Friday, November 6, 2009

The Legend of Littlecote Hall

There is a legend that dates to the 6th of November, 1575, involving Littlecote Hall in Wiltshire England. The legend involves the Darrell family. Jane Seymour was the granddaughter of Elizabeth Darrell, and Jane was courted at Littlecote Hall by Henry VIII.

But the legend has little to do with Jane Seymour. It involves William Darrell, who married grandmother Elizabeth. William allegedly had an affair, with his neighbor Sir Walter Hungerford's wife. The legend comes in that a midwife named Mother Barnes was brought blindfolded to Littlecote one night, to deliver a baby. Immediately after the child was born, it was thrown on the fire to burn to death. Mother Barnes went to the authorities after that night, and was able to provide sufficient detail that it was determined that Littlecote was the scene of the murder. Darrell was brought to trial, and so the story goes, bought his freedom by transferring Littlecote Hall to the Judge, John Popham.

This story was told to Sir Walter Scott by Lord Webb Seymour. Scott included the legend as a romance in his poem "Rokeby", and also included the story in his published notes to the poem.

The Littlecote story has made its way into other artist's works. It is included in Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities". JMW Turner painted his watercolor "Rokeby", depicting a gorge between Rokeby and Martham (County Durham, England). Turner painted in eight lines from Scott's poem on boulders in the foreground. The image of Turner's Rokeby above is courtesy of the Trustees, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, England.

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