The Battle Dyrham in Gloucestershire in 577 severed the tie between the Britons of Wales and their sister tribes of Devon with the effect of allying the county with Cornwall. Just over one hundred years later, after the arrival of the Saxons, what remained of unconquered Devon would become part of Cornwall.
When the Saxon’s arrived the lives of the West Country people were turned upside down, no longer could they live their ‘clan’ existence but they had to conform to a new way of living, to the system of cultivation in the open field, areas split into our equivalent of allotments being one of them. In the year, 614 the Saxon's first attack met the people of Devon at Bindon, near Axemouth. Slinging stone have been found at the hill fort of Hawkesdown, this suggests that the Britons had the advantage. Despite this, the people of Devon were defeated enabling their enemy to take over the land of the Axe and Coly Valleys.
In 682, the Saxon king Centwine made another attack to the north of Dartmoor, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us that "Centwine drove the Britons to the sea".
In what could be called a bit of a coup, Sir Ralph Hopton replaced Sir Richard Grenville at the head of the West Country royalist forces when Grenville refused to serve under Hopton and resigned his commission.
Beginning in the spring of 1643, Hopton's five Cornish regiments had defeated the Parliamentarian forces on Cornwall's boarder and were soon marching through neigbouring Devon. By July, Hopton had lead his forces in two battles, one at Crediton and at Landsdowne, where Hopton was injured. In 1644 Hopton, successfully defended Devizes from an attack by William Waller's forces and two years later he had taken up a defensive position in the Devon town of Torrington.
It was on the 16th February 1646, that Ralph Hopton faced the army of Thomas Fairfax in what is known as the Battle of Torrington.
A popular general, Thomas Fairfax, who was nearly twenty years younger than Hopton, had lead his troops to victory at the Battle of Nantwich in 1644, Naseby in 1645 and Colchester in 1648 and at thirty-two he had been appointed Commander in Chief of the New Model Army.
The 16th February 1646 turned out to be wet and cold, the combined forces of about seventeen thousand men fought on the narrow streets. No doubt the inhabitants of Torrington thought the bloodshed would never end, but end it did when gunpowder, that was stored in the parish church, was ignited by a stray spark. The explosion killed many from both sides effectively ending the battle. Ralph Hopton ordered to retreat, he and the remaining royalist army escaped back into Cornwall where he finally surrendered to Fairfax in Truro on 14 March.
The Battle of Torrington marked the end of Royalist resistance in the West Country.
On the 18th September 1556, Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon died in Padua, Italy.
A number of 'ailments' have been suggested as the cause of the Earl's death, fever, syphilis, falling down a flight of stairs, even poisoning.
Edward Courtenay had Yorkist blood flowing through his veins, his grandmother was Catherine of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Catherine had married William Courtenay, Earl of Devon by 1496.
In 1538, at the age of twelve, Edward joined his parents Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter and Gertrude Blount in the Tower of London. His father was suspected of being in cahoots with Reginald Pole and Gertrude accused of encouraging the traitorous behaviour of her husband. Henry Courtenay was executed at the end of 1539 and his wife released at the start of the following year, however Edward was to remain a prisoner, he would remain in the Tower of London for fifteen years. He was finally released on the 3rd August 1553.
After his release his fortunes improved, he was considered as a possible husband for Henry VIII's daughter Mary and when she married Phillip of Spain he set his sights on Elizabeth who would later become Elizabeth I. Edward and Elizabeth suspected of being involved in the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt and others who were fearing persecution under Mary's rule.
They were both imprisoned, when no evidence was found they were both released and Courtenay fled the country.
I've always wondered why this family, as a possible threat to the Tudor dynasty, were not hunted down like that of the family
of George Duke of Clarance's for instance, Henry VIII had no qualms about seeing off the aged Margaretin Pole and
Henry VII had executed Edward's grandfather.
Maybe, this new generation didn't consider the Yorkists as much of a treat anymore?
