Dacres don't trouble the history books much. There were two branches of the family- and for a while two baron Dacres- known as Lord Dacre of the North and Lord Dacre of the South. Our Lord Dacre (of the South) was Constable of Calais and turned out in support of the king at the Battle of Deptford. He died at the age of 62. His heir- his grandson, the 9th Lord Dacre- was tried for murder after leading a poaching expedition on the lands of his neighbour Lord Pelham (as if his own 600 acres weren't enough) which resulted in the death of John Busbridge, one of Pelham's servants. He was found guilty and (unusually for a peer) hanged as a common criminal. This was probably the most remarkable thing any Dacre ever did.
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