Brave Lady Mary

Corfe Village from the Castle Keep

On the news they are calling them 'protestors'.  A more accurate name might be rioters and robbers, people who are using the pretext of a shooting by the police to pillage and destroy their own neighborhoods.  So to turn your minds to calmer times, think rural Dorset, two hundred miles from London; and think the 1640's.

Picnic beneath the Keep

In 1635 the Chief Justice of England, a very wealthy gent indeed called John Bankes, bought a large estate in the Southwest of England, a rural retreat.  Until the reign of Elizabeth I it had been a royal castle, first built in Saxon times and greatly enlarged by the second King after the Norman Conquest, Henry I.  In many ways it resembled the Conqueror's own great Castle built to dominate London, the Tower.  Like the Tower, it was faced with fine ashlar and painted white.  Standing on a natural mound of chalk with rivers cutting ravines on either side, it was an impressive, even terrifying, statement of royal power.  Elizabeth had sold it to a lawyer in one of her many attempts at balancing the Royal books.  By the next century, during the reign of Charles I, there seemed to be no need for great defensive castles.  Everyone was building gracious country houses, with large windows and no towers or battlements.  So perhaps John Bankes was being a little retro in buying such an out-dated pile.  Or perhaps he could already forsee trouble.

Trouble certainly came.  His Lordship was away fighting with the King's troops against Cromwell's Roundheads ('protestors' or 'rioters and robbers'?) and it was left to Mary, his wife, to undertake the defence of Corfe Castle.  That she did with a loyal band of servants, and Corfe successfully withstood two sieges.  Alas, she was betrayed by one of her servants and the Roundhead troops were secretly given entry to the Castle.

Among the ruins

So amazed were those troops at the bravery of Lady Mary that she was handed the keys of the Castle as she left, and it is said her little procession passed through ranks of opposing soldiers, who all looked away as she passed, unable to look her in the eye. After the Restoration of Charles II, the Bankes estates were reclaimed; but the Castle was no longer habitable, having been slighted by Act of Parliament in 1646; that is, its towers and walls were undermined, gunpowder was put in the cavities, and the resulting explosions created great gaps, and great piles of masonry which still lean at impossible angles. In the 1980s Ralph, the last descendant of the Bankes family, handed over the entire estate to the National Trust for England.  It is reckoned to be the most generous gift they have ever received, for the great house of Kingston Lacey near Wimborne was the replacement for Corfe, and it is very grand indeed.  There are many thousands of acres now owned by the National Trust, from the shore at Studland to Kingston Lacey a dozen miles and more to the north.

A Knight and his Squires

Today we took grandson Huw to see it.  The Trust is employing many actors some, I guess, students on vacation, to flesh out some of the history.  We heard about bow-making, saw food cooked in ancient vessels, listened as Knights told us of the weight of armour they had to carry.  Nothing, unfortunately, about the Church in all  this.  Yet there was certainly a Chapel and a Chaplain in residence, and one of those who held the Castle in times past was a Bishop of Bath and Wells.  In 1642 Parliamentarian soldiers were using the parish church as a base for some of their guns, watered their horses from the font, and made shot from the lead of the roof and the organ pipes.  The parish Church was not put into decent order again until a major rebuild in the 19th Century.  There is a later Lady Chapel, with a lovely Annunciation window. The catholic revival in the Church of England had its influence even in deepest Dorset.


How our forefathers in the Faith must have despaired when the king was beheaded and Puritanism made the only acceptable religion.  Those 'riots' in East and South London are very small matters set against the murderous times of the English Civil War.  Even the Ordinariate will one day be seen sub speciae aeternitatis.  Pray that whatever we do in establishing it we may do in charity; for it is not history which will judge us, but Our Lord himself.

