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Pix & notes: Coughton Court

I visited Coughton Court in 2009, on the first trip I made purely for book research. It was June Coughton Courtand every rose in England was blooming. I was staying in Stratford-upon-Avon and eccentrically insisted on using public transportation to get around. The bus driver on the A435 seemed surprised and disgruntled at having to stop at this unusual place to let me off and rigorously refused to understand my English. Luckily, some of the passengers — old folks with shopping baskets — leapt to my assistance. You don’t get that kind of fun when you drive!

The Throckmortons

Sir_Nicholas_Throckmorton_from_NPG
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, from the National Portrait Gallery

Members of this illustrious family have been living in this spectacular house since the mid-sixteenth century, which makes them ancient in our day, but newly feathered in Francis Bacon’s. The gatehouse was built by Sir George Throckmorton, who found time between sessions of Parliament and opposing King Henry VIII’s break with Rome to father 8 sons and 9 daughters. A busy man!

And a long-suffering wife, Katherine Vaux, daughter of the first Baron Vaux of Harrowden and Elizabeth FitzHugh, descendant of Edward III. Sir George spent some harrowing months in the Tower for his pro-Catholic words and deeds, but he managed to escape hanging, probably thanks to his wife’s excellent connections.

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The irresistible Sir Walter. Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, from the National Portrait Gallery.

 

His successor at Coughton Court, eldest son Robert, was equally committed to the Catholic cause. His Wikipedia page has obviously been edited by a Catholic — the word ‘persecution’ appears repeatedly. Watch out for those loaded words, boys and girls! ‘Prosecute’ is a neutral term describing a legal action. ‘Persecute’ is a drama word, identifying a villain and a martyr. Since two of Sir Robert’s grandchildren and one of his sons-in-law were actually convicted of conspiring to assassinate the queen, I would suggest the phrase “justifiably suspicious of” to describe the attitude of the government toward the Throckmortons of Coughton Court.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was the fourth of Sir George’s sons. He was brought up in the household of Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife and a committed Protestant. (This was undoubtedly one of those child-rearing exchange programs the upper class engaged in back then.) He thus had the advantage of being on board with the new religion from the get-go. He became one of Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted diplomats. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591, getting both her and Sir Walter in hot water with the queen.

The National Trust has owned the house since 1946, although Throckmortons continue to live there today and manage the nursery.

The gatehouse

dining room Coughton CourtI scanned these photos from the National Trust souvenir book. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house ourselves. The exterior pix are all mine. That’s the gatehouse from the front at the top of this post.

The house has a priest hole, but those things are deuced difficult to take pictures of. There is also a winding stone staircase leading up to the roof, whence you’ll find a magnificent view. Apparently this was a popular destination for dinner guests in the eighteenth century. I can imagine women in Regency dresses climbing that stair, or women wearing bum rolls to bell their skirts, but I don’t see how Georgian panniers could possibly fit.

The dining room, like most of the gatehouse, was extensively repaired and remodeled in 1956, bedroom coughton_courtpresumably by the National Trust. The lovely oak paneling and the marble chimney-piece date from the time of Charles I, who was James I’s second son. Bacon must have known him.

This room, called the Tapestry Bedroom, is a composition of Victorian elements. In earlier centuries, that tester would have been the real thing, covering the whole bed to keep rats and other things from falling on you while you sleep. It would support full curtains too, to keep out those dangerous drafts.

The gardens

The house is interesting, but it’s far from the main draw. Coughton Court has extensive grounds and several connected walled gardens, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful, especially in late June, when I was there. The grounds are 25 acres and every inch is beautifully landscaped. There isn’t a view on the property, any way you might turn, that isn’t stunning. I’d love to visit again in a different season.

References

National Trust. 2002. Coughton Court Warwickshire: House and Gardens. Norwich: Jarrold Publishing.

 

What, fisticuffs?

I had to write a little fight scene recently for my Elizabethan work-in-progress. This series is light on violence, but sometimes a man must defend himself. I personally have never been in a fist fight and I draw the line at that level of verisimilitude. So I had to do a little research.

I got some practical advice from Rayne Hall’s Writing Fight Scenes, thought it’s mostly about cat balloufighting with medieval weapons. Still helpful.

For inspiration — to get the level and style of violence juuuust right, I turned to one of my favorite movies, an evergreen source of inspiration, Cat Ballou.

“At first you don’t think you can stand to get hit. Then you realize that you can take it cuz the blood don’t matter and you know you’re gonna live. It’s a great gift I’m gonna give you – to know it don’t hurt.” — Kid Shelleen.

Although the free-for-all at the country dance is more my style. Hard to write, though. Too many players!