20 February 2011

The man who changed the course of English history.

The man who changed the course of English history.
by Steve Garrett,
Salisbury Cathedral
Last year, we visited the mighty medieval masterpiece that is Salisbury Cathedral. From the outside the building’s setting amongst the surrounding water meadows has remained virtually unchanged since John Constable painted it almost 200 years ago. And once inside, the sense of scale and awe of the structure really hits you, especially the massive scissor columns - hastily built to support the 7,500 ton stone steeple, added some 100 years after the cathedral proper was finished.
 I have to say, that is one hell of an extension....

All in all, it’s a fantastic building – and strolling amongst its towering stonework, you really do get a feel of the single-minded dedication of medieval man’s homage to God Almighty.

How on earth did they manage to build this house of God on such boggy ground with foundations barely 4 ft deep without it all crashing to earth? It’s like they’ve built a massive medieval anti-gravitational device with thousands of tons of stone suspended above our heads. Maybe faith is playing a part?... The power of prayer is obviously more powerful than I once thought.
The cathedral has many interesting features, including the world’s oldest working clock; and down the centre of the nave is a line of monumental tombs where the great and the good have been laid to rest. Their chiselled marble stone effigies atop each tomb have been knocked about a bit over the centuries. A nose chipped here, a finger missing there and a few puritan-inspired graffitos etched neatly into their alabaster-white foreheads. Most of them had an interesting story to tell. One knight had actually fought alongside Henry V at the battle of Agincort in 1415. The guy next to him however didn’t appear to have done that much – what’s more, his nose had received a fearfully bashing. And because there wasn’t any description of his life’s work either on his tomb or in the guide books, it made me all the more curious.

Sir John Cheney

His name was, Sir john Cheney. And that is all that was said about him really. I took a photo of him for posterity.

Several months later, I read a fine book about the Battle of Bosworth Field and the events leading up to this ultimate meeting of two Royal Dynasties and the violent demise of one of them. ‘The Psychology of a Battle – Bosworth 1485’ by Michael K. Jones is a worthy analysis of an epic event which defined the end of the viciously internecine civil war of the roses.

And as I’m reading it, a name pivotal to the outcome of the battle is mentioned – and what’s more, I recognised the guy as the mystery man who is laid out in Salisbury Cathedral.
For those not familiar with the events on that day in 1485, King Richard’s fate ultimately lay with Lord Stanley and his rent-a-mob followers. Although provisionally promising allegiance to Richard, Stanley, his brother and their great private army held firm and in neutral on a hillside overlooking the mayhem – but as history records, they finally came down in favour of Henry Tudor. As they made their way to the ranks of the usurper Henry, Richard realised the game was up and the battle lost unless he could regain the initiative – and to do that, he had to slay Henry. Spurning advice to leave the field and thus save his life – Richard in a last, desperate attempt to win, donned his crown and Royal tunic, (both very public statements of his God given legitimacy for Royal office) and led a cavalry charge of knights specifically aimed at killing Tudor who was sheltering to the rear of his army.
Henry Tudor (Henry VII)
They came up against a phalanx of Henry’s pikemen – the only way through was to dismount and fight them hand-to-hand in a desperate attempt to cut their way through. As they hacked ever closer to their ultimate quarry, Henry’s standard bearer was run through and killed by Richard himself.

Richard III

Contemporary accounts tell of Richard fighting like a man demented, screaming “Treachery, treachery, treachery” as he fought for his crown – and his life. He was literally within striking distance of his great adversary when Sir John Cheney, the man from Salisbury Cathedral deliberately positioned his horse between Richard and Henry. Richard’s impetus was halted, his shockwave stopped. Richard struck out at Cheney’s horse. Steed and wounded rider tumbled to the ground but by then, Henry’s personal bodyguard had rallied and Richard of York fell, hacked to pieces at the feet of Henry Tudor, the royal usurper.
But for Cheney and his horse getting in the way just as Richard was about to strike down Henry, English history would have been very different. Richard’s English army had been defeated. Henry and his army of foreign mercenaries had triumphed largely because of Stanley’s treachery.....

The rest, as they say..... is history.


  1. Thank you Steve, that was very interesting.

    I've never visited Salisbury Cathedral OR Bosworth Field - they are both on my "to do" list!

  2. Glad to see you're not a fan of the Stanleys, Steve. One of my upcoming novels explains why the Stanleys hated Richard so much - by the way he was Richard of Gloucester. Richard of York was his father.

  3. Alas another great king dies on the battlefield, ignobly murdered by treacherous swines! A great article Steve and thanks Helen for posting.

  4. Interested in what you say about why Salisbury cathedral isn't sinking. Winchester, on the other hand is. I haven't seen it since the '70s but I believe it's quite critical now.

  5. I am a descended of Sir John Cheney.And his other descendeds.And other royals KARIN ELIZABETH("Dunn")Boasci

  6. Sir John Cheney is my ancestor and i have other Cheney ancestors that are also connected to British Royal family and Masschutess founders

  7. I am a descended of Sir John Cheney.And his other descendeds.And other royals KARIN ELIZABETH("Dunn")Boasci

    1. How interesting Karin - thanks for sharing!

  8. Thank Steve for sharing this! I traveled to England a couple years back and visited the Salisbury Cathedral. I went specifically to find Sir John Cheney who was my great great xxxxx uncle. John was the great uncle of Ann Boleyn. My husband and I have been researching my ancestors. It's been interesting to day the least. A crazy American girl living in New Zealand with Royalty roots as Queen Elizabeth the Ist is a distant relative. I find it all so fascinating. I'm even more keen and inclined to make another trip to England and look up other historical family Graves now that I know what I know. It was pretty emotional and overwhelming standing over the tomb of Sir John Cheney. It also explains why my son's are 6"5 and nephew 6'8 as John stood 6'8. He fought and servec for many Royals in his lifetime. Janet Thompson

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment Janet - and such an interesting one at that!


Thank you for leaving a comment - it should appear immediately, but Blogger sometimes chucks its teddies out of the cot and has a tantrum (especially if you are a Wordpress person) If you are having problems, contact me on author AT helenhollick DOT net and I will post it for you. Sometimes a post will appear as 'anonymous' instead of your name or avatar - I draw attention to this being a Blogger Blooper and not of MY doing... However ...SPAMMERS or distasteful rudeness will be stamped on, squashed, composted and very possibly cursed - if you spam my blog, next time something nasty happens to you just remember that I DID warn you...