ROYAL VISITORS AT THE CHURCH IN HINTON WALDRIST, ENGLAND
CHRISTMAS ANNO DOMINI 1388
By Paul Whitton, England
My poem is inspired by Mary de Bohun (1368-1394) who was married to Henry Bolingbroke when she was only 12 years old. She lived for some time in Hinton Manor, then owned by the de Bohun family, and her eldest son Henry referred to in my poem, went on to become King Henry Vth. Mary was noted for her spiritual life and study.
The oaken gate behind me swung,
Its lichen-covered timbers gnarled
I trod the icy gravel path
Steering each faltering sliding step
While moonlight sparkled on the snow
Until I reached the church’s door
My frozen hand stretched out to lift
The rusty iron portal lock
When soldier’s mail-clad gloved fist
Was raised in front of my visage
“Why enterest thou into this place
Of holy worship at this hour?
“Know’st thou not in Hinton church
The highest lady in our land
Has come to say her Christmas mass?”
Yet when I told him whence I came
His guard was lowered; he bade me pass
To enter through the low-hung porch
I step into the gloomy nave,
By candles and three reed lamps lit.
Kneeling behind the nearest pew
I slowly lift my gaze to see
In front a truly dazzling sight
A gorgeous gown of royal blue
Worn by our Mary de Bohun
And clasped to Mary’s loving breast
The infant Henry, royal heir,
Not yet two winters since his birth.
If only now they could but see
The ways of pain which lay ahead
For each in such diverse
And truly anguished ways.
Mary de Bohun was soon to die
Before six winters more had passed
Leaving her Bolingbroke bereft.
After the Holy Mass was said
The Benediction sent us forth
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum
I wanted then to pay respect
To Lady Bohun and her son
To stoop down and obeisance make.
When Mary lifted up her head
The tranquil beauty of that gaze
Transfixed me in suspended time
As all of thought froze like the frost.
She gently gestured with her hand
To show me that I might approach.
On bending low a fine-coiffed head
She softly breathed into my ear
“Seest thou that infant Christ
Whose likeness we have come to lay
In wooden crib for his nativity?
Be sure to render worship true
To Him who heav’n and earth hath made.
“Bow not to me nor to my infant son
For in our Scriptures it is writ
Worship the one true God and his dear Son.”
Then as the fleeting moment passed
It seemed as if this frozen season flew
Out through the stained glass window panes
And spring’s sweet breath swept through the nave.
I saw then clearly in my dream
The future of this Hinton church
Lay not with earthly kings, nor lords
Who enter through its timber door
But with our humble village folk
Who down the centuries attend
Week after week to bow the knee
Before the King of time and space.
This poem was inspired by Luke 4:8: “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” It is so tempting to be impressed by celebrities and wealthy, famous people in our culture that we always need this reminder from our Lord. We can overlook that we are in the presence of the King of Kings.
Our village, Hinton Waldrist, is very small, with less than 300 inhabitants. I was very surprised when moving there that it once had famous royal visitors in its church, the form of King Henry V.
Paul Whitton is a Director of Oxford Literary and Rights Agency Ltd, based near Oxford in England. He is married to Hana; together they have co-authored several books. He has more than 35 years experience in international publishing. After three years living and working in Germany, Paul returned to the UK to work for the Christian publisher Lion Hudson plc in Oxford UK, going on to become their head of international rights. He worships in their village church which is more than 760 years old.