Monday, 7 November 2011

Sible Hedingham, Essex

Another trip to, predominantly, south Suffolk began with a visit to St Peter where, unbeknownst to me,there is a monument to my children's 19th great grandfather Sir John Hawkwood (I'll leave it to Arthur to fill you in on him).

Despite the size of the church this is a surprisingly spartan interior - or perhaps not, it's almost in Suffolk (and has a very Suffolk feel to it) and I suppose Dowsing came to visit - but is light, airy and appealing. I rather liked the reredos.

ST PETER. Except for the W tower a church dating from about 1330-40. The window tracery is typical and not of special interest.* The W window of the tower also belongs to that period, although the tower itself with its angle buttresses carried up in four set-offs and its stepped battlements is of early C16. Buttresses are also carried down into the inside the church. The quatrefoil clerestory windows are not original, but the back-splays may indicate that the form is correct (cf. Little Sampford). The arcades between nave and aisles and the chancel arch have octagonal or semi-octagonal supports and double-chamfered arches. The most interesting feature of the church is the MONUMENT in the S aisle, a low tomb-chest like a seat, decorated with six cusped panels holding shields. Big ogee arch flanked by buttresses. The spandrels have Perp panelling. The monument is considered to be a cenotaph for Sir John Hawkwood d. 1394 who, the son of a tanner at Sible Hedingham, rose to be a condottiere of the Florentine army and the son-in-law of a Duke of Milan. He is buried in Florence Cathedral, where a fresco by Paolo Uccello commemorates him.

* But the chancel E window was made during the C19 restoration of the church.

John Hawkwood 1393 (1)

Reredos (1)

Reredos (2)

SIBLE HEDINGHAM. Among its inns, houses, and cottages, some with 15th century roofs, Tudor and Jacobean detail abounds, but the chief interest centres in Hawkwoods, a timbered and plastered 16th century house with a hound and a coronet over its doorway. The house perpetuates the name of a family which, settled here from the time of King John, produced a towering lawless man who became the wonder and terror of medieval Italy.

Roman tiles in the walls of the church tell of the days of Caesar’s Britain, but it was a 14th century Hawkwood who raised the present church. Over a window of the grey embattled tower, in which rings a bell 600 years old, a bold hawk is carved as an architectural pun on the family name, a conceit variously repeated indoors. An angel guards the entrance to the 16th century porch, which has roof bosses carved with the Bourchier knot, and the star of the De Veres, whose great Norman castle is in the next village. In a corner of the tower is a little nail-studded Tudor door leading to the stair turret. The wide nave has two arcades, and a modern font on a 15th century stem. Two bays of the roof spanning the south aisle are 16th century, and have finely carved timbers showing stars and boars. The chancel has two Jacobean chairs.

But the pride of the church is the place in which it is believed lay Sir John Hawkwood, who was brought here wrapped in cloth-of-gold from his tomb in the Duomo, Florence, where we have stood before his memorial. Here in Sible Hedingham, unless our history is false, they laid him in 1394, in a magnificent tomb of which now remains only a canopied recess, resplendent with hawk, boar, pelican, and hunting figures.

It was on the petition of the king that Florence delivered up the warrior who was to her as saint and hero. The name of this son of a tanner was to resound for a generation throughout Europe. He went to the wars with Edward the Third and the Black Prince, and fought at Crecy and Poitiers. Seeking fresh worlds to conquer, he moved on into Italy and there formed what was called the White Company. He lived avowedly to foment war, regular or guerilla, on the widest scale. "God give you peace," was the greeting to him of two gentle friars. "God take away your alms," he answered them; "know ye not that I live on war, and that peace would undo me; and that just as I live on war so do you on alms?" Where rival cities were so many petty republics constantly at war, Hawkwood and his dauntless men-at-arms were almost continuously in demand. He fought for Pisa against Florence, for Perugia against the pope; he fought for this man today and that man tomorrow. When his White Company was taken over by the pope Hawkwood fought for him.

Renowned and terrible, a magnificent hireling, he passed from command to command until in 1390 he settled down permanently as General of the Florentine forces. There as ever he was a brilliant commander, and when he died in 1394 he was given a magnificent funeral, and his portrait by Giotto is in a great procession of figures placed in the cathedral. Tradition has it that Richard the Second brought the body home and that it was buried here.

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