In the Spring of 2015, I was browsing the antique book stores in the antiques district of South Broadway in Denver, Colorado. Gallagher’s Books is one of those fun bookshops that just knows what they are doing: interesting books for all tastes, but no room for junk. No matter where you look, you find titles that draw your eye…
I hadn’t really planned on buying anything. I was feeling social, and seeing cases filled with older books, I was curious how far back the inventory of retail antique book stores might go. I took a sip of coffee and playfully asked the proprietor, “What’s the oldest book you have?” I was expecting something in the mid-1800s. Very early 1800s, perhaps? I couldn’t recall – when was the printing press invented again? Sue smiled gamely and replied, “Actually, I think I have one from the middle 1600s…”
Of course, I had to see it – and she cheerfully obliged. From a locked case among a patchwork of especially time-worn volumes, she selected a tall, slender item and handed it to me, saying, “This was published in 1657.” I was enthralled. It could have been about gardening for all I cared – it was fascinating to hold something so old! I carefully opened it and touched some of the pages. I was surprised to find I could feel the text – the letters were embossed into the paper (turns out printing presses really were presses back then)! I also noticed a number of margin notes meticulously written in an incredibly fine brown ink – I hadn’t imagined quill pen writing would be so fine. When I turned to the title page, I found the strangest title…
“REPORTS in the Court of EXCHEQUER, Beginning in the third, and ending in the ninth year of the Raign of the late King James”
The cost of the book wasn’t out of reach, and I felt I could always sell it if I needed to. There was no denying something about it had captured my imagination, so, I bought it! I did not suspect I was stepping through a portal to another time – and into the story of an admirable man caught up in the chaos of an unraveling monarchy.
A Historically Relevant Book
Leaving the store, I was as oblivious as the book’s posthumously attributed author about the legacy he had left in the pages of the notebooks he’d filled as a young law student in the courtrooms of King James (in the years the King James Bible was being written). Looking back, I can’t say which was a bigger discovery–or the more interesting story: the book, or its author? My early research quickly revealed my new acquisition was not only historically important, but that it was a book about which other books have been written.
“Lane’s Reports” (as it is known) is a set of court case reports – in fact, it is the first published case law from England’s Exchequer Court. As such, it is a member of the family of root-precedent documents of English Common Law –and thus of our own American legal system. The author, Richard Lane, was a young law student of a good family name (but no wealth) who would rise to become an eminent professor in those same ancient Inns of Law in the oldest part of London – caretakers to the home church of the Templar Knights.
Richard Lane, the “Lost Lord Keeper”
Later called to the service of his embattled King (Charles I) in the rising strife that became the English Civil War, Richard Lane was an outsider to the aristocracy. But he was capable, and as England tumbled into Civil War, he rose through merit and courage to the highest role a non-royal could hold in the monarchy. He became a knight, and then the Lord Baron of the Courts Exchequer. Finally, he was made Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, and the first lord of the king’s Privy Council.
Over the next 4 years, the royalist cause in the Civil War fell to ruin. After negotiating an honorable surrender of the king’s forces at Oxford, Sir Richard Lane was forced into exile by the victorious Parliament for his loyalty to the crown. In exile, he continued his service as Lord Keeper to the young King Charles II (who was also in exile). Although King Charles II was ultimately restored to the throne after more than a decade, Lord Keeper Richard Lane would never see his home again. Historical records agree he died while in exile, although some indicate he died in Jersey, and others that he died in France.
In trying to determine the location of his grave, I came to realize no official record of his fate exists. Ironically, that’s where the story truly begins.
A Lost Grave, a Lost Portrait and a Largely Forgotten Legacy
While searching (and failing) to find a record of his burial in the ancient town church of St. Helier Jersey, a chance conversation with a member of the local historical society revealed there might be an overlooked record of the funeral in the pages of an obscure local diary from that time. And…there was! Unexpectedly, a careful reading of that account revealed a clue regarding where he had been buried! My inquiry had just become a quest…
However, Richard Lane’s lost grave wasn’t the only way in which he had become “lost”. Although a serious search failed to turn up any image of him in any online database, there was a record of a portrait that had been painted by Daniel Mytens in 1645 (in wartime Oxford). A textual description of that painting tells that he was dressed in black, standing with the ornate “purse” of the Great Seal. But in modernity, this portrait has become its own mystery. I have found several records of it, including that it was displayed as part of a national exhibition in London in 1866. However, after that exhibition, the painting seems to have vanished. I spent several frustrating years searching for this portrait (or any other image of its enigmatic subject, Sir Richard Lane) with no success. But that’s not the end of that story…
Trophy Room of the Quest for the Lost Lord Keeper
The “Quest for the Lost Lord Keeper” has come a long way since it began in mid-2015. But like the hydra of Greek mythology, as the sword of research lops the head off one line of inquiry, two even more interesting mysteries seem to spring into existence to replace it! So, even as the discoveries and accomplishments mount, the scope of the project seems to steadily expand. The journey has been surreal at times, to put it mildly!
The articles written here are the early incarnation of a book (or possibly several). They are written to allow vetting of the research regarding each topic, and to force me to drive each topic to a respectable state of closure. They are intended to be relevant and interesting, each highlighting the research, its results, and the members of the historical communities the Quest brings me into contact with along the way.
Richard Lane has proved to be an exceptional man who was far more than a spectator in one of the most interesting periods of England’s history. He wasn’t just “in the room” during the dramatic events of his time–he was at the table. And it is also clear that modern tools have quietly opened a door of new possibilities for historical research, which (along with a knack for asking the right questions) lies behind the remarkable pace of discovery this project has achieved!
Navigating the Site
First, subscribe / Follow. Unless you do, you will have no way to know when new articles come out. Nobody wants that. Do it now. : )
If you are interested in finding something among the existing articles, your choices are:
- Recent Articles. Simply scroll down the home page to go through the articles in order, most recent first.
- Search. Near the bottom of the stack of useful items on the right side of the page is a search widget. It will return a list of articles most relevant to what you have searched for (most likely useful first).
- Archive. Below the search widget is a monthly archive summary, which tells you how many articles were published each month. Clicking on a month will show you a list of articles published that particular month.
- Categories. Below the Archive widget is a Categories list. Clicking on a category will take you to a list of articles I have tagged to be relevant to that category.
Everything you read on this site is true, and will one day be part of a book to be published once I have taken this work as far as it can reasonably be taken. The production of a historical drama is also a distinct possibility. I have given talks from my research at Westminster Palace in London, in St. Helier Jersey and at the Cherokee Castle here in Colorado. Having never planned to write any book, my first motivation is to ensure this fascinating story and the legacy of the very real Lord Keeper Richard Lane (1584-1650) are told. Along the way, the burden of this work is much more fun when it is enjoyed by others. So, “subscribe” and share with anyone else you think would enjoy “sitting in” on this still unfolding story!
– Greg Sherwood, Castle Rock Colorado, USA