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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Countess Pillar

Countess Pillar, Clifford, Russell, coat of arms, Cumbria

Lady Anne Clifford was a remarkable woman.  Sooner or later, if you potter about the old houses and castles of old England, particularly in the north, you’ll come across her – though probably only by reputation, because she died more than 300 years ago.

A couple of miles from the Cumbrian market town of Penrith, on the south side of the A66 - if you ever plan to motor east, you’ll see – the Countess Pillar.  It’s easy to miss.  Look for the junction with the B6262 and walk a few hundred yards east, parallel with the A66.  You’ll find the pillar kept in a small cage.  It was erected by Lady Anne in 1656 to commemorate the last time she and her mother said goodbye, 40 years previously.  It stands near the spot, as Lady Anne wrote, “Where she and I had a grievous and heavy parting,” at the junction of the old driveway to Brougham Castle and the main road.  Anne had been visiting and was setting off on the long journey back south to Knole House, her enormous home in Kent; her mother, Margaret, was returning to Brougham, which had been owned by the family since the 13th century and where, a month later, she died.  So what’s with the pillar?

Countess Pillar, A66, B6262, Brougham, Cumbria

The de Cliffords were one of the big landowning dynasties of medieval England.  They arrived from Normandy in the 11th century and went on to hold great offices of state, as well as fighting – and often dying - in most of England’s wars at home and abroad.  Anne was born at one of the family castles, Skipton, probably on 30th January 1590.  The family was obviously well-connected and, thanks to her mother, Anne was brought up to be educated and sophisticated.  As a girl, she was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; as a young woman, she danced with the Queen, Anne of Denmark - who advised her not to trust her husband, King James I!

Lady Anne Clifford

Anne’s father, George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, was a champion jouster and buccaneer (what the Spanish might have called ‘a pirate’).  He died in 1605 and, instead of leaving his estates to his one surviving child, Anne, he left them to his brother, Francis.  Anne was outraged, both by the injustice and being disinherited.  Though only 15, she was also highly intelligent and extremely determined.  So, with the help of her mother, she set out to win her birthright and embarked upon a legal battle that would consume the next 38 years of her life.  Eventually, in 1643, Anne was successful – because she outlived her uncle and cousin and the properties finally passed to her.  Unfortunately, a bloody civil war was raging in England at the time and it was not safe to leave the security of Baynard Castle, where she was staying in London.

So it was not until 1649, when Lady Anne was 60 years old, that she was able to head north.  There, she found her estates neglected, with many of the properties ruined or decayed.  With the same dogged resolution that she had displayed all of her life she set about repairing her family’s heirlooms.  This included restoring the castles at Appleby, Brough, Brougham, Pendragon and Skipton; she also built and restored churches and almshouses.  And that’s how she spent the next 26 years or so, journeying between her properties in the manner of a benevolent medieval matriarch until her death in 1676, at the age of 86, in the same room at Brougham Castle where her father had been born and her beloved mother had died.

Countess Pillar, inscription, un dials, Bit About Britain

In many ways, Lady Anne Clifford is defined by her long legal battle and subsequent restoration work.  Yet, along the way, she was eyewitness to great historical events, married twice and had children.  She also kept a diary, providing a fascinating insight to her life and times.  Her first husband, in 1609, was Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset a notorious wastrel and spendthrift, with whom she had three sons who died in childhood and two surviving daughters.  Sackville died in 1624 and, six years later, Anne married Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, a widower with several children and with whom she had two premature boys who did not survive.  Neither marriage was happy and it seems that the constants in Anne’s life were her mother, her sense of justice and her family heritage.

Some might see Lady Anne Clifford as a champion of women at a time when it was very much a man’s world – though that is to commit the sin of judging history with modern eyes.  That she was an extraordinary woman is not in doubt.  She also, apparently, smoked a pipe. I get the impression that Anne was quite a loner.

Dolestone, Countess Pillar, Alms, Anne Clifford, Cumbria

So anyway we have this 14 foot high octagonal pillar, dedicated to the mother she loved, and who, until she died in 1616, was the only person to stand by her, the only person she could ever totally depend on.  It must have been quite a relationship.  Perhaps, also, the pillar was a public statement of Anne’s determination and ultimate success – a kind of ‘Yah-Boo’ to society.  On the pillar are the coats of arms of the Cliffords and the Russells (her mother’s family), next to each other. Anne is also buried next to her mother, in Appleby church.  At the foot of the pillar is the ‘dolestone’, a slab of stone on which alms were distributed to the poor on the anniversary of Anne and Margaret’s final farewell.  Unfortunately, we went on the wrong date.  We did see people walking some alpacas along the path, though, which made a nice change from sheep.

