Left to travel this world in immortality, I find it difficult at times to see what happened to the people and the places I once knew and loved. In my rides on La Gringalet, sometimes we come across places which hold so many ghosts that it causes us both to stand and breathe in silence. One such place is Chrishall in Essex, home of an old acquaintance, Sir John de la Pole.
It’s been many years since I dropped in on Sir John. When last we met in the 1360s, he was a young man in his teens and about to be married to a beautiful woman called Joan Cobham from Kent. Alas, the next time I was to see him was just yestereday – a face now frozen in brass at Chrishall Church on the Icknield Way in Essex.
But he wasn’t always thus, oh no! John was full of life – a huntsman who excelled in arms – a true and perfect knight, whose skill at the horse was renowned and whose good looks were the envy of his fellow knights. Like me, he came from the north country – in his case, his father from Kingston-upon-Hull by that great river Humber.
It is sad now to see his face, staring out at me from the church floor. I can hear his gruff Yorkshire tones now saying how in the south it was “fair warm and not as gradely as when ‘t’ cold winds blow from the German sea”. A true northerner if ever there was one – he preferred it when it rained to when the sun shone!
I wonder what he would say today about the village he left when his life was so cruelly cut short? When last we talked among the dunnocks and woodpeckers which seem to thrive here, the church was at the centre of the village but now the village seems to have moved up the hill, as if to turn its back on a life long lost. The farmsteads I knew have long gone, even his fair manor has not fared well with the passage of the years – not one stone stands upon another and no more do we hear the recitals of poetry and the laughter that was so much a part of his life.
Alas, poor Sir John, he died so young – living only long enough to father his young daughter Joan with his fair wife, of the same name and buried with him too at this place. But all is not lost to the silence of time, dear reader. If Sir John could know what I know now, he would be proud of what he created.
Joan, his daughter, went on to marry well. Not once but five times, and sometimes I do wonder whether our great scribe Geoffrey Chaucer didst have her in mind when he created his Wife of Bath? In 1380 she married Sir Robert Hemenhale who died in 1391; then she married the Member of Parliament Sir Reynold Braybroke, who died in 1405; thirdly she married. Sir Nicholas Hawberk, who tragically died only two years later and by whom she had a son (who also tragically died).
I have looked into this matter further dear friends and have found she then went on to marry Sir John Oldcastle who by this marriage appears to have been annointed to Lord Oldcastle before, strangely, being executed by our great king Henry V in 1417. This must have been a cause of great sadness to Joan but she was clearly seen as a true asset: marrying for a fifth time Sir John Harpenden who outlived her on her death in the 1430s, dying in 1458.
Ah Joan, Joan! If your father had known what you had achieved beyond the few short years of his own brief life, he would have been a proud man indeed! On my travels I must visit soon your grave at Cobham and pass on my respects to you, dear child…
The stones and brass at Chrishall are quiet today but their silence is more eloquent than words.