Author: Fr. Edwin Barnes

Bishop Barnes read theology for three years at Oxford before finishing his studies at Cuddesdon College (at the time a theological college with a rather monastic character). He subsequently served two urban curacies in Portsmouth and Woking. During his first curacy, and after the statutory three years of celibacy, he married his wife Jane (with whom he has two children, Nicola and Matthew). In 1967, Bishop Barnes received his first incumbency as Rector of Farncombe in the Diocese of Guildford. After eleven years, the family moved to Hessle, in the Diocese of York, for another nine years as vicar. In 1987, he became Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford. In 1995, he was asked by then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, to become the second PEV for the Province. He was based in St. Alban’s and charged with ministering to faithful Anglo-Catholics spread over the length of Southern England, from the Humber Estuary to the Channel Islands. After six years of service as a PEV, Bishop Barnes retired to Lymington on the south coast where he holds the Bishop of Winchester’s license as an honorary assistant bishop. On the retirement of the late and much lamented Bishop Eric Kemp, he was honored to be asked to succeed him as President of the Church Union. Both these appointments he resigned on becoming a Catholic in 2010. Fr. Barnes is now a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, caring for an Ordinariate Group in Southbourne, Bournemouth.

11 thoughts on “Brave Lady Mary”

  1. Fr. Edwin:

    This question has absolutely nothing to do with anything but…

    We all know the U.K. & U.S.A. are 2 English speaking nations divided by a common language, however, how in the world do you pronounce Magdalen as if it was 'maudlin'? This has always annoyed me. It makes no sense. Enquiring minds want to know!

    1. Fr. Barnes should feel free to correct me, but as one who lived in England for eight years and withal is a historian, the explanation is simple: "Magdalen" is a written form of the name going back to the Middle Ages, but popular pronunciation rendered it "maudelin" or even "maudlen."

      Similarly, the Herefordshire town of Leominster, a learned spelling of a town named after its imposing minster (originally a monastic church) dedicated to St. Leo, has long been pronounced Lemster. Another example is the town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire. "Cester" indicates the site of a Roman military camp or settlement (as also Chester, Winchester and others): the spelled form is early Medieval, but the actual pronunciation was "sissiter" or even "sister" — although with the spread of a kind of functional literacy combined with historical and geographical ignorance, the town has come in the course of the 20th Century to be pronounced, by outsiders at least as though it were "siren-cester."

      Think also of Worcester and Gloucester (both the English see cities and the Massachusetts cities of those names). In these cases the American and English pronunciations are identical, "wooster" and "glosster" — but growing up in Massachusetts I can remember my amusement at hearing strangers call them "wor-sest-er" and "gloss-sest-er" — and, incidentally, Massachusetts has a Leominster also, but it is pronounced "leminster."

      Knowing the correct pronunciation of names such as these is a pleasant and harmless way of differentiating oneself from hoi polloi.

    2. I think we probably do it to annoy, like Lewis Carroll's infant/pig…

      during my time in the Royal Air Force (National Service) we often had to direct US pilots onto the bombing ranges. We would try to give them their position relative to some impossibly named place — eg "You are five miles north of the Happisburgh lighthouse" (Happisburgh is pronounced Haysbro) or "You are directly over Wymondham" (pr Windum) … it delighted us when they came back "Oh, you mean Hap-is-burg or Wi – monde – ham". Simple delights, but it made a long watch bearable — and when we visited Sculthorpe or some other US Airforce base we all enjoyed the joke together. I guess it is because we have been speaking our sort of English for so long that pronunciations have moved further and further from the original … think the silent K (originally sounded) in words like Knight. Laziness, probably.

      1. I can recall being thoroughly confused when I was in Gloucester and I kept trying to figure out why there was a syllable missing when everyone said the name. I'm glad I never had to deal with a Wymondham, or goodness knows what I might have thought.

        Regarding the idea that these pronunciations are "lazy", however, I think people need to realize two things: 1) pronunciations change in a highly regular fashion, following phonological principles that really do make sense once you study them a bit, and 2) England has always had weird name / language issues that go back to the Norman conquest and survive to this day.

