St. Peters Church ~ Chillingham ~ March 2022

Chillingham Castle is still on top of the list of my favourite castles, though it does alternate with Raby and Bamburgh Castles depending on which one I’m visiting! Next to the castle is St.Peters Church, which we hadn’t visited when we went in 2016, which was remiss of us as it’s one of the best so far.

LONG POST ALERT

The History Bit ☕️ 🍪

St. Peter’s as we see it today occupies the site of a 12th Century church, and retains some of its Norman stonework. The interior is an unusual mixture of old and new. Contrasting with its ancient stone work, there are 19th century boxed pews. The sanctuary was completely refurbished in 1967, and the large plain-glass east window remains controversial. There is a glorious view of the trees behind, where you might expect to see stained glass, although Storm Arwen wreaked violence on them. A millennium plaque recognises that Christian worship has been offered on this site for over a thousand years. The nave is C12th but the chancel is probably C13th. The roof was replaced in the C16th and the bell cote added in C18th. The porch is C19th, it’s been a work in progress for a long time!

The main thing about the church though is the splendid C15th alabaster tomb of the crusader knight Sir Ralph Grey and his wife, Elizabeth which you can’t see as you enter the church, as it’s contained in the south transept.

It’s been a hard slog to find out much at all about Sir Ralph, which seemed odd as he’s got this great monument to him. He doesn’t even rate his own page on wiki, still, there are many rabbit holes to find on the internet, which I went down, only to find there are quite a few Sir Ralphs about in this time period, and some of the websites I’ve visited attribute one Sir Ralphs doings to another Sir Ralph and so on, so it’s been a pig to sort out. Nevertheless this is what I found that I’m reasonably certain of.

He was born on 9 September 1406 at Chillingham Castle, the younger son of Sir Thomas Grey and Lady Alice Neville. Grandson of Sir Thomas Gray and Joan Mowbray, direct descendant of Magna Carta Baron William de Mowbray. Now Sir Thomas the Dad does get his own page because he was a traitorous ingrate. Having been favoured by King Henry IV in the kings early reign, by August 1404 he had been retained for life by Ralph Neville 1st Earl of Westmoreland, but by May 1408 was in the service of Henry, Prince of Wales. But then he went and cocked things up by conspiring with Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and Henry, the 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham (honestly this not a Monty Python sketch!) in what’s known as The Southampton Plot of 1415, which was a plot to assassinate King Henry V at Southampton before he sailed to France and to replace him with Edmund Mortimer, the 5th Earl of March. Anyhoo lets not digress too far, Thomas got beheaded and that was that. Shakespear dramatised the plot in his Henry V play if you want a longer version.

So that was Dad. Mum was Lady Alice Neville, and she doesn’t get a page either as she is not the Lady Alice Neville who was great grandmother to Catherine Parr (Henry VIII’s last wife).

Sir Ralph’s wife, Elizabeth Fitzhugh, was the daughter of Sir Henry FitzHugh and Elizabeth de Grey, heiress to Sir Robert de Grey, and descendant of King John. They were married 01 July 1435 at Ravensworth, Yorkshire and had four sons. The eldest, named (of course) Ralph, also became a Sir, was Warden of Roxborough Castle. However he inherited the traitorous knob gene from his grandpa and was beheaded in 1464 for betraying Alnwick Castle to the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses. Our Sir Ralph died in France in 1443 and was buried at Chillingham. I am thinking, though can’t be certain, that he possibly died during The Siege of Dieppe (2 November 1442 – 14 August 1443) which took place during the Hundred Years War. The English forces led by John Talbort, Earl of Shrewsbury, besieged and failed to capture the French-held port of Dieppe in Normandy.

After her husband died in 1443, Elizabeth was sent out to France with other ladies of the English court to escort Margaret de Anjou, the intended wife of King Henry VI, to England. Elizabeth served Queen Margaret as an attendant and her name appears on the list of recipients of gifts of jewels from the queen. She remarried Edmund Montfort, son of Knight William and Joan Alderwich, but asked to buried with Sir Ralph at Chillingham after she died. Though she obviously didn’t ask it after she died, as she was dead, but made it known prior to conking out that that’s what she wanted. 🥴

Northumberland History is so very convoluted with the important families, Nevilles, Fitzhughes, Greys, Percys et al and they all have different branches but the same names! Drives me batty. Anyhoo, on with some pictures!

Entry is through the south porch which has stone benches along the sides
and a Norman doorway with a round arch. 
the controversial plain glass window and the 19th century boxed pews in the 12th century nave.
a 17th century stone memorial to Lord Ford Grey’s steward.

Now, just a bit more history 🙂 Lord Ford Grey was the 1st Earl of Tankerville, though he didn’t have much to do with Chillingham, but he’s an interesting catch ~ In 1682 Grey achieved notoriety for being found guilty of seducing his wife’s sister, Lady Henrietta Berkeley, for which he was arrested, tried and ultimately freed. In 1683 he was arrested for involvement in the Rye House Plot ( a plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother (and heir to the throne) James, Duke of York) but escaped from the Tower of London in July and fled with Lady Henrietta and her new husband to France. He later became one of the leaders of the Monmouth Rebellion, landing with Monmouth at Lyme Regis in June 1685. He was in command of the cavalry, and its defeat on two occasions may have been caused by his cowardice, possibly even by his treachery. He was taken prisoner and condemned for high treason, but he obtained a pardon by freely giving evidence against his former associates, and was restored to his honours in June 1686. Pfft, sounds like a right cad!

A couple of hundred years later Charles Bennet, the 6th Earl of Tankerville and styled Lord Ossulston entered Parliament as Member of Parliament for North Northumberland in 1832. He held this seat until 1859, when he was summoned to the House of Lords through a writ of acceleration in his father’s barony of Ossulston. He succeeded his father in the earldom only a month later. On 8 March 1833, he was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Northumberland. He served under the Earl of Derby as Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms from 1866to 1867 and under Derby and then Benjamin Disraeli as Lord Steward of the Household from 1867 to 1868. In 1866 he was sworn of the Privy Council. He died at the family seat of Chillingham Castle in December 1899, aged 89, which is bliddy good innings for those times!

Charlie.

Some of the medieval cross slab grave covers have been incorporated into the renovations

new roof, old grave markers.
cross slab

And so to the South Transept and the effigies of Ralph and Elizabeth. The remains of red and blue and black paint are still visible and it must have been stunning.

the tomb.
Sir Ralph
Elizabeth
Headress in the High Flemish style of Edward II
Sir Ralph’s feet rested on a lion but one of his feet is broken.
Around the base are carvings of bishops, saints and angels set beneath highly carved arches. 
In the centre of each side are two larger angels holding a heraldic shield.

The reredos behind them has an angel holding a shield with a lamb on it. On either side are demi-angels with helmets with a ram’s head. Above is a Royalist motto, a C17th addition,  “De bon vouloir servir le Roy”. (to be willing to serve the king)

A couple of detail shots…

leg detail
the other side’s angels.

If you managed to get through all that, well done, you are my favourite reader!

So that’s it. Stay tooned for next weeks much shorter post (yay!) (on account of the church being shut 🙄) on St Peter & James Church.

All pictures are clickable to embiggen.
refs:- https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/61779508/ralph-grey
http://www.thepeerage.com/p15420.htm#i154193
http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/north/northumberland/northumberland_one/chillingham/index.html
https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/symbols-on-medieval-memorials-bolton-le-sands/