I have written before (twice) about the tombs inside SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, but on our visit a few weeks ago, Him Indoors pointed out something we had missed on many previous occasions – on the wall of the Chapel of the Crucifix is the tomb of an individual called ‘Edward of Windsor’, who died in 1574.
Try searching for this name (and, by the way, I have recently switched from the ubiquitous Google to Ecosia, which plants trees …) and you are likely to get Edward VIII, which is not much help. Perseverance, however, led me to Edward Windsor, 3rd Baron Windsor (1532–74), whose greatest claim to fame today is that in 1568 he (or perhaps his wife …) commissioned one of those amazing Tudor family portraits, which is now in the Bute Collection at Mount Stuart, and is the subject of this fascinating article by Edward Town.
The family derived their surname from the hereditary post of Constable of Windsor Castle, being descended from Walter FitzOthere, the first Norman Constable. The third baron was the grandson of the first, Andrew (1467–1543) who was made Keeper of the Wardrobe by the usurper Henry VII in 1506 (after a little unpleasantness about the confiscation of his lands after the battle of Bosworth was resolved). However, he lost the manor of Stanwell when Henry VIII came to visit late in 1542, and announced that he was going to take over Stanwell, and all its lands in lands in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Middlesex and Surrey, and that Windsor could have in exchange the recently dissolved abbey at Bordesley in Worcestershire, and its associated lands around Tardebigge. Windsor – one assumes – gulped, and accepted, leaving Stanwell, full of all the provisions that had been brought from far and wide for Christmas, almost immediately. He died early the following year (of a broken heart?).
Hewell Grange, the new family seat, was unfortunately demolished in the nineteenth century, as restoring it would have been much more expensive than building a new Tudorbethan effort, which after the Second World War was sold to the Crown (irony there) and turned into a prison, first for young offenders and then for adult low-risk prisoners.
Hewell Grange itself (as opposed to the adult prison built around it) was decommissioned in 2019 as it would have cost more to restore it than to build new facilities (more irony), so it sits as a Grade-I listed building, of which the Grade-II* gardens and Park (by Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton) are occasionally open to the public. Bordesley Abbey itself is now some ruins, with a visitor centre and the fascinating Forge Mill Needle Museum attached, a few miles away from Tardebigge, on the outskirts of Redditch.
Tardebigge has since the Industrial Revolution been famous for the thirty locks on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal which get it over the Lickey Hills, but before that the whole area around the village was pasture for Cistercian sheep from the abbey. The ‘new’ St Bartholomew’s church was built in 1777 by Francis Hiorne (1744–89), the Warwick architect, and the whole area is full of beautiful walks – but I suppose I should get back to the third baron, who succeeded his father William in 1558. He had been knighted in 1553 on the day after the coronation of Queen Mary, and fought at the battle of St Quentin in 1557, where England was (unsurprisingly) allied to the Spanish Habsburgs. (Philip II was also at the battle: it is alleged to have given him a distaste for war – but perhaps merely for being near the fighting himself rather than sending others to do it: see the Spanish Netherlands passim. But as St Quentin was fought on 20 August, the feast of St Lawrence, he ordered (as you do) a new palace on a grid-iron (escorial in Spanish) pattern to celebrate … )
The following year, on his father’s death, Edward inherited the barony of Windsor. At about the same time, he married Lady Katherine de Vere, daughter of the sixteen earl of Oxford, and thus took a step up among the aristocracy. But throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, he appears to have found himself in difficulty: he was loyal to the queen, but he was also a staunch Catholic, and to live comfortably in England was problematic. He entertained the queen with great splendour in 1566 at his estate in Bradenham, Buckinghamshire, but by 1568 he seems to have decided to travel abroad (leaving his family behind at Bordesley), in part for his health (he took the waters at Aachen and Padua, though it is not clear what his illness was), in part so that he could attend Mass regularly and without penalty, but at the same time he tried to prove his loyalty by sending back letters to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and to Thomas Radclyffe (1552–83), the 3th earl of Sussex (Elizabeth’s Lord Chamberlain) on his observations and the people he met as he travelled from the Low Countries through Germany, down into Italy, and to Sicily and Malta, where he was particularly keen to study the fortifications which had defied the Ottoman siege only a few years before.
After an absence of two years, Windsor appears to have returned to England in 1570 (at any rate, he was admitted to the Middle Temple in that year), but the excommunication of Elizabeth in 1570, and the discovery of the Ridolfi Plot (that Mary, Queen of Scots, should marry the duke of Norfolk and seize the throne from Elizabeth) in 1571 seem to have decided him to leave the country permanently. He made a will in December 1572, and returned to Europe. In 1573, Elizabeth ordered that all English ‘papists’ living abroad should return home, and John Strype, in his Annals of the Reformation (1709) mentions Windsor as one of these:
Strype, of course, doesn’t believe a word of this ‘pretended conscience’, but there is no evidence at all to suggest that Windsor was anything but a loyal subject, wanting to obey the queen’s command, but also desperate to follow his religion without constraint. There appears to have been no reply to this appeal, and Windsor spent his last year as an exile, dying in Venice ‘of a wicked fever’ at the end of 1574.
He had altered his will in June of that year, asking that he be buried in the cathedral of Liège, but that his heart be encased in lead and sent back ‘into Englande to be buried in the Chappell of Bradenhame under the tombe of my Lorde and ffather in tokenne of a trewe englisshe man’. In fact, as we know, he was buried in SS. Giovanni e Paolo: one Cesare Carrafa wrote to the young Philip Sidney (who had previously outraged Protestant friends by visiting the recusant Windsor) that ‘since he left me in Charge of his body and of his other effects, I have had him buried, with so much pomp and with so much honour that never in this city has a funeral been seen. [One suspects that this is an exaggeration.] And I will see that Your Lordship receives a particular account of the form and manner in which the body was conveyed and of the order, by which route it was borne through the city, and the furnishings of the church where he was buried.’
His wife Katherine died in 1600, and was buried in Tardebigge church: her monument was sketched by Wenceslaus Hollar.
It is possible that the Mount Stuart family portrait was not in fact commissioned by Windsor at all, but by his wife, as a record of a family which she suspected would never be united again. It is she who is at the centre of the painting (which omits, incidentally, their two daughters, Margaret and Katherine), and her portrait is a copy of one (almost certainly by the same artist) now in Hampton Court Castle in Herefordshire. Is she perhaps asserting her own role as the guide and tutor of her family in her husband’s absence?