        On the first point, sound change is so regular that linguists have names for what actually happens to the sounds that get changed. For example, Magdalen became "maudlin" through retrograde assimilation of the "g" to "d" and then through syncope, which is the loss of an interior sound in the word (in this case, as is usual, an unstressed vowel). Since "g" and "d" are both 'voiced stops'–that is, the vocal cords continue to vibrate while the air flow stops–speakers simply began pronouncing the first sound the same as the second sound, and the word became Mad-dalen. Then the "da" was dropped, since the vowel was unstressed, and it doesn't help that "d" and "l" are articulated by the tongue in the same part of the mouth–along the alveolar ridge, making it easier to articulate them without an intervening vowel. I suppose this is "laziness", but it's also more than that–it's rule-governed laziness!

        On point 2, England also has the distinction of having various linguistic features maintain aspects of their old Anglo-Saxon heritage among commoners, while developing a distinct Anglo-French character among the ruling and "rising" classes. As far as place names go, Birmingham is a good example. The old name was "Bromwicham", which underwent one change among commoners, leading to the name "Brummagem" and other, similar, pronunciations, while "Birmingham" was the standard among people who were exposed to greater outside influence incorporating more Anglo-French characteristics.

        This two-fold nature of many English given names is the source of much richness. For example, the Germanic-origin name "Heinrich" came to English as both Hendrick, in the Anglo-Saxon line, and Henry, in the Anglo-French line. This has in turn given rise to two distinct nickname variants for Henry: "Harry" exhibits the connection to the French origins, and is more popular in England, while "Hank" retains the "k" from the old English version, and is more popular in America, which retains a more conservative phonology than England in many ways.

        I actually really love this aspect of the English language, and I could go on and on, but I just have to share one more example that I find particularly illustrative: the Germanic-origin names "Ludwig" and "Karl" have both come down to English in variant forms through different paths, and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson exploited that fact when choosing a pseudonym. He "inverted" his given names by exchanging the Anglo-French "Charles" with the Anglo-Saxon "Carroll", and the Anglo-Saxon "Lutwidge" with the Anglo-French "Lewis", and then reversed the order, to become "Lewis Carroll".

        / pedantry.

        1. You might also know the silly story of the foreign visitor wrestling with English who passed a Theatre. There on the billboard he read "Pygmalion pronounced Success" … and shot himself.

  2. Surely in England the pronunciation of Magdalen as 'Maudlin' is largely confined to the colleges of Magdalen and Magdalene at Oxford and Cambridge. Only the most tiresome and affected young men talked of St Mary Maudlin's, Oxford, when most people called in St Mary Mags. In London people speak of St Mary Magdalen's, Paddington, or Munster Square. Again, it is only the affected who would presume to prounounce them 'Maudlin'. With the death of Anglo-Catholicism in England I don't think these silly pronunciations have much future as those who used them are now Catholics and happy members of the congregation of Brompton Oratory.

  3. Lucky for our American cousins that they never came across anyone called Featherstone-Haugh. They would probably be scratching their heads as to why that person introduced him/herself as Fanshawe!

  4. @ William Tighe: Thank you (or should I say Ta Very Much?)! I haven't heard the phrase "hoi polloi" for a long time : )
    Thanks for a thoughtful post Father Edwin, resulting in a stream of interesting comments! I'm also irritated that the rioters and looters are being referred to in some quarters as "protesters": almost as if this was some new but naturally ocurring aggressive genus. I protest fairly vocally against government cutbacks, poor customer service, pregnant women having to stand on the bus etc. I had no idea I was expected to hurl missiles, abuse the police and burn down local shops, just because…
    I am again unable to post anything to your excellent "Ancient Richborough" blog, even as a logged on follower: maybe others are experiencing similar problems.

  5. US visitors to London often have problems asking for directions to Leicester Square (not pronounced 'Lai-ces-ter' – but 'Lester'). There was once a shop there which sold tacky souvenirs and which had a sign on the wall – "English spoken – Murkin understood" – the product of numbers of visitors asking the shopkeeper: "Do you speak American?".

    Actually some features of American usage are more correct: For example, an American lady answering a telephone call – "May I speak to Mrs Jones?" might answer: "This is she", a correct usage which has almost completely disappeared in England.

    Philologists can have endless fun in England.

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