England 2005

Friday, July 1, 2005

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“Keep your faith” is the motto of Magdalene College in Cambridge.


Magdalene College courtyard.


The Samuel Pepys library at Magdalene College contains all 3000 volumes in Pepys’ original collection, all arranged as he had them, according to size in lovely bookcases that he had made for the collection.

The chapel at Magdalene is OLD.  Its wooden ceiling dates back to the 1400s.  Somehow, somebody managed to protect it from the ravages of the reformation.


Tom, trying to look faithful in the chapel.

The hedges at Audley End are a marvel in and of themselves.  I didn’t take photos of the house – it was just too much.


Window in the Magdalene College chapel.



We returned to Paris from England last night. 

But here’s more about the end of our trip there.


Carol and Ron came up from Oxfordshire and spent the night with us in Cambridge on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, we all had a great old time exploring Magdelene College in Cambridge and then inspecting the stately home, Audley End, about 20 minutes south of Cambridge.  The two places, oddly enough, have some historical connection.


Tom and I both felt strangely drawn to Magdalene College.  It certainly is not one of the wealthier colleges in Cambridge.  In fact, it started off rather poorly.  When all of the monasteries were grabbed by the Crown and given to various aristocrats in the 1500s, the Benedictine abbey that was to become Magdalene College was one of three monasteries given to Thomas, Lord Audley.    He chose to live in the one now called Audley End, and he chose to pretty much ignore the one in Cambridge, except that he took the time to re-name it.  The name “Magdalene” he chose supposedly because there was a Magdalene College at Oxford already, and because the way it is pronounced, “maudlin,” sort of sounded like “Audley.”


But when Thomas Lord Audley died in 1544, he left no endowment for the college and it struggled for centuries.  Audley End, on the other hand, eventually became an unbelievably opulent property.  It was so wonderful that Charles II decided he had to have it for himself and it served for a while as a Royal palace.


While I adored the magnificent collection of paintings and furniture at Audley End, I was also keenly aware of the horrible poverty that most people in the area were enduring at the time Audley End was soaking up resources.  To know that people who called themselves nobility really gained their wealth by thievery and bullying in feudal times is unnerving.  I like to remind myself that the Queen, like me, is descended from some pathetic, struggling hunter-gatherer wretch.  And the extreme social and economic stratification of our world just goes on and on.


Back to Thomas Lord Audley.  He became the Lord Chancellor during Henry VIII’s reign, and he presided over the trials and executions of Sir Thomas More and Ann Boleyn.  He also helped Henry dump two of his wives.  Thomas started out from nothing, became a lawyer, and rose through the ranks by being a very good friend and yes-man for Henry VIII. 


His descendents married very well and eventually the family was connected to several houses of nobility.  Alas, finally, the family had come down a few notches and they had to give up Audley End.  It is now beautifully preserved and presented by English Heritage – there for all to enjoy, even the descendents of those who were badly mistreated by the likes of Audley and his relatives.


I must note that some more recent and respectable descendents of Audley, namely people with names like Griffin and Braybrooke, did admirable military service during WWII and died for England.  They also were members of Magdalene College and are memorialized along with others in the chapel there.


A wonderful aspect of Magdalene College is how open it is.  Its opening hours are very generous, and the chapel is open as well as the dining hall and gardens.  A real treasure there is the Samuel Pepys library.  Don’t miss it.  It is open in the afternoons.  A brochure for sale in its lobby explains the Thomas Lord Audley connection with the college’s history.


Next> St. Peters at Cambridge.


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