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.

But if the palace is gone, the church remains as evidence of the magnificence of the Duke's ideas on the subject of a village place of worship. He seems to have shared the apprehension felt by the Duke in Disraeli's novel "Tancred," that he might be accused of "under-building his position." In design it is very like another large church at Wingfield in Suffolk, where his hereditary possessions lay, and where he was buried after his murder, his body having been given to his widow. The same architect possibly supervised both, but of the two Ewelme Church is the finer. The interior is especially splendid, for in it are the tombs of the Chaucers, and the magnificent sepulchre of the Duchess herself, on which her emaciated figure lies wrapped in her shroud. This tomb of the Duchess Alice is one of the finest monuments of the kind in England. The other relic of the prosperity of Ewelme under the De la Poles is the hospital and school they founded. "God's House" is the name now given to it, and it is kept in good repair and used as an almshouse. The inner court is surrounded by cloisters, and the whole is in exactly the same condition as when it was built. The higher parts, constructed of brick, were the quarters of the priest and schoolmaster. The ruin and subsequent murder of the Duke, who adorned and beautified this model village in the early fifteenth century, took place in 1450. Nearly all France was lost, and in the hopes of conciliating the enemy, Maine and Anjou were given up by Suffolk's advice. He was accused of "selling" the provinces, and a number of vague but damaging charges were drawn up against him on evidence which would not be listened to now in any court or Parliament, except perhaps in a French State trial. Suffolk drew up a petition to the king, which shows among other things the drain which the French wars made on the lives and fortunes of the English nobles. After referring to the "odious and horrible language that runneth through the land almost in every common mouth, sounding to my highest charge and most heaviest slander," he reminded the King that his father had died in the siege of Harfleur, and his eldest brother at Agincourt; that two other brothers were killed at the battle of Jargeau, where he himself had been taken prisoner and had to pay L20,000 ransom; that while his fourth brother was hostage for him he died in the enemy's hands; and that he had borne arms for the King's father and himself "thirty-four winters," and had "abided in the war in France seventeen years without ever seeing this land." The King's favour secured that he should be banished instead of losing his head, for a State trial was never anything better than a judicial murder. The following is the letter written by an eye-witness to Sir John Paston, describing what then happened: "In the sight of all his men he was drawn out of the great ship into the boat, and there was an axe and a stock. And one of the lewdest men of the ship bade him lay down his head and he should be fairly ferd (dealt) with, and die on a sword. And he took a rusty sword and smote off his head with half-a-dozen strokes, and took away his gown of russet and his doublet of velvet mailed, and laid his body on the sands of Dover; and some say his head was set on a pole by it, and his men sit on the land by great circumstance and pray." The writer says, "I have so washed this bill with sorrowful tears that uneths ye shall not read it." The Countess survived his fall and lived to be great and powerful once more. Her son became the brother-in-law of sovereigns, and her grandchildren were princes and princesses.