Words on the engraving of Courtenay above state:
En! puer ac insons et adhuc juvenilibus annis,
Annos bis septem carcere clausus eram,
Me pater his tenuit vinclis quae filia solvit,
Sors mea sic tandem vertitur a superis.
Behold! a guiltless boy and still in his youthful years,
during twice-seven years had I been shut in prison,
the father held me in these chains which the daughter released,
thus at last is my fate being changed by the gods above."
Interestingly, in this engraving Courtenay stands in front of a crumbling castle, whats the significance of that do you think?
Castle Drogo stands on a granite outcrop on the edge of Dartmoor, and from a distance the stonework seems so perfect that you will be forgiven for thinking that it has been crafted by a child out of granite coloured lego bricks. But Castle Drogo is a real castle, its walls are nearly six feet thick, it has battlements and working portcullis.
However, unlike the hundreds of castles built in Britain, this is one that has never had to endure an attack or a siege.
This twentieth century castle was named after one Drogo de Teigne who is thought, by the castles original owners, the Drewe family, to have been a Norman baron and their ancestor.
The Drewe families time at this West Country castle began in 1911 when the building work began. Julius Drewe was a young and wealthy grocery tycoon and the original owner of Castle Drogo, his fortune was made through his Home & Colonial Stores. The first store arrived on our English high streets in 1883 and the last in 1903. Within those twenty years Drewe built up a chain of over five hundred stores.
The story of the Drewes and Castle Drogo begins with a cousin who was the rector of the Parish of Drewsteignton with whom Julius had stayed on occasions. The fact that name of the village was a similar to his own did not go unnoticed and he soon became convinced that it was here, in this little piece of England, that his ancestors lived, the search for proof of this was soon underway. A link to the Drewe family in Elizabethan Devon and a knight in the court of King Charles I was soon found and this convinced Julius Drewe to build a new country home on the lands of his ancestors that matched his place in society, it was at this point that he decided that a castle would be a perfect way to add weight to his newly found social status.
The castle was was completed only eight decades ago in 1931 and designed by architect Edwin Lutyens. Julius Drewe's castle was designed to appear as though it was rising from the cliff face, as if it had grown 'organically over the centuries.' The building of Castle Drogo began in 1911, but the labour shortage due to the First World War saw the work on Drewes dream home come to a halt and the death of his son Adrian in 1917 from a mustard gas attack in Ypres France saw the end of his dream.
Since then the castle has been in much need of repair, the main problem area is the brickwork which has been severely damaged, the result of water pouring in from the original badly built roof. In 1974 Castle Drogo was given to the National Trust. It has also been given a Grade I listed building status and is presently in its second year of a 5 year conservation project to protect the castle from more water damage.
So was Julius's family of Norman origin or was he, as historians suggest, just a wealthy man with the desire to move up the social ladder with the money and the means to make it happen. Putting all the facts together it looks unlikely. The letter E was added to the family name in the same year work began on Castle Drogo when the information about the Drewe family of Devon was discovered. The Domesday Book has Drewsteignton as Taintone meaning a village by the Taine and by the thirteenth century it was known as Teyngton Drue which derives its name from a local landowner Drewe de Teignton which could, if you wanted it to be, a link to a Drogo de Teigne.
I have much sympathy for Julius, why is it we scoff at men like him?
Why do we say they have "ideas above their station" or " they are trying to be someone they are not."
Don't some of us look back through history in the hope of finding a solid connection to our past, a something, an anything to attach ourselves too in a fragile world that we are unsure of? I certainly do. Don't we all look in estate agents window and gaze in wonderment at those big houses with even bigger gardens and hope one day that we too might be living in one.
That is all Julius Drewe did, but what we don't like is the fact that he had the money to be able to do it.
After ten years in the workplace I became a mother to three very beautiful daughters, I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay at home and spend my time with them as they grew into the young women they are now. I am still in the position of being able to be at home and pursue all the interests I have previously mentioned. We live in a beautiful Victorian spa town with wooded walks for the dog, lovely shops and a host of lovely people, what more could I ask for.
All works © Andrea Povey 2014. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of Andrea Povey.
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