A Man of Spotless Integrity: The Life and Legacy of the Lost Lord Keeper of the King’s Great Seal (Part III of III)

This conclusion of the article submitted for publication in the 2018 Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersisiase chronicles the last few weeks of Richard Lane’s life in the Elizabeth Castle, and his dramatic 1650 burial in St Helier, Jersey.

Jean Chevalier’s account of the Death and Burial of Lord Keeper Richard Lane in Jersey

Lane’s ordeal lasted nearly another month. Chevalier describes that Lane “…continued ever ill and his flesh wasted away through the gritty stone which completely wore him out.” Finally, on the night of Sunday, 12 May 1650, Richard Lane died in the Elizabeth Castle.  A surprisingly thorough autopsy confirmed the cause of his death. [26]

A grand state funeral was planned for the Lord Keeper. Likely departing from the old priory in the upper ward of the Elizabeth Castle, his funeral procession began its somber 1.3 mile march to the Town Church. It was led by a column of eighty musketeers carrying their arms reverently reversed (i.e. upside down), followed by drummers with their drums “swathed in black.”  Behind them, the horse-drawn hearse rolled along empty as the bearers, out of respect, chose to carry Lane’s coffin on their shoulders.  On both sides of the casket-bearers marched seven members of the Duke’s household along with Jersey’s new Governor, Sir George DeCartaret. Each of these men’s hands grasped the black pall cloth draping the casket. Adorning the pall were eight bright, colorful copies of the dramatically enhanced arms given Lane by Prince Charles in Oxford years before: a golden lion between three golden saltires on a deep red field.

Figure 9 : The arms used in Richard Lane’s 1650 funeral procession from the Elizabeth Castle were a gift from Charles, Prince of Wales to his then Attorney General, Sir Richard Lane.  Those arms are visible today in a stained glass tribute to Sir Richard Lane on the upper windows of Middle Temple Hall, London.

The Duke of York himself accompanied the somber procession through the lower ward of the castle and to the end of the castle islet. [27] The procession marched at low tide down the exposed causeway, up the beach, and into St. Helier, finally arriving at the Town Church.  There, a sermon was delivered in English from a black-draped pulpit also bearing a copy of Richard Lane’s arms.

The view from the highest tower at the Elizabeth Castle, looking towards the significantly built up modern shoreline at St Helier, Jersey. The view of the Town Church is obscured by foreground buildings, but lies in the middle distance about 3/4 to the right in this picture, taken at middle tide.
Figure 10 Reconstructed path of the funeral procession of Sir Richard Lane in 1650 with a spatial estimate of 1600’s St. Helier based upon integration of multiple period maps projected onto a modern satellite view of the area. The orange lines are the 1650 streets. Blue lines indicate the beds of multiple streams that wound their way to the shore in the 1600’s.

At the conclusion of the service, as the coffin was being lowered into its resting place in the floor of the church, the formation of musketeers waiting outside fired three volleys in salute, joined by a series of seven thundering cannon shots from Elizabeth Castle. [28] In Chevalier’s account, the last of these provided a dramatic punctuation to the day’s events, likely startling its gun crew when it slammed back into its restraints upon being fired. This particular cannon had been accidentally loaded with a war shot! Luckily, though aimed in the direction of nearby St. Helier, the cannon was elevated sufficiently that the cannonball arced safely over the town.  A woman (“great with child”) who was just coming out of her house in a distant village was astonished to see the cannonball smash through a tree and bury itself in her garden. [29]

[26] Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation), 20.

[27] This procession must have been timed to coincide with low tide, exposing the causeway that links the castle to the beach. See: Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation), 20-21.

[28] Maximillian Norreys (the grandson of the Henry Norris, one of the 5 men executed with Anne Boleyn) is the oldest recorded burial within the church.  Maximillian’s large, Latin inscribed floor memorial stone was used several times in Chevalier’s Diary as locational reference for several middle 1600’s burials in the church. This stone is displayed today on the wall of the North chapel in the church. The original location of the Norreys monument in the floor of the church is unknown.

[29]  Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation), 21.

The Lost Grave of Sir Richard Lane

Chevalier writes that Sir George DeCartaret paid 28 livres tournois [30] to the church intending that a monument to Lord Keeper Lane’s tomb would be emplaced.  In what seems to be a later update to his diary, Chevalier noted that this had never been carried out and “with the passing of time, [Lane’s] memory had faded away.” [31] Although Chevalier described the Lane tomb as ‘facing’ the 1591 tomb of Maximillian Norreys, the Norreys memorial was probably removed from the floor during the church’s restoration in 1860-64 (with no record of its original location) and placed on the wall at the west end of the South aisle (as indicated in the Figure 11 diagram of the church floor plan).

The North side of the Town Church of St Helier, Jersey

Figure 11  Floor Plan of the Town Church of St. Helier, showing the interior floor in 1650 (blue line) and speculative area of location of the 1591 (Norreys) and 1650 (Lane) tombs.

