EWELME - A ROMANTIC VILLAGE ITS PAST AND PRESENT. ITS PEOPLE AND ITS HISTORY.
EWELME UNDER THE STUARTS, AND DURING THE CIVIL WAR. COMMONWEALTH AND RESTORATION.
By 1609 we read surprisingly that while Lord William Knollys was keeper of the Park, “the Capital mansion of Ewelme was completely ruined and in decay” . It is strange that Elizabeth should not have ordered the repair and upkeep of the old Palace where she had so often stayed, but perhaps the Tudor parsimony had something to do with it.
There is no record of James I ever having visited Ewelme, but the Manor was held in trust for Charles I, his sister Elizabeth of Bohemia (the ill-fated “ Winter Queen ”), and her son, Prince Rupert, but in 1627 Charles seems to have sold the Manor into private hands, while for a time during the Civil War it was occupied by Prince Rupert. Before that time Charles I seems definitely to have sold Ewelme Manor, it being conveyed by Letters Patent to Sir Christopher Neville, “ in consideration of the sum of £4,300” , a very large amount of money for those days, and doubtless a sum urgently needed by the King.
As Bishop Juxon, who attended Charles on the scaffold, was probably about that time Rector of Ewelme, it is natural that if Sir Christopher Neville was, as is most likely, faithful to the King, he should have lent it to Prince Rupert for his use while the King and court were centred at Oxford.
Before this date, James I had made two alterations in the statues relating to the Ewelme incumbency and also to the Mastership of the Almshouses, altering in these respects the original intentions of William and Alice de la Pole. James ordained that the Rectorship of Ewelme was to be connected with the Professorship of Divinity at Oxford University, and this connection was to last well on into the nineteenth century. The Mastership of the Almshouses which had formerly, as directed in the original deeds, been filled by a Clerk in Holy Orders, was now to be identified with the Regius Professorship of Medicine at Oxford, the religious connection thus being severed from the post; and this arrangement continues to the present day.
As Prince Rupert was in occupation of the Manor for some time during the Civil War, Ewelme must certainly have seen some of the fighting, especially as Wallingford Castle, four miles away, had surrendered to Fairfax, only to be demolished later on. In 1652, Chalgrove, too, the scene of the battle, or rather skirmish, in which John Hampden, that upright gentleman from the Chilterns, received his death-wound, was but a few miles away, and roving bands of troopers and Rupert's cavalry must at times have disturbed the villagers' peace.
We know from the well-authenticated tradition in Ewelme that the Church only escaped desecration and plunder through the timely and honourable intervention of Col. Francis Martyn who was in command of Cromwell's army in that district. Martyn, a Ewelme man, is said to have stood In front of the church door sword in hand, threatening any soldier who attempted to enter, and so Ewelme church was saved from destruction which overtook so many sacred buildings at the hands of the fanatics.
Col. Martyn is also said to have protected the Rector's person from harm and it is consoling to know that men of tolerance and civilized virtue such as John Hampden and Francis Martyn were to be found in command of the Parliamentary army in this district.
Francis Martyn's name is fitly commemorated in a monument on North side of the chancel in Ewelme Church, but we might truthfully say of him “ If you seek his monument, look around you”!
Thomas, 1st Earl of Berkshire, had been for a short time resident at Ewelme Manor during the early part of the Civil War, and before that during Charles II's minority, he had been entrusted with the Preceptorship of the young Prince of Wales, but neither in character nor in wit did he prove worthy of the task: he seems to have been disliked and mistrusted by both sides alike, though he finally made his peace with the Parliament after having been in exile for a time in Holland. Meanwhile his wife had been granted permission to retain his “ goods at Ewelme Park” , which had been declared forfeit for debt in 1646.
This Earl of Berkshire managed to regain royal favour under Charles II by “ much facilitating the great work in hand ”, whereafter he remained in the King's good graces and managed to be chosen as pallbearer at Charles' coronation, and to be appointed a Privy Councillor for the rest of the reign. Truly a successful “ Vicar of Bray ” among the nobility of that day! His son, Charles, the 2nd Earl of Berkshire, died in Paris and was buried there, but his widow Dorothy, Countess of Berkshire, is commemorated by a distinctly florid tablet on the north chancel wall of Ewelme Church, on which the inscription runs: “ Whose beauty equalled, whose virtue excelled, the greatness of her birth and quality ”. She died in 1691 - the last of the aristocracy of former centuries to have been intimately connected with Ewelme as far as we know.