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Oxenham Love Feud

“It was one of those cold evenings which so often occur in the vicinity of the Forest of Dartmoor in the month of November, that I alighted at the porch of a small public house, in the obscure village of Gidleigh. I had left my track for Moretonhampstead to view Oxenham Manor, the ancient seat of a Devonshire family of that name, now extinct. The landlord who served for boots, groom, and tapster, very obsequiously took my horse, and bid me welcome, and in a little time I was ushered into the kitchen of the New Inn, which in appearance was paradoxical to its name, but which pleased me, as there was something in its formation, furniture, and inmates that exactly suited my ideas. On my left as I entered, was an immense fireplace, around which were seated a number of rustics, who on my entry, seeing the thick fog on my great coat, very kindly offered me a seat near the fire which I immediately accepted. At the side of the room was a large oak table, which had no doubt often groaned beneath the weight of smoking dishes, and nut-brown ale. In another part were fixed shelves, loaded with pewter platters and dishes, whose shining surfaces reflected the light like many mirrors. It was altogether in unison with my feelings, there was something antiquated in its appearance. I asked my host, who seemed the essence of good nature, to favour me with a detail of the legend of Oxenham Manor, the remains of which, had proved such a treat to me in the morning, which he very kindly consented to do, and as soon as I had filled my pipe and replenished my glass he commenced the story.” – 1833.
Lord John of Oxenham came to the vast estate when he was in his forties. He married the second daughter of Hugh de Clifford who gave him his only daughter called Margaret. As she grew older it was plain for all to see that she had inherited her mother’s sweetness of temper and gentleness of manners. Her beauty was famed within the parish and she soon had the eye  of all the noble youths of her age and fortune. Amongst these dashing suitors was young Bertram Prouse the son of Sir William Prouse who owned the estate near to Oxenham. It soon became evident that Lord John of Oxenham soon saw the benefit of one day combining these noble seats if Margaret would marry Bertram, a notion that he soon began to nurture. It would be fair to say that Bertram possessed none of the fine virtues of Margaret. He was of a fierce and masculine nature, very rarely was a smile to be seen of his face and it was said, never in his hearing, that you could plant potatoes in the furrows on his brow. So it should come as no surprise that with these sombre attributes Margaret was not impressed at all, in fact she loathed the very sight of him.
Living with Sir William and Bertram was a distant cousin called Henry Northmore who had been taken in by Sir William when at an early age his parents had died. Henry and Bertram were like chalk and cheese, for Henry was a gentle and caring soul with a sunny disposition all the enviable traits which Bertram despised. As both Bertram and Henry became acquainted with Margaret it was inevitable that her favours were falling on Henry, a fact that Bertram soon became well aware of. As time went by the sentiments between the fair Margaret and the noble Henry quickly grew into one of deep love and admiration. Clearly both Lord John and Sir William were none too pleased with this blossoming romance as there future plans were fast diminishing. There was not a hope in hell that Lord John was going to sanction any likelihood of marriage between Margaret and Henry who had no title or rank in society. So there you had five people neither of which were happy with the developing situation – one might say a recipe for disaster.
A halt to the proceedings came about when King Richard the Lion Heart was amassing his armies to march on the holy city of Jerusalem and rest it back from the infidels. A call to all his noble and loyal supporters went out asking for good Christen men to join his standard and for ever immortalise their family names by bleeding before the walls of the Holy City. As soon as Sir William received the call to arms he commanded both Bertram and Henry to sharpen their swords and march with the Royal Standard to Jerusalem. There was a certain reluctance on Henry’s part as he could not bear the thought of being separated from his love for such a long time but go he would in respect of his guardian. Bertram on the other hand had come up with a plan to eliminate his cousin from the more important quest of winning Margaret’s affection. He had the notion that during the impending battle for Jerusalem and the confusion it would cause he would quite simply slay Henry when the opportunity arose.

