Parish News

Reaching Out

Following up this item first mentioned last month, an ideas and planning session has now been scheduled for 7pm to 9pm on Thursday, 24th May in the Vestry House to which everyone with an interest in our engagement with the wider world is very welcome to attend. Wil James, one of our churchwardens, will prompt us to think about what sort of church St Giles is, who we are, who we wish to reach out to and how we might best do this. The more we can hear from one another, the better will be our understanding of the task before us and the means to achieve it. Some simple refreshments will be served.

The 2018 Mission Grant

I wrote about the this new project last month and how we had received six applications to consider. I can now report that the grant of £20,000 is to be divided between a small, semi-rural parish in East Sussex and a larger town parish in Shipley, near Bradford.

St John the Evangelist in Hurst Green, Sussex is a congregation slowly growing under a new priest and wishing to forge links with the families of the parish by establishing a junior choir. The mission grant will fund the cost of employing a part-time choir leader for the next two years during which time it is hoped that the choir will become self-supporting. We know from our own experience at St Giles how formative a well-run choir can be and felt that, though the grant was relatively small at £5,500 over two years, it could in time have a significant impact.

A grant of £14,000 will be used differently at St Peter’s, Shipley, for there it will enable the church to continue to employ a community co-ordinator to work with volunteers for another year in running a variety of socially supportive projects, such as a food bank and advice centre. We were attracted to the down-to-earth nature of these projects and how they reflected the parish’s wish to express their Christian faith through practical, non-judgemental means.

Hopefully we can include news of the progress of these projects through the coming year.

Words of Thanks

I can well imagine that neither Thomas nor Alan will relish the following note which I offer by way of thanks but they are going to have to suffer with it anyway. Both stepped down from their respective posts on the PCC at the Annual Meeting on 29th April and certainly deserve at least the following.

Thomas Hardin

The only consolation I can find for Thomas stepping down as a churchwarden of St Giles-in-the-Fields is to know that he will remain with us in the congregation and continue singing in the evening choir! I know that Bill (Jacob) would join with me in saying that Thomas has been a real godsend (intended literally) to St Giles, and that through his faithful and skilled endeavour over the past number of years he has played a significant role in caring for and improving the fabric of the church and extending the range of our ministry and worship within the parish. It has been a real joy to welcome the arrival of Summer and Morgan over the past number of months and we certainly wish Thomas and Sean every blessing on their family. We are also grateful to Thomas for his work as a trustee of the William Shelton Charity on behalf of the PCC.

Alan Power

Some of you may not be aware of the role that Alan has occupied at St Giles these past number of years, but as our treasurer he has steered us through a very difficult series of negotiations at our West Street properties and has brought order and clarity to our church funds, and all with such good grace and forbearance of those, like myself, who can scarcely add up. I do not exaggerate things when I say that we would not have got through the projects of the last number of years without his leadership and guidance and that we shall long remain indebted to him. A deserved period on the Sunday morning pews now awaits him.

A remarkable lady

If you are part of St Giles but have never heard of Alicia, Duchess Dudley then the time has come to cure you of this particular ignorance. In this month’s Pelican, Rector Alan reveals the story of one of our most important benefactors:

Alice Dudley, Duchess of Dudley, (known to us as Alicia), was born Alice Leigh in 1579, daughter to Sir Thomas Leigh, 1st Baronet of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, himself the third son of Sir Thomas LeighLord Mayor of London for 1558. On 11th September 1596, Alice married Sir Robert Dudley, the natural son of  Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and one of Queen Elizabeth I‘s favourites. Seven children came from this marriage and of them five daughters reached adulthood; most married into the minor nobility.

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Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester – Alicia’s father-in-law

In 1605, Robert Dudley left England and fled to Florence, accompanied by his first cousin once removed, Elizabeth Southwell (disguised as a page), the couple soon announcing their conversion to Roman Catholicism and intention to marry. To repudiate his marriage to Alicia, Robert claimed that he had already been married (to one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids of honour) when he married Alicia. In spite of this, the third marriage was never recognised in England. Whilst in Italy the Emperor Ferdinand bestowed on Robert, who was a learned man, the title of a Duke of the Holy Roman Empire in 1620.

