Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

They Chose The Losing Side

I got into a debate about the pandemic this morning. It's something I do my best to avoid because the issue is so divisive- and the divisions are at least as bad as the thing that's causing them. I had better add that I have no intention of stating my views about the pandemic here, on this blog- or of entering into any discussion of them. As it says somewhere in the Bible, "A house divided cannot stand".

As it happens (synchronicity) I've been reading about another time of great division- the English Civil War.

On Friday I photographed a ledger stone in the church at East Peckham which made me sad because it had been smashed, and happy because someone had cared enough to cement it back together. Then I read the epitaph- and found it moving. A husband is mourning his wife and the first thing he has to say about her is "she was beautiful"- which is what husbands ought to say about their wives. It made me want to find out what I could about them.

They were Sir Hugh Cholmeley and Lady Elizabeth Cholmeley, nee Twysden.

Thank you, thank you, Internet- for furnishing me with two texts that I'd never have found in times gone by without a reader's pass for the British Library. The first was the diary of their sister-in-law Isabella Twysden and the second was Sir Hugh's own memoirs.

They had a rough time of it, the Cholmeley and Twysdens. They were rural gentry- the Chomeleys from Yorkshire, the Twysdens from Kent- and political moderates, supporting Parliament when they thought the king was being tyrannical and changing sides when they thought Parliament was being even more so. Trimming had nothing to do with it. Nor did cowardice or the desire for a quiet life. As a Parliamentarian Sir Hugh was threatened with hanging by the king in person and as a royalist he defended Scarborough Castle, with Lady Elizabeth at his side, during a siege that lasted for the best part of a year. The siege of Scarborough Castle- one of the bloodiest of the war- was the most dramatic single event of their lives- but they suffered so much more: the deaths of children, separation, foreign exile, political harassment, hostile law suits and much ill health.

Sir Hugh's memoirs are here. They are very readable.

Here's her ledger stone,

And here's some of what he had inscribed on it.

She was very beautiful, of great ingenuity, a discerning judgement, in great dangers had a courage above her sex, of a most noble and sweet nature, compassionate to all in distress, a most chaste, virtuous and loving wife, indulgent parent and true friend and, which was above all, a most religious and pious person....

His memoirs expand on this, describing with a lover's eye her black eyes, her well-shaped mouth "which sometimes (especially when in a muse of study) she would draw up into an incredible little compass" and her hair "of a sad brown", telling us how she was timid but brave, extraordinarily generous, loved to read and - just so we wouldn't think him unduly prejudiced- how she could be quick tempered, passionate and sometimes a little unreasonable.

I'd have liked to have known her. Him too. They were good people. They chose the losing side.

She was 55 when she died. He outlived her by a couple of years and was buried beside her.

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