Thursday, 20 October 2011

Glemsford, Suffolk

St Mary is stunning, with commanding views over the surrounding countryside - both the building and the location are outstanding. Sadly the interior, whilst beautiful, suffered a visitation from Dowsing in 1643 so it is light on monuments but does have a very good octagonal 15th century decorated font.

ST MARY. Dec W tower and Dec nave arcades (octagonal piers, double-chamfered arches, the N side apparently earlier than the S). Perp aisle walls and windows, chancel chapels, clerestory, and porches. The S aisle, S chapel, S porch, and N chapel have flushwork panelling, the N aisle and N porch have not. Large three-light windows, mostly transomed. S doorway with tiny canopied niches in one arch moulding. Money was left for a S window in 1447, a N window in 1454, N clerestory windows in 1474/5 (‘according to the design of the first one newly made in that wall’). Good N aisle roof with carved beams. - FONT. Octagonal. Panelled stem with four small figures. Bowl with two Signs of the Evangelists, head with crown, head with mitre, angel with shield, and Virgin of the Annunciation (?). - SOUTH DOOR. With tracery and a scroll along the edge. - (REREDOS in the S aisle C18. LG)

St Mary (3)

Font (1)

Towards Boxted (NW)
GLEMSFORD. It is the village (a wandering place with a great church and a glorious view) where Wolsey’s faithful servant came to end his days far from the glamour and peril of the Court. It has a fine house with an overhanging storey which may have been here in his day; one of its upright posts is carved with a figure of the Archangel Michael, who has his sword uplifted to sly the dragon. Below St Michael is an angel which gives its name to the neighbouring inn.

Most of the church, with its lofty aisle and porch, is 15th century, but the chancel has an arcade with slender pillars 700 years old. There is a huge iron-bound chest ravaged by the death-watch beetle, and a Jacobean pulpit with grapes and strange birds on the brackets of its book-rest. The oak reredos, with its carving of the Annunciation, was set up in memory of George Coldham, vicar here for 54 years last century. The treasure of the church is the 15th century font, its bowl carved with a fierce winged lion, a dragon, and four heads (a bishop and an angel, a king and a queen), with a curious little figure supporting the bowl.

Here sleeps George Cavendish without memorial, though indeed he has no need of one, for his life of his master, Cardinal Wolsey, is his everlasting monument. As we see Wolsey in Shakespeare, noting the firm bold lines in which the character is drawn, following his speeches and sighing over the tragic greatness of his fall, we feel that here is the authentic man, body and spirit; and it is almost certain that Shakespeare derived his details from Cavendish’s manuscript. Cavendish knew the cardinal better than anyone else, in his public life and in the secrecy of his chamber. Son of a Court official, he married a niece of Sir Thomas More, but at the age of 26, as Wolsey said, "abandoned his own country, wife, and children, his own house and family, his rest and quietness" to serve him as gentleman usher. He was with Wolsey in his greatest triumphs; he remained with him, constant, solicitous, loving, and loyal, to the tragic end. On Wolsey’s death Cavendish was strictly examined as to the acts and sayings of his master, and though in peril of his life he answered with such valiant candour that the hostile council declared he had served the cardinal like a just and diligent servant.

Retiring to Glemsford, Cavendish wrote the beautiful story of Wolsey’s life and conversation which stands as one of the earliest great biographies in our language. It remained in manuscript for a century, and then, in 1641, a garbled version of it was printed. Not until 1810 did it appear complete. Shakespeare had the manuscript, and we know that the words he makes Wolsey speak are the words George Cavendish wrote down.


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