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Haddon Hall (5), The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon


The woodcut, above, dates from about 1860 and was published in the very first volume of "The Reliquary"[1] alongside a paper called "The Love Steps of Dorothy Vernon" by Silverpen which is partly reproduced below.

The story of Dorothy Vernon's flight from Haddon and elopement with [Sir] John Manners is a well known and often repeated tale, yet it is historically unproven. It was even made into a film in 1924, with Mary Pickford playing the leading role[2].

The couple were married at Aylestone in Leicestershire in 1558. As Charles Cox and many others over the last couple of centuries have pointed out, John Manners would have been considered to be a good match for Dorothy Vernon and was welcomed by her family[1]. Even the doorway Dorothy is supposed to have passed through when she eloped, shown wide open in the above engraving, was built after the marriage had taken place[3]. Nor was Dorothy disinherited as, when her father died not long after her marriage, she came into her share of his estate.

Not one of the Derbyshire histories or guides written before 1830 mention the story[4]. The tale grew from two sources, a short story written in 1822 and a romantic novel published in 1823[5]. By 1840, we find it being briefly alluded to in "Gem of the Peak"[6] and in 1860 Silverpen's article (below) was published, which popularised the legend. This romantic tale would have appealed to Victorian readers, true or not, and is still enjoyed today.




"THE LOVE STEPS OF DOROTHY VERNON.
From Pedigrees in the Harleian MSS. and in Nichols' History of Leicestershire.
BY ELIZA METEYARD (SILVERPEN).
Authoress of "Mainstone's Housekeeper;" "Lilian's Golden Hours;" the "Doctor's Little Daughter;" etc., etc., etc.

THREE centuries are nearly past and gone, three hundred gilded summers have waned into russet autumns - and autumns brought their winters rough and cold - and yet no drear oblivion has fallen on a sweet old story: it is as new as though of yesterday, and hallows Haddon Hall.

On the left side of the flagged hall or passage which leads from the lower to the upper Court of Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, and directly opposite the screen which separates it from the banqueting hall, are four large doorways with high pointed arches. The first of these, still retaining its massive oaken door, has clearly been the pantler's room, as the little shutter within the door still shows that through this were doled the different sorts of bread then in use; the next leads by a dark, descending passage to the still finely preserved baronial kitchen; the third into a sort of vintry or wine room; and the fourth, with an iron girded door, opens up to a great steep staircase, quite distinct from the grand, staircase of the house, on to a large landing, still containing a huge linen press or cupboard of very rude workmanship, and from thence to the right to a wilderness of chambers, more remarkable for their extraordinary number, than for size or ventilation; whilst to the left and front of this landing lie two chambers possessing much interest. The one the old nursery of the" proud" Vernons and the belted Manners; and the other the reputed bed-chamber of her who, blending the royal or of the boar's head with the blazonry of the peacock, brought such a regal dowry to grace the Earldom of Rutland.

According to the authority of Camden, for the varied dates given in these pedigrees are difficult to reconcile, it was somewhere late in the autumn of one of the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, or between 1558 and 1564, or 1567, that preparations were begun already to be made for the hospitality of Christmas-tide, for before its holy days were passed, Margaret Vernon, the elder daughter, and co-heiress of Sir George Vernon, of Haddon, was to be married with much pomp and ceremony in the chapel of the ancient hall, to Sir Thomas Stanley, a younger son of the ducal and royal house of Derby.

More than the usual number of steers were fatting in the stalls to supply the huge salting trough; the rustic water mills of Nether and Upper Haddon already turned their dripping wheels solely in the "lord's service ;" orders were already out in twelve of the twenty-eight Derbyshire manors, for a fair supply of venison by St. Thomas's day; two wains had already toiled across the moorlands from Derby laden with condiments and spices for the confectioner and cooks; and scouts were already outlying on the wilderness of the East Moors, for the better preservation of black-cock and ptarmigan for the "lord's table."

..................
[Dorothy's flight]

Doll [Dorothy] stooped and kissed the old man [her father, Sir George Vernon], for the merry junketings amused the other guests, and then hurried across the hall, up the staircase into the nursery. Here, as it was the hour, and the signal already given to Luce [the nurse] that all was ready, Dorothy Vernon hastily changed her dress for one of coarse materials and sad colour, and hiding the veil in her bosom, and accompanied by Luce, bearing the mail, she tremblingly crept through corridor and chamber, by the northern tower to the west front, and at last reached safely the garden parlour. And now, withdrawing bolt and bar, she kissed the weeping beldam; and like a frightened bird upon the wing, made eleven small prints upon the eleven stone steps, light as snow upon a flower, as dew upon a rose, and the prize was caught as a leaflet by the wintry wind and borne away!

So then, as yet for aye, those little tiny steps were graven and set down like iron in a rock, like a mountain on the land, like an ocean on the earth, for Time can be no victor over Human Love! And so the shadows and the sunlight fall, the winter winds roar round, the sere leaves drop, the damp and moulder linger, and the lichens grow, but yet the sweet tradition hallows Haddon Hall.

The fugitives rode through forest and over moorland that night and next day and the day following that were married at Ayleston, a village two miles from Leicester, and in Leicester forest. The feud consequent on Dorothy's elopement was of no long continuance, for at Sir George Vernon's death in the 7th of Queen Elizabeth, Dorothