Archive: Hidden World beyond the Pomp and Ceremony; Chris Upton Goes off the Tourist Trail at Warwick Castle to Discover a Once Golden Circle of Courtiers

The Birmingham Post (England), February 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

Archive: Hidden World beyond the Pomp and Ceremony; Chris Upton Goes off the Tourist Trail at Warwick Castle to Discover a Once Golden Circle of Courtiers


Byline: Chris Upton

The tourist trail leads into St Mary's Church, Warwick and down the right-hand side of the nave. This is understandable, since the Beauchamp Chapel is one of the jewels of the Midlands, a lavish display of medieval adornment, stained-glass and gilding. Here the worldly pomp of the earls of Warwick are on show for the nation and most visitors will leave entirely satisfied.

But if we head down the left - the sinister - aisle of the church an entirely different world view awaits us. It's darker down here, and without the assistance of electricity it must once have been very dark indeed. Balancing the Beauchamp Chapel on the north side of the chancel is a tiny chapter house, filled up with just one monument, a tomb so large and heavy that you almost need to ask the dead man's permission to squeeze past him.

The memorial was designed by the incumbent himself. There is no gilded effigy and no lengthy epitaph, outlining the deceased's genealogy, parentage and issue. The inscription runs to just 15 words. It reads: Fulke Greville, servant of Queen Elizabeth, counsellor to King James, friend to Sir Philip Sidney. There are, in addition, two Latin words: Trophaeum peccati, roughly translated as The monument of a sinner.

Such self-effacing modesty we would not expect of the master of Warwick Castle, especially not of one who was, in addition, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rear-Admiral of the Navy, and Secretary for Wales. But for the sake of posterity Fulke Greville has boiled down what was most important in his life. He was one of that golden circle of courtiers who made Elizabeth's court so glittering (and so slippery); fell out of favour on the Queen's death, only to return to court under James 11 years later.

One of the generation of bright, young, Elizabethan things - Shakespeare and Leicester, Walsingham and Essex - Greville outlived the lot, only to die at the hands of a servant's knife. A contemporary said of Greville that he had 'the longest lease and smoothest time without rub of any of her favourites'.

But it's clear what Greville thought was most important in life. At a time when friendship was so easily disposable and could blow away in the political wind, it was his friendship with Sir Philip Sidney that Greville valued most. The two men were friends from childhood. They were born in the same year (1554), entered Shrews bury School on the same day and were invited to court at the same time. Both men had early diplomatic training on the continent and both served in the army. They even considered joining one of Francis Drake's voyages to the West Indies together, sneaking out of court while the Queen's back was turned.

Sidney was probably the greatest courtier of his age, a man as happy among books as on the battlefield and he easily won affection and respect.

But for Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville there was more to be being a courtier than power dressing and diplomacy.

There was dalliance too. Thus while Sidney was writing love sonnets to a girl called Stellar, Greville addressed his to Cowlick (or sometimes Myra or Cynthia); while Sidney was composing a novel, Greville was writing plays. …

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