EWELME - A HISTORICAL RELIC
At the head of one of the smaller Thames tributaries, a few miles from the river, lies Ewelme, the ancient Aquelma, so called from the springing waters which rise there. There are trout in the brook and excellent water-cresses higher up, which are cultivated scientifically. Also there was a political row in Gladstonian days over an appointment to the living. But the real interest of this exceptionally beautiful Thames-valley village is that it is a survival, almost unchanged, of a "model village" made in the time of the Plantagenets. As such it deserves a place in any history, even a "natural" history, which deals with the river.
The village lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, not far from Dorchester. The persons who made it a model village just before the Wars of the Roses were William de la Pole, the first Duke of Suffolk, and his Duchess, Alice, the grandchild of Geoffrey Chaucer. The Duke, as every one knows, was for years the leading spirit in England during the early part of the reign of Henry VI., whose marriage with Margaret of Anjou he arranged in the hope of putting an end to the disastrous war with France. His murder in mid-Channel - when his relentless enemies followed him out to sea, took him from the ship in which he was going into exile, and beheaded him on the thwarts of an open boat - was the forerunner of the most ghastly chapters of blood and vengeance in civil feud ever known in this country. But the grace and dignity of his home life in his palace at Ewelme, with his Duchess to help him, are less well known, though the evidences of it remain little altered at the present day.
Of course there was a village there long before the Duke of Suffolk became possessed of it. It was such a perfect site that if any place in the country round were inhabited, Ewelme would have been first choice. The flow of water is one of the most striking natural features and amenities of the place. It is a natural spring, coming out from the chalk of the Chilterns, and forming immediately a lovely natural pool, under high, tree-grown banks. This is still exactly as it was in the ancient days. No water company has robbed it, and besides "The King's Pool," which is the old name of the water, there are overflowing streams in every direction, now used in careful irrigation for the growth of watercress, one of the prettiest of all forms of minor farming. Fertile land, shelter from gales by the overhanging hill, great trees, and abundance of ever-flowing water, are the natural commodities of the place. It was of some importance very early, for it gave its name to a Hundred. This hundred contains among other places Chalgrove, where Hampden received his death-wound. Ewelme belonged to the Chaucer family. The last male heir was Thomas, son of Geoffrey Chaucer the poet, who left an only daughter Alice, destined to become the greatest lady of her time. She married first the celebrated Earl of Salisbury, who was killed by a cannon-shot while inspecting the defences of Orleans during the siege which Joan of Arc raised. William de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, was appointed commander of the English forces in the Earl of Salisbury's place, and not only succeeded to his office, but also married his Countess, who now became Countess of Suffolk. It was long before either the Earl or his Countess could revisit Ewelme, where the Earl must have had some property before his marriage, for his elder brother, Earl Michael, was buried at the public expense in the church of Ewelme after his death at Agincourt. For seventeen years the Earl never left the war in France; but when Henry VI. was grown up he arranged the marriage with Margaret of Anjou, and did his best to promote peace. At this time Suffolk was the most powerful subject in the kingdom. He was made a Marquis, and finally a Duke, and his Duchess was granted the livery of the Garter. In 1424 they built a palace at Ewelme, and in due course rebuilt the church, founded a "hospital for thirteen poor men and two priests," and added to this a school. Palace, church, hospital, and school were all of the same period of architecture, and that the very best of its kind. Thus in the fifteenth century Ewelme was eminently a "one man" place, like most of the model villages of to-day. The palace was moated, and used as a prison as late as the Civil War. Margaret of Anjou was kept there in a kind of honourable confinement for a short time, for long after the Duke's murder the Duchess was in favour once more, in the triumph of the Yorkists, and Margaret, who had been her Queen and patroness, was given to her keeping as a prisoner both in her palace and later at Wallingford Castle. Henry VIII. spent his third honeymoon there, with Jane Seymour, and Prince Rupert lived in it during the Civil War. Later, only the banqueting hall remained, which was converted into a manor house.