Warwick Church, Warwickshire

It seems probably that an earlier church stood somewhere in Warwick, but the founding of this church dates to 1123 when Roger de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick put up funds for its construction. The Crypt has survived from his church and houses a genuine medieval ducking stool.

As you would expect, the subsequent history of the church is dominated by the Earls of Warwick who lived at the nearby Castle. They were amongst the richest, most powerful men throughout most of the medieval period and so they created a magnificent church filled with many impressive tombs.

The Chancel, vestry and chapter house were all rebuilt in the 14th Century under the aegis of Thomas Beauchamp whose tomb stands in front of the High Altar. Fulke Greville’s monument takes up a massive chunk of the Chapter House.

A century later and the Beauchamp Chapel – one of the churches treasures – was built to house the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, his daughter married Richard Neville – the famous ‘Kingmaker’ and the Beauchamp and Neville families became so intricately interwoven with the Wars of the Roses as to be almost part of the English Royal family tree (Anne Neville married Richard III).

In 1547 the Earldom of Warwick passed to John Dudley, better known as Duke of Northumberland, who was key in the failed attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne of England. His son, Robert Dudley, was the Earl of Leicester and famous as a favourite of Elizabeth I. He, and his brother, Ambrose who inherited the Earldom of Warwick and became known to history as “The Good Earl of Warwick” are also entombed in the Beauchamp Chapel.

Ambrose, however, died childless – as did Robert – and the Earldom of Warwick died out with them. Thus ended the glory days of both Warwick Castle and Warwick Church.

As if to emphasise this a terrible fire swept through the town in 1694 and destroyed the nave and tower of St. Mary’s. They were rebuilt in 1704 by the brothers Francis and William Smith, two local architects who had a Latin inscription written on three sides of the tower which reads “St Mary's Collegiate Church was first established by Roger de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick, in the time of King Stephen [1135-1154]; then, under Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, in the year 1394 it was completely rebuilt, and on the 5th of September 1694 it was reduced to ruins by an amazing fire that spared nothing in it's path. The new church was built by charity, public to begin with, royal in the later stages, and was completed, under the happy auspices of Queen Anne, in the memorable year of 1704.

Final restoration work on the tower happened in the 1880s leaving Warwick with the most magnificent church in the county and one of England’s finest medieval church structures.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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