It is not known whether a vault was created for Richard Lane’s tomb (as was done for Major Peirson’s grave in the church in 1791), but Chevalier’s account does indicate a coffin.  Given the poverty of King Charles II’s court in exile, it is possible Lord Keeper Lane was never provided the ornate robes of his office. Instead, he may have been buried in his judge’s robes (as he was depicted in his 1645 Lord Keeper portrait). Other items which (if found) would clearly identify Richard Lane’s grave include the black pall cloth and painted arms it was adorned with at the funeral, the signet ring / fob used to seal his last letters, and possibly his sword (should any of those things have been buried with him).

[30] The “livre tournois” was a stable French currency of the period, each equivalent to a pound of silver (with a substantial economic value in that time–far in excess of a similar pound of silver in modernity).

[31] Jean Chevalier, A Chronicle of Events in the Island of Jersey (Rybot Translation), 21-22.

Conclusion

After Richard Lane’s death in Jersey, the esteemed office of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England was vacant for three years.  Instead, the king kept the “purse” containing the silver matrix of the Great Seal as he ascended the throne of Scotland and pursued his plans for the military conquest of England in 1651.  And so, in the year following the death of it’s only Lord Keeper, it is held that the rare first Great Seal of King Charles II was flung into the river Severn to prevent its capture as the plans so vigorously opposed by Sir Richard Lane fell apart at the disastrous 1651 Battle of Worcester. [32] The seal was never recovered, and the young King was forced to undertake a six week, 615 mile clandestine escape so improbable it would come to be known as the “Royal Miracle”.

And what of Richard Lane’s son? Racing on horseback with the king through the last royalist-held gate of that city, Royal Groom Richard Lane the younger also escaped Worcester.  The party he was with eventually separated from the king at Boscobel, and Lane was captured the following day.  He was imprisoned at the Chester Castle, but was eventually able to return to Northampton. [33] When the restoration of the monarchy came in 1660 (nearly a decade later), he resumed his service as a groom to the king.  Richard Lane the younger was one of only two Grooms of the Bedchamber to serve King Charles II throughout his entire reign. Given the colorful reputation of that particular monarch, serving as a Groom of the Royal Bedchamber to King Charles II must have been an interesting career for Richard Lane’s only surviving son.

But an examination of his 1686 will indicates that Richard Lane the younger never married, and left no children, so his father’s name died with him. [34] Aged 65 at the time of his royal master’s death in 1685, Richard Lane the younger (a Middle Temple lawyer like his father) would only have had to survive a few years longer to have witnessed the utter transformation of the English government away from the “divine right of kings” he grew up with while a student following in his fathers footsteps in Middle Temple.  After the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, the former primacy of the monarchy had given way to a form of British government quite similar to that we know today.

Following the Restoration of 1660, the widowed Lady Margaret Lane was soon returned to the family home confiscated by parliament nearly two decades before.  She would live there another nine years before her death in 1669, and would be buried near the altar steps in the floor of the family church in Kingsthorpe. [35] The memorial slab over her tomb was inscribed as follows:

Here lieth body of the Lady Margaret Lane, late wife to the honourable Sir Richard Lane, Lord Keeper of the Great Seale of England to K. Charles the first and K. Charles the second, who dyed in banishment for his loyalty to the Crown. She departed the 22 of April, 1669. †

In his biographical work on the Keepers of the Great Seal, John Lord Campbell comments admiringly on Lane:

“I regret that my researches respecting him have not been more successful, for all that I have discovered of him is to his honour… Considering Sir Richard Lane’s spotless integrity, and his uniform adherence to his principles,-notwithstanding his comparative obscurity and his poverty, he is more to be honoured than many of his predecessors  and successors who have left behind them a brilliant reputation, and ample possessions and high dignities to their posterity.”

[32] John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, vol 3, 95.  Although widely accepted that King Charles II’s first Great Seal was lost at Worcester, this mention of its specific fate is speculative. Although appearing in various other sources, this is the only attribution located.

[33] John Hughes, The Boscobel Tracts Relating to the Escape of Charles the Second After the Battle of Worcester and his Subsequent Adventures (Blackwood and Sons, London, 1857) 145-146.

[34] National Archives, Will of Richard Lane, late Groom of His late Majesty’s King Charles the Second His Bed Chamber of Whitehall, Middlesex (22 July 1686) PROB 11/384/97.  This document mentions two sisters who correspond to daughters of Sir Richard Lane as beneficiaries, one, correctly by her maiden name (who appears never to have married), and the other correctly by her married name. No wife or children of his own are mentioned, but he does leave money to two servants.

[35] R. M. Serjeantson, A History of the Church of St. Peter Northampton, Together With the Chapels of Kingsthorpe and Upton (William Mare, Northampton, 1904) 179.

biography

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