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The Chapel in the Corn

The effigy of Alice de Vere, Countess of Oxford, lies in eternal chilly splendour in a building known as the Chapel in the Corn, which is situated at Bures, a village which straddles the border between Essex and Suffolk.

The thatched Chapel of St. Stephen, said perhaps to have been the coronation site of King Edmund in 855, has been through several changes of use since its sacking at the time of the Reformation – as cottages, a storage barn and even a temporary hospital during a local outbreak of the plague in 1739. It was restored as a chapel between the World Wars of the 20th century.

Lady Alice’s appearance, although disfigured by countless bumps, gouges and scratches both accidental and otherwise, is still beautiful in repose. Even some ancient replacement surgery on her nose does not detract from her tranquillity. The contours of her face are smoothly sculptured, as if she were forever young, although she died in her late sixties, and her unseeing eyes are wide open as she gazes at a heavenly eternity no doubt devoutly wished for in life.

Her husband Richard de Vere, the Eleventh Earl of Oxford, lies beside her in full armour, and sporting a resplendent drooping moustache, much as he must have must appeared at the Battle of Agincourt, where he was a commander of troops under Henry the Fifth. Richard and Alice had one son, John, born on St. George’s Day in 1408, who would eventually be executed in 1462 for High Treason. It is probably as well that his parents were both deceased by this time, and would never know the particularly brutal manner of his death.

Lady Alice’s form-fitting gown would have been less than fashionable by the time of her death, but its simplicity of line serves to draw attention to her elaborate headdress, which is completely era-appropriate. This particular style drew criticism from clergy of the day, who likened its shape to devils’ horns, prophesying damnation for those vain and misguided enough to wear such eyecatching headgear. It is obvious that Lady Alice ignored such nonsense, and wears a splendid example covered in a bejewelled network and edged with richly decorated braid, topped with a cascading veil which gives her head an attractive heart-shaped appearance. A wide choker-style necklace with a round pendant, diamond-shaped cloak fastenings, and finger rings complete her elegant appearance, but there remains perhaps a little reference to her personality at her feet ; although her gown is too long to walk in and is draped over her toes, it provides the ideal place for her two small dogs to frisk about in and literally get under her feet. Although badly damaged, their collars decorated with bells are still visible, and they appear caught forever in some rough and tumble game.

Two decapitated angels support the cushion on which her head is laid, bearing her away to eternal rest, together with her husband who had died some 35 years previously. It is a handsome monument, and an eloquent testament to long forgotten medieval lives.

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