Not so far from Oxford is the town of Banbury, famous for the nursery rhyme:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.
We rode through Banbury last summer and got a look at the cross in the town square. While I’ll admit that the line, Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, is more familiar to me from “Sweet Gypsy Rose” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, and that we were on a bus and not a cock-horse, but nevertheless, we still got to see a fine lady.
There is a local legend that holds that the “fine lady” on horseback in Banbury should be understood to be “a Fiennes lady,” the remarkable Celia Fiennes who rode round England on horseback in the 1690s. This is the name of a noble family living nearby, the Barons Saye and Sele, Lord and Lady Fiennes. You will be thinking, no doubt, Could they be related to the dreamy celebrities, Ralph and Joseph Fiennes? Yes, in fact, they could. In fact, the actors are third cousins of the present Viscount’s children.
In fact, we went to visit the Fiennes’ manor house, Broughton Castle, on this same trip (see image to the right). It’s a really wonderful place, and has served as the filming location for a variety of things, including Shakespeare in Love (which starred Joseph Fiennes, of course).
But the best part for us happened inside, in the Great Hall. As the boys were looking at the various armaments hung on the walls, an older woman came over and asked if they would like to try on some of the armor? The results below:
sweet fine of her? As I continued my tour of the rooms upstairs, I came across a portrait of the current Lady Fiennes who, as you can see, was the very woman to offer the boys the opportunity to put on the ancestral breatplate and helmet! The portrait is by her daughter, Susannah Fiennes.
Intrigued by the whole afternoon’s events, I went to the Oxford Public Library the next day and took out a copy of the splendid memoir by Lady Fiennes’ son, William, entitled The Music Room. It deals primarily with growing up in the castle with his brother, Richard, who suffered from epilpesy and consequent brain damage. The portrait William paints of his family is so lovely, I urge you to read it.