Friday, 18 October 2013

Sir Henry Sidney's Heart

Council House interior
How about this for a great story?  It’s about Sir Henry Sidney, father of the famous Philip Sidney, poet, courtier, ex of Shrewsbury School and Battle of Zutphen fame. I came across it whilst reading the ‘Account of the Ancient and Present State of Shrewsbury’, first published in 1808. I was trying to find out about the history of The Council House [or ‘the Council yn the Marches of Wales’ as the book calls it] and up popped Sir Henry, Privy Counselor, Knight of the Garter, Lord President of the Marches Council. 

Sir Henry’s visits to Shrewsbury, it seems, were accompanied by extraordinary acts of devotion and respect by Shrewsbury folk.  Here, for example, is Sir Henry arriving in Shrewsbury on 1st May 1581, and heading off to St Chad’s church, his ‘knights following hym in brave order and after them the bayliffes and aldermen in theire scarlet gownes, with the companies of all occupations in the sayde towne, in theire best liveries, and before every warden of every company, theire two stuardes with whit roddes in their hands’. 

And here’s Sir Henry departing ‘from Shrewsberie by water’, taking ‘his Barge under the Castell Hyll by hys place [ie. the Council House]’ to a fourteen gun salute and ‘lamentable orations’ from Shrewsbury schoolboys,  ‘being apparelyd all in grene, and greene wyllows upon their heads’.

What a scene. And what a man, it seems. When Sir Henry died [and this is the  story I wanted to tell], he directed that his bowels be buried in Bewdley, where he’d breathed his last, his body in Ludlow - where in St Laurence's church his daughter Apollonia was already laid to rest - and his heart in Shrewsbury.  Apparently this dismemberment of body parts after death wasn’t uncommon in Sir Henry’s day. 

However, Apollonia’s tomb, in the choir of the stately church at Ludlow’ failed to record Sir Henry Sidney’s name, suggesting that his body was buried elsewhere.  For many years nobody had a clue where any of his bits had been laid to rest, but finally in Mr Hodge’s historical account of Ludlow Castle [I can’t find a date for this] the tale is told of a leaden urn being dug up in the garden of Edward Coleman Esq of Leominster in Herefordshire, where it had ‘lain unattended to for a long series of years till the researches of a gentleman of that neighbourhood introduced it into notice and presented the editor with a drawing of it’.  Round the urn was this inscription:


The urn is/was five inches deep and four in diameter, with signs that it had once had a lid.  How it came to be buried in a Herefordshire garden is not known, but some believe that it was originally placed in one of Shrewsbury’s town churches, maybe St Mary’s, and that during what the ‘Account of the Ancient & Present State of Shrewsbury’ describes as ‘the confusions of the great rebellion’ , it was rescued from destruction by some friend of  Sir Henry Sdney’s, who decided to bury it in a garden. In Herefordshire.

Where the urn is today, I’ve no idea.  Nor do I know what became of the heart, because the urn was empty by the time Edward Coleman Esq dug it up.  This tale is for any of you who say your heart’s in Shrewsbury. Make sure you keep it there - or else you never know where it might end up. 

1 comment:

  1. Reading this tale, one can't help feeling sorry for Bewdley.