THIS PILLAR WAS ERECTED ANNO 1656 BY Ye Rt HONOble ANNE COUNTESS DOWAGER OF PEMBROKE & DAUGHTER & SOLE HEIRE OF Ye Rt HONOble GEORGE EARL OF CUMBERLAND & FOR A MEMORIAL OF HER LAST PARTING IN THIS PLACE WITH HER GOOD & PIOUS MOTHER Ye Rt HONOble MARGARET COUNTESS DOWAGER OF CUMBERLAND Ye 2d OF APRIL 1616.  IN MEMORY WHEREOF SHE ALSO LEFT AN ANNUITY OF FOUR POUNDS TO BE DISTRIBUTED TO Ye POOR WITHIN THIS PARRISH OF BROUGHAM EVERY 2d DAY OF APRIL FOR EVER UPON Ye STONE TABLE HERE HARD BY.
LAUS DEO


Anne Clifford's diaries have been published and there is also a biography by Martin Holmes.  I haven't read either of them.

28 comments:

  1. What a fascinating woman. I always enjoy your posts and the depths you delve into the history of your subject as well as great photos. I always come away having learned something new and with a resolve to learn more.

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  2. Brilliant, I love reading these storys from differnt areas of our country.

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  3. I wonder how much of that annuity is left now... Thanks, Mike, for another fascinating tale.

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  4. She sounds like she was well before her time. Smoked a pipe...so did my grandmother I think it must have been their bit of solitude time:)

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  5. In my early thirties I went through a cycle of enthusiasm, reading historical novels of England from William I's days through the Henrys. I so loved to hate the Cliffords. They were always cast as such two-faced villains.

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  6. sounds like a rather sad life.

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  7. That was a very interesting story. Thank heavens people wrote diaries!

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  8. I should seriously consider a pillar of my own. :-)

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  9. Very interesting, I'll definitely read more about Lady Anne and look out for her pillar when we are heading up the A66.

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  10. What a determined woman, full of courage.

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  11. I love a true story about our past. very interesting . She did well for a woman in those days.

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  12. Reading your stories is almost like being there Mike.

    Have a good weekend!

    Madelief

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  13. Enjoyed reading your post which is so well researched. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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  14. Fascinating woman. Is her journal available in print?

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  15. I wonder if the Cliffords of Cumbria were related to the Cliffords of Frampton who can trace their ancestry back to 1086 when William the Conqueror granted them land in Frampton and Herefordshire. Jane Clifford was reputedly the mistress of King Henry ll who named her his 'Rose of the World', later known as Fair Rosamund.

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  16. Sounds like a great woman. Not a happy life, but one could do worse. Devotion to one's mother, to justice, and to family heritage are virtues we all would do well to share. PS Please don't imply that llamas are an improvement on those beautiful Yorkshire sheep!

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  17. A great story about a very interesting, and resourceful, woman. The pillar is a sweet and sentimental marker, and how wonderful that it is still preserved. I like that Ann Clifford persevered and finally won her inheritance; such things still happen, to this day.

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  18. What a fascinating woman, nice to read of women like her who did so much and were strong in a time when we often do not think of women being strong and educated and capable

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  19. i love the sundial. you don't see those much any more. very cool to me. you really do find some of the greatest items to share with us. thanks!! have a great weekend. ( :

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  20. Hi Mike, found this absolutely fascinating. I had never heard of this lady before and what a history. Very enjoyable, thank you!

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  21. That is quite a tale. I had not heard of her before.

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  22. Thanks for sharing another location and story of the north I haven't heard of. Must watch out for it the next time I pass.

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  23. You find so many interesting quirky and unusual stories. I think I might have heard of Anne Clifford before, but if so, she didn't come to life for me in the way she was here. A one-off I think. And she must have been mighty tough to live to that age in those days. I wonder if anyone ever wrote a biography of her?

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    1. Thanks, Jenny. There is a biography, "Proud Northern Lady" by Martin Holmes. Also available - "The Diaries of Anne Clifford". Must confess, I've not read either.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.