Page 10, 27th May 1988

27th May 1988
Page 10
Page 10, 27th May 1988 — Refreshing spirit of Cornwall's culture

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Locations: Hever, Rome, Hamlet, Leeds


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Refreshing spirit of Cornwall's culture

I HAVE been asked to elaborate on overall impressions of Cornwall after my recent visit. In general I would say that, as a refreshment to body and spirit, Cornwall is perhaps unique to the UK. It has its own language; its own dialect; its own sports; its own industries, its own music played on its own instruments, and its own way of doing things.

The language, which fell into decline for 200 years, is now enjoying a spirited revival, not only on an academic level, but also as a living language. It is, of course, evident in numerous place names which evoke the pre-Saxon days when Celtic Cornwall was ruled by Druids. I took special note, passing by, of such names as Gweek, Perranarworthal, Lanivet, Ventogimps and Zelha.

I also went through a tiny hamlet called Playing Place. it is one of many spots where the "playing" took place many years ago of passion plays and other such performances which were a principal means of education.

The missionaries who arrived from Brittany, Ireland and Wales have left their mark not only in the names of places where they established their "cells", but in the form of over 200 churches dedicated to them. Probus, previously mentioned, was a Roman martyr. Among early saints commemorated are Petroc, Piran, Neot, Gluvias and many others seldom met in other parts of England.

And the people are charming. Compared to some areas of the bustling and over-busy southeast, "another country" indeed.

Kentish King

AN assiduous reader of The Times makes a yearly count of the names of those whose christenings are recorded in that paper. Some are highly unusual.

None, perhaps, is more unusual than Ledian, a name recently spotted, though not in The Times. What is its origin?

It can only have been thought of in connection with Ledian, the Chief Minister of King Ethelbert IV, King of Kent, who reigned as long ago as the ninth century. A variant of his name was Leed.

He lived in troubled times and was greatly concerned for the safety of his family. One day he was strolling over his land and noticed a natural hollow where the River Len had formed a large lake surrounding two islands. On these, in the year 857, he decided to build a castle.

The result came to be known as Ledian's or Leed's Castle — or nowadays, just plain Leeds Castle. It has been called "the loveliest castle in the world." Not without good reason.

It is the oldest and easily the most romantic of England's stately homes. The present building is Norman, replacing the wooden "castle" built by Leed himself. In beauty and grace it rivals anything to be seen in the breath-taking Chateau country along the Loire.

Henry's harem

HENRY VIII is the most famous of all former owners of Leeds Castle and the improvements made by him were the most important since the days of Edward III. One of his notable additions to the property was the Maiden's Tower to house the royal Maids-of-Honour.

One of these may well have been Ann Boleyn who, being a Kentish girl (Leeds Castle is not far from Maidstone) would have known well the great royal castle in Kent.

Ann's family home was nearby Hever Castle, another magnificent building to visit if you happen to be in that part of England this summer. (Both are open to the public.) Ann was only 18 when she became the object of the repeated attentions of Henry VIII. By about 1525 the King was desperate for the male heir that Catherine could not give him. Hence his frequent visits to Hever Castle, usually unannounced and invariably very tedious for Ann's parents.

Though still married to Catherine he proposed marriage to Ann for the first time in 1527. With rare and brave firmness she replied: "Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of my own unworthiness and also because you have a Queen already. Your mistress I will not be."

These words altered the whole course of English history. After the refusal by the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry removed England completely from the jurisdiction of the Pope and set the Reformation in motion — all for the love of Ann Boleyn from Hever Castle. In January 1533 Ann (already pregnant) and Henry were married, even though it was to be another six months before Henry's divorce from Catherine was finalised under the rules of the new Church. Finally Ann was crowned Queen in June 1533. Her baby, born three months later, was not the male heir Henry so desperately wanted but a girl — the future Queen Elizabeth I.

Having, within the next three years, failed to produce a male heir, Ann found herself arrainged on a trumped-up charge of High Treason based on alleged adultery with five named men, one being her own brother, George, Lord Roch ford.

Henry prompty married Ann's Lady-in-Waiting, Jane Seymour, the licence for which was granted on the same day as Ann's execution.

These events spring to life when visiting such historic spots as two of England's most noble castle — Leeds and Hever.

French art

I MENTION Ann Boleyn in particular in view of a highly original biography of her about to be published by Collins Harvill. It is written by "Vercors," the pseudonym of Jean Bruller who, before the Second World War, was a wellknown French artist and desinger. His satirical drawings were collectors' items. The Nazi occupation of France caused Bruller to exchange brush for pen. He even founded an underground publishing house called Les Editions de Minuit which printed some of the major names in French literature.

His output since the war has been prodigious. His most important book is a massive work on Hamlet, which was a French adaptation by "Vercors" with aquaforte engravings by Jean Bruller — thus combining his two careers.

His very first book was entitled Le Silence de la Mer which the late Cyril Connolly translated into English. It was an immediate success, not only in occupied France, but throughout the world. It became synonymous with the French literary Resistance, and has been a bestseller ever since.

I RECENTLY compared the Cornish vision of St Michael with that of Gregory the Great a century or so later in Rome.

A reader has written to point out that St Michael, on the latter occasion, was sheathing his sword in the vision seen of him over Hadrian's tomb. Space permitting, as it happens, I had meant to quote or paraphrase the account of this affair which I had originally written in a book as long ago as 1980.

For the main point of the full story is that Rome had been dying of thirst because of breaches in the aquaducts made by the invading barbarians. A terrible plague had ensued prompting Pope Gregory to lead a file of penitents through Rome to pray for deliverance.

Then, "Gregory had a vision. Above the vast fortress-like tomb he seemed to see the Archangel Michael with a flaming sword which he was putting back into its sheath. He took it as a sign that the plague would soon be over. This sepulchre of Hadrian, the emperor who had built the great wall around Rome, was thereafter known as Castel Sant'Angelo. Many a Pope was destined to shelter behind its mighty walls."

I am grateful to this kind (Anglican) reader for enabling a proper account of the incident to appear. To have referred to it originally in passing did not do justice to such a dramatic event. As the percipient reader rightly adds, the sheathing of the sword symbolised the sheathing of God's wrath by the deliverance of Rome from the plague.

Underground Knights' Master Pope

THE annual pilgrimage to Lourdes organised by the Knights of Malta took place at the beginning of May and was, from the British point of view, more satisfying than ever.

It provided the new Grand Master of the Order, the Englishman, Andrew Bertie, to become better known to his confreres from different parts of the world. (Being an excellent linguist — he used to teach modern languages at Worth Abbey — he addressed the opening gathering in Italian, French, Spanish, German, Hungarian and Polish as well as in English. A remarkable accomplishment.

This eloquent feat was acknowledge by a richly deserved standing ovation and, upon presentation to the Grand Master, the British contingent, by way of further encouragement, was given a generous clap from the Knights of the other countries present.

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