Things became more complicated when Robert, who owned Kenilworth Castle among other properties, valued at £50,000, sold them in 1612 for only £14,500 to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales; and after the prince’s death the property then devolved upon the new Prince of Wales, the future Charles I, who then, in 1622, obtained a special Act of Parliament to allow Alicia to sell her interest in the properties for £4,000, together with further payments to be made to her in later years.

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Kenilworth Castle

The story is then taken up over twenty years later when by letters patent of 23rd May 1644, Charles created Alicia to be a duchess for the span of her own life. This decision appears to have been in the nature of an apology to Alicia for the poor treatment she had received at the hands of Robert, whose claim to be a legitimate son had earlier not been believed by Charles’ brother Henry and led to the property above mentioned being bought at less than it was worth. Charles, it appears, had come to accept that Robert had been a legitimate son after all and that Alicia had suffered through no fault of her own for the misfortune of her marriage. The decision, which was also helped by the assistance given to Charles by two of Alicia’s sons-in-law to the royalist cause, was written thus:

‘And whereas, our father [James I] not knowing the truth of the lawful birth of the said Sir Robert (as we piously believe) granted away the titles of the said earldom to others … and holding ourselves in honour and conscience obliged to make reparation; and also the said great estate which the Lady Alice had in Kenilworth, and sold at our desire to us at a very great undervalue… we do… give and grant unto the said Lady Alice Dudley the title of Duchess of Dudley for life.’

Alicia was finally widowed in 1649, her husband dying at his villa near Florence after more than forty years in exile. A memorial to Alicia and one of her daughters, also called Alicia, lies near the chancel arch of St Mary the Virgin, Stoneleigh, whose records state that ‘beyond the chancel arch lies a monument, erected in 1668, to a proud lady with a bitter story and one of the few Englishwomen made a Duchess in her own right.’ It is reproduced on the first page of this newsletter and bears a striking resemblence to the memorial to her daughter Frances in St Giles itself.

At this point the story of Alicia and the story of St Giles merge. because, living in the parish, she became a generous benefactor to St Giles-in-the-Fields, then technically in Middlesex. After the (first) medieval church had fallen into decay, a new Gothic-style building (the second) was built in brick between 1623 and 1630, mostly paid for by the future Duchess. She died at her house near the church on 22nd January 1669, having outlived all her daughters except Lady Katherine Leveson and having lived through some of the most tumultuous political events this country has ever known.

Duchess Dudley Memorial

Memorial to Frances Kniveton, daughter of Alicia, Duchess Dudley in the nave at St Giles-in-the-Fields © Andrea Liu 2012

In the The Pall Mall Gazette of 1896 the following is found: ‘Alice survived her affliction [being deserted by Robert] well, for she lived to the age of ninety. Her portrait, taken when she was an old lady, is preserved at Stoneleigh, her little thin, sharp-featured countenance appearing out of the midst of the enormous ruff of the period and surrounded by a white fluted cap under a black hood. She died in her house near St Giles Church in London to which, amongst many other churches, she left large sums of money and various gifts, including ‘a neat pair of organs, with a case richly gilded,’ and ‘the great bell in the steeple which, as oft it ringeth, soundeth her praise.’ She also left a sum of money to the sexton of St Giles to ‘toll the Great Bell when prisoners condemned to die shall be passing by, and to ring it out after they shall be executed.’ These gifts to various churches Duchess Dudley left on condition that her name should be mentioned in the sermon preached on Whit Sunday’ – a custom unknown to us hitherto.

Today we remember her in particular for the sum of money that, as the years have passed, has grown to become a lasting bequest which still provides the stipend for the Rector of St Giles; and with this her story is told and the reason why all those attached in any way with the third church built on this same site (the third – our own) would do well to remember her with thanksgiving. She had tenacity, this Duchess, and generosity and an enduring faith. The least the present Rector can do is find a way of bringing her name into his Whit Sunday sermon!