After a long and gruelling sea journey and a hot trek across the Holy Land the armies of Europe marched to the mighty walls of Jerusalem and surrounded them. After a council of war King Richard declared that at dawn the following day the assault on the city would begin. As the early sun began to rise prayers were offered to the Lord for a certain victory which was quickly followed by the Royal battle cry. Flights of arrows flew through the air, brave knights stormed the walls and the mighty battle began. Henry was soon into the affray and made a good account of himself whilst Bertram kept a safe distance from the bloodshed eagerly awaiting his opportunity. Slowly he edged his way towards his cousin and when the opportunity arose he sneaked up behind him and delivered a mighty blow to his head. Henry dropped like a stone with blood gushing from his wound and after making sure it was a mortal blow Bertram sneaked away from the scene of his crime.
Meanwhile back on Dartmoor Lord John and Sir William were busy planning the wedding celebrations for Bertram when he finally returned victorious from the Crusade. Throughout these preparations Margaret was secretly offering  prayers for the safe return of Henry whilst trying not to infuriate her father anymore. It was a difficult task to try and look interested in the dreaded arrangements but her fate was sealed.
Meanwhile back on the blood soaked sands of Jerusalem Bertram sought out King Richard  in order to get an order of leave to return to England using the excuse that there were vitally important matters to attend to, a request that was duly granted. In a blink of the eye he was soon on his way to the port to make his voyage home, happy in the knowledge that Henry was now out of the picture and out of his thoughts. However, unbeknown to him Henry’s squire had found his master lying amongst the dead and dying and saw much to his relief he was still alive. Immediately he rushed him to the medics who managed to patch him up, his wound not being as fatal as Bertram thought.  After a few days recovering Henry was soon well enough to re-join the ongoing battle during its final days. Eventually the mighty walls fell to the crusading army and the mighty Saracen hoard were defeated making the Holy City once again a place of Christian pilgrimage.
No sooner had Bertram crossed the hallowed portals of his home than he broke the ‘tragic’ news of Henry’s death. He went into great detail of how heroically his cousin had fought but how he sadly fell to the blade of a Saracen’s scimitar. This devastating news soon fell upon the ears of Margaret who in a flood of tears realised what sickening fate now fell before her. She knew only too well that her heart would always belong to Henry but to avoid the displeasure of her father she must now enter into the agreed marriage to Bertram. The wedding plans went ahead and a date set for the couple’s union. On the eve before the nuptials a great feast was held in the grand hall of Oxenham, anybody who was anybody was there along with the tenants of the estate. The tables groaned with the weight of food, the wine flowed, and the hall was filled with the sound of merriment and laughter. Suddenly just as the toast to the happy couple was given Lord John groaned and fell to the floor and was quickly taken to his chamber. What nobody knew was that the reason for his sudden faint was because as the toast was being given he had seen the dreaded ‘White Bird‘ fluttering in the rafters. This omen of doom only appeared to members of his family when a death was imminent and down through the centuries this had proven to be many such a case. Not wishing to spoil the feast for his guests Lord John rejoined the celebrations with the hope that just maybe it was an ordinary ouzel that had flow in out of the cold moorland air.
Earlier that same day Henry had arrived back on Dartmoor and made his way home stopping at the old inn at Gidleigh for some refreshment and to catch up on all the local gossip. It was here that he was told of how Bertram had brought the news of his death and as a consequence the wedding of Margaret and Bertram was to take place the following day. The news hit him like a battle club, why, how, the questions swam around his head and he dropped to the floor in a faint. The inn keeper took him upstairs to a bedroom where he was left to recover his senses. All night he tossed and turned and could not get the idea of HIS Margaret marrying the loathsome Bertram who she always said she hated with avengence. Then the dreaded dawn of the next day broke, his heart had been shattered and the only thought he had was how could Margaret be so disloyal. Gradually the green goddess of jealousy over took his emotions, if he could not have her nobody should. With that thought in mind he left the inn and made his way to Oxenham Manor. Reaching the estate he made straight for the private chapel where he knew the ceremony was taking place. he crashed through the heavy oak door just as the priest was asking the vital question. “Do you Margaret of Oxenham take Bertram Prouse to be your lawful wedded husband…” Just as the woeful bride was about to chain herself to a fateful marriage Henry rushed up to her. “Now marry me for eternity,” he screamed, “you false maid.” With that he drew his dagger and plunged it deep into her heart, then with her white dress soaked in blood she fell to the floor. With a look of pure hatred in his eyes Henry stared at Bertram and stuck the blade into his own heart, collapsing down to lie on the dead body of Margaret. He had his wish the couple were joined together at the altar as once promised.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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2 comments

  1. Dear Tim
    I’d be interested to know who the traveller was that wrote the account of the love feud of Oxenham and when it was written.
    Regards
    Brian Court

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