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A Brief History of St. Mary's Thorpe

Notables and the Churchyard

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The Churchyard and some Notables buried at St. Mary's

In and around St. Mary's and its Churchyard

History may be said to have devolved through three main channels: first - the process of change through time; second - the manner of interaction between individuals and groups in society; and third - the contribution of significant groups and individuals to the process. Churchyards as the final resting place of a multitude, the great and the small, the insignificant and the influential, provide a setting for reflection and remembrance of a few of them. At St. Mary's this spreads over a vast swathe of our national history, since burials have taken place in and around St. Mary's from the Romano-British period, and perhaps before that. 

Roman Christians!

The earliest known evidences of burials here are two small artefacts from the second century of the Christian era.

The first is a small altar-stone incised with four crosses taken from a priest's burial. The style with only four consecration crosses gives this a date before 150 AD, a point in time when the style changed to five crosses.

The second is a small funerary urn of a Rhenish style from about the same period. Wavy lines around the urn indicate bpatism and that the urn contained the ashes of a Christian. The Rhenish style may mean that the individual concerned was an official whose remains had been cremated somewhere along the river Rhine. We should remember, however, that in this period Thorpe was a trading post in the Thames marshes around the head of tidal navigation and that the Thames Estuary and the Rhine delta lie opposite each other across the narrower end of the North Sea. 

In and out - the case of "Sweet William"

There is a curious burial below the mid-point of the North aisle. It is said that here is the vault containing the remains of  William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (1721 - 1765) the son of King George II, a man who most certainly affected the course of history, and whose memory has caused a multitude of mixed feelings between the peoples of Scotland and England. Victorious at the Battle of Culloden, this Duke William was not a man to show mercy. He did however break at the battle of Culloden in 1746 the already rusty and somewhat rustic campaign by the Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the "Young Pretender" to the thrones of England and Scotland known affectionately to generations of Scots thereafter a "Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Duke William was a rather pig-headed and opiniated character it would seem. He was nevertheless, as such men often prove to be, a good and well-respected commander, a stern disciplinarian. One aspect of this was to prove the cause of his unpopularity in much of Scottish memory. He had laid down firm orders against the kind of rape and pillage that follows so many successful armies. Instead he insisted that innocent civilians were to be left alone, but that the treacherous followers of Prince Charles Edward were to have no mercy.  As a result much of the Highlands and the West of Scotland its menfolk and economic and agricultural decline was to follow. Duke William made no distinction as to position in society or sex or gender as he tidied away those he saw as traitors.  The Duchess of Perth, Lady Ogilvy, Lady Strathalland and Lady Gordon, all found themselves in Edinburgh Castle as a result. It was deemed "uncourtly" but necessary.

The merciless slaughter of the Prince's army, mainly composed of Highlanders,  both during and after the batttle, earned him two soubriquets: "The Butcher of Culloden" and "Stinking Willy." The matter was made worse by his ruthless behaviour in ensuring that anyone suspect of support for the Young Pretender was hunted down and killed, summarily.

He was a young commander but experienced in battle having fought at Dettingen and a Fontenoy. He proved himself adept in the arrangement of the "killing fields" used in the battle. His army is described often as "Hanoverian" in character. Whilst this may be true of the military disciplines and battle plans used, we should remember that a large number of Scottish troops fought on the side of the King, George II, against the Jacobites, several present day Scottish regiments being raised for the first time for that very purpose. We forget too that many influential Scots were against the return of Stuart rule. Indeed the progressive Scots of the time looked - with good cause - towards the economic and political benefits of union with England. Sadly this element in the history of the time has been obscured by populist sentiment, and current Scottish nationalism. The sad fact is that the battle was a Scottish internal affair in many ways, Scot against Scot, as well as the assertion of Hanoverian rule in England and Scotland.

The impact made by the Duke of Cumberland is illustrated by the panegyric given to him by Hugh Blair at the opening of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland shortly afterwards:

"When the proper season was come for God to assert his own cause, then he rais'd up an illustrious deliverer, whom for a blessing to his country, he had prepared against a time of need. HIM, he crowned with the graces of his right hand; to the conspicuous bravery of early youth, he added that conduct and wisdom, which, in others, is the fruit only of long experience; and distinguish'd him with those qualities which render the Man, amiable; as well, as the HERO, great: He sent him forth to be the terror of his foes, the confidence and love of his friends; and in the day of danger and death, commanded the shields of angels to be spread around him!" (Quoted, James Buchan, "Capital of the Mind, How Edinburgh Changed the World," John Murray, London, h.b.,436pp, published 2003, p.56)

For the Kirk, Culloden was a deliverance from the despotic monarchism many associated with the Stuart dynasty, and from the corrupt and heretical Popishness the Presbyterians held exemplified by Bonnie Prince Charlie and his family.

In England his popularity was such that the flower Dianthus barbatus nigrescens, or Black Dianthus was named "Sweet William" after him, as well as the new barracks and settlements at Fort William and Fort Augustus, either end of the Great Glen. In Scotland the flower was renamed "Stinking Willy" after him, a remembrance of the appalling massacre he instigated at Culloden. 

The hearts of many Scots remain loyal to the Prince however. Indeed the terible events of Culloden and its aftermath certainly provide a point in time at which the decline of the ancient Highland way of life, and the strong influence of the Highland chiefs in political life north of the Border, were ended.

He was prominent in politics for many years, having the experience of being both in favour and out it. Perhaps fortunately at the time of his death he had recovered much of the popular acclaim he had gained earlier in life.

After the battle the Duke had become the Ranger of Windsor Forest and the Great Park residing at Cumberland Lodge. He created "Virginia Water" and was well-known for breeding racehorses.

Perhaps the best known of his horses was the noted "Eclipse."  This stallion's prowess gave rise to the saying "Eclipse first, the rest nowhere!" The horse won all its eighteen races in 1769 and 1770 winning by margins of over ten lengths and as many as twenty lengths. The horse was never defeated nor even headed. He was never whipped, it is said, nor did his jockey ever have recourse to using his spurs. This being so, it is not surprising that he is considered by many to have been the greatest racehorse of all time. He was retired because of a lack of suitable opposition. As a stallion at stud he sired three out of the first five Derby winners. Of modern racehorses some 90% trace their blood to Eclipse through the male line.Sadly, Eclipse being foaled in 1764, all happened after the Duke's death,

Thorpe as part of the outer property of Windsor Castle and the Great Park was a natural place for the interment of the Duke as its Ranger. It is perhaps fitting, too, that a man whose remembrance is so divided should be buried half in the church and half out of it! The Duke's favourite man-servant, some would say also his lover, is buried in the churchyard but across his master's feet.


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