the South" recently was a fascinating book written about 1884 by Mrs. Charles Roundeil and called Cowdray: The History of a Great House. I had been taking a leisurely stroll round the noble and ancient ruin of Cowdray House and had been intrigued by the charred shell of the lovely chapel with its Italianate decora-' time and a Murillo-like Madonna or what remains of her which stands on a pedestal high up on the left wall. In the afternoon from his seemingly inexhaustible library my host produced this book, and a vivid tale of English Catholic penal history it told. It is the story of a curse of tire and water that was said to befall the usurpers or receivers of monastic property—and which in this case was fulfilled 200 years after it was uttered—which looks all too like the sins of the ancestors being visited on the descendants. "Church lands," says K. S., a Catholic woman of the 1880's in an appendix, "have never prospered in the hands of impropriators and many a family dates its decadence from a careless acceptance of the fatal legacy."
The " careleas acceptance" in this case was the Priory of Easebourne (pronounced Esborn and spelt like that in those days) by Sir William Fitzwilliam who got a few other church properties seized by Henry VIII and built himself this lovely castle of Cowdray. When the King's Commissioners came to take over, the SubPrioress reminded them of the curse which is about a couple of hundred wordslong and makes grim reading! As I've said, it was a case of delayed
action. About the end of the 18th century the 8th Viscount Montague was killed " shooting the rapids on the Rhine " and the magnificent Cowdray Castle was burnt to the ground— within a few days of each other. The extinction of the male heirs—another part of the curse—followed in 1815 when the two sans of the Viscount's sister were drowned while bathing at Bognor,
Two Interesting facts about the Montagues: (1) They were Catholics. good practising ones, who always had Mass in the chapel but who did not hesitate to accept church property; (2) the 6th Viscount was Grandmaster of the keemasons— but that, was before the Pope forbade membership of all secret societies. Both the castle and the keel:tees lodge contained hiding holes contrived and built by the Jesuit brother Owen—or " Little John " as he was called. It was not until the 7th Viscount married a Protestant that Mass ceased to be said in the chapel. He himself got into his carriage one morning and ordered the coachman to drive him to Midhurst parish church —and the old man got down from the box and said: " The devil may drive you: I will not," Many Catholic noblemen left the Church just then rather than pay the double tax put on them, but before this one died he became reconciled to the Church, left a recantation which be ordered to be published in The Gentleman's Magazine and also in the papers. In it he said he was actuated only by worldly motives and bad never questioned the authority of the Church. It was his son who " fulfilled the curse."
Just one. anecdote more which amused me. You'll notice it was the Sub-Prioress who warned the King's Commissioners. The Prioress (it was a Benedictine house with about five canonesses) was not at all the spiritual deader she might have been and had been constantly reprimanded by Bishop of Chichester for " negligence, fondness of dress and unnecessary journeys to the Episcopal court of Chichester." The Priory was in debt and the Bishop suggested that the Prioress should sell the fur borders of her cloak and pay the bills with the proceeds ! Actually this was the result of a minor revolt on the part of the canonesscs who had to do all the work and who must have had a thin time The story says that "a severe reform was applied" by the Bishop, which reform was in Operation when the Priory was closed.
• • • •
THE Prorns continue to be broadcast A from the B.B.C. studios. and out of the items scheduled •I recommend: Vaughan Williams' Symphony in D; Ida Haenddl playing the Brahms Violin Concerto and one of Beethoven's happiest works—the Eighth Symphony, Listen on Saturday night to the first performance of Puck Fair—the work of one of those up and coming women composers of whom I spoke the other week—Elizabeth Maconchy.