Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Of Poets and Levellers

Whilst staying overnight in the Cotswolds on our way down to the New Forest we took an evening stroll at Lechlade, a pretty Cotswold town on the River Thames.

There is a footpath through the churchyard which runs down to the river and it was an evening stroll along this path, at almost the same time of year, that inspired the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to write 'Stanzas in a Summer Evening Churchyard'.

On the plaque are words from the poem, written in 1815, 'Here could I hope that death did hide from human sight sweet secrets.'

Shelley stayed at The Swan Inn in Lechlade with his friend Mary Godwin, her step-brother Charles Clairmont and the novelist Thomas Love Peacock. Mary Godwin, later Mary Shelly and author of the novel Frankenstein, was the daughter of the radical and feminist writers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Here's some more from the stanzas - 'And pallid evening twines its beaming hair, in duskier braids about the languid eyes of day.'

We also managed a late afternoon stroll around Burford. We arrived just as shops were closing and cafes were taking in their outside tables and chairs. The town was becoming quiet after a busy day.

We parked near the church and wandered into the churchyard. On previous visits I had sought out a particular memorial and I looked for it again. It commemorates the death of three Levellers who were executed in the churchyard and buried there on 17th May 1649.

The Levellers were a fairly radical group who emerged, along with other political and religious groups, from the turbulent times of the English Civil Wars. They were called Levellers by their opponents who belived that they wished to abolish property rights and spread wealth but really they didn't go that far - the True Levellers or Diggers held these far more radical beliefs which were way ahead of their time.

Social, economic and political unrest was rife in the early months of 1649. Some of the more radical members of Cromwell's New Model Army felt that they had been mislead about the trial and execution of King Charles I in January of that year and also had objections to the intended invasion of Ireland; this caused several mutinies to break out. One of these was brought to a close at Burford in May 1649. Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had his own reservations about the King's trial and execution, was sent into Oxfordshire to deal with the problem and he and his troops cornered the mutineers at Burford Church. Many of the mutineers were kept locked in the church for several days whilst the three ring leaders faced a firing squad. Many others who surrendered were pardoned by Fairfax.

Burford is a peaceful place now and it was so pleasant walking amongst the yellow Cotswold stone buildings made even more golden by the soft rays of the late afternoon sun.


  1. Hi Rosie, Another amazing tale of your wonderful journey. I certainly enjoyed your lovely photos...
    Pam :)

  2. I would like to know my country's history as you know yours!

  3. A very informative piece Rosie. It must be lovely to see places through historical eyes as you do.

  4. 1649 seems so long ago. You do have a great grasp of history and you tell the tales very well.

  5. Thanks for your kind words, they are much appreciated.

    I love Burford, the sun on the stone is magical.

  6. How interesting! Loved the bit of history and photos to go with it.