I’ll start with a conclusion: we paid £9, and our tour guide hid something from us.
My awareness of this fact came at the end of a journey through one of the estates purported to be the house of the Green Knight from Arthurian legend.
Now, I understand bad family history does not need to be dredged up over and over. Guests invited to the family reunion don’t want to hear about how Gran fell out with her mother again. It’ll make people feel awkward, they’ll be obligated to take sides and it will only cause a row. But the guests only feel that way because what happened between Gran and her mom does not affect them. If it’s revealed that Gran fell out with her mother over how to properly dispose of a live bomb that’s sitting in the attic, I doubt anyone would say, “Gran, will you stop talking about the possibility of a bomb exploding in the attic? It makes people feel awkward. Now, please can we just sit down and have a good time until it detonates and blows us all into smithereens?”
Yet, by not acknowledging even the existence of bad blood, this was essentially what our tour guide wanted us to do. Sure, it’s amusing to speculate whether or not the enigmatic Green Knight was a good guy, considering he sent his wife to seduce Sir Gawain just to “test” him. And yes, I’m glad to be informed the owner’s ancestor was a younger brother to Parliamentarian leader Sir Henry Vane the Younger, who fell out with Oliver Cromwell and was beheaded during The Restoration because Charles II considered him “too dangerous a man to let live.”
But when the house’s current owner is Lord Inglewood, and the barony is so named because the baron’s ancestors ruled in the second largest royal forest in England that covered most of mid-Cumberland, the question of legitimacy becomes everyone’s concern. And by “everyone,” I mean those families living in the villages deep in the Royal Forest of Inglewood, at the onset of the Highland clearances just a few miles up north. Those people trying to pretend they weren’t there because living there was illegal. The ones whose lives depended on the clemency of whoever is leading the Fletcher-Vane family in Hutton. Those who feared the mantraps spread on the estate, yet braves it out in a bid to prevent death by starvation, poaching the deer these nobles loved to hunt and mount on their walls.
If it was a matter of life and death, yes, I would like to know if the gentleman deciding my fate actually had the right to make such a decision. So, anyway, the bad blood starts here:
There is a portrait of him in Hutton’s website and guidebook, where he is succinctly described as a “colourful, if not disagreeable” character. When our tour guide pointed to his portrait in the house, gave us the same description, and then hastily moved on without elaborating, it was clear something was off. Immediately, I made a mental note to look this up as soon as I got home, right after I finish playing a game called “Where is that smell coming from?” with the back of our fridge. Like the unfinished and forgotten takeaway from a long-ago Friday night I found behind the yoghurt, Sir Frederick Fletcher Vane’s story only stinks because everyone in the house pretends it’s not there.
So, this guy was apparently a lazy and corrupt representative of Carlisle who was hardly ever in Parliament. Okay, that won’t raise eyebrows–he was an MP, so he was required to be those things. But he wasn’t supposed to marry his mistress.
On the 9th of March 1797, Sir Frederick married Miss Hannah Bowerbank, who demanded he finally fulfil his oft-repeated promise to do so. Distraught and heavily pregnant with their third child at the time, she threatens to take the children and leave him if he reneges once more. Ever the gentleman, he produces a special license and tells a surprised Hannah to get ready because they would marry the next day. The news shocks Hannah. She starts experiencing what looked like labour pains. Time slows, and everyone is guilty of overacting as they anxiously stare at each other. The credits run and a rousing theme tune plays to signal the beginning of our costume drama series’ pilot episode.
The next scene opens in a courtroom in the year of our Lord 1876. A wig-wearing judge strides in, then sits in a no-nonsense fashion as he sends a warning glare to the crowd in a wordless reminder to be silent, while the clerk utters the first line.
Our main character, Sir Henry Ralph Vane, stands while the clerk drones on about the proceedings. Visibly struggling for dignity, Sir Henry’s pained gaze shifts to his accuser, his own dear Uncle Fred. He is claiming to be the rightful heir to Hutton Hall estate, which Sir Henry inherited at the age of 12 when his father, Sir Francis, died.
Uncle Fred’s claim rests solely on proving that the late Sir Francis was born out of wedlock. If Sir Henry’s father was illegitimate, Uncle Fred would be the oldest legitimate son of Henry’s grandfather, the late, “colourful” Sir Frederick Fletcher Vane. There’s no doubt of Uncle Fred’s legitimacy–he was born several years after his father finally deigned to marry Hannah Bowerbank, who at the time was pregnant with Henry’s father. The emotional Hannah exhibited signs of oncoming labour and Sir Frederick married her the same day.
Although Sir Francis was raised as heir apparent, there had always been rumours of his alleged bastardy. In the official documents, it’s stated Sir Francis was born almost four weeks after the marriage, but the date of birth on the certificate was written in a different-coloured ink to the rest of the document, leaving the possibility that it had been tampered with. Witnesses were called and cross-examined, but just as the audience began to lose interest, Uncle Fred suddenly concedes that he was in the wrong and apologises for all the inconvenience this whole debacle caused.
The costume drama is then abruptly cancelled. Sir Henry retains ownership of the estate, plants topiaries and remains childless but through him, Hutton eventually passes to his heir, the current Lord Inglewood’s father. No one hears of Uncle Fred ever again. What happened to him, and the reasons for his sudden recantation, no one knows. The story is not mentioned in any of the official merchandise, or brought up in the tour of the house.
It stinks, and no one acknowledges the stench. I feel cheated, especially when I think how much places like this charge for tea. But I console myself with the knowledge that, in our ignorance regarding the rest of Sir Frederick’s tale, at least, we and our tour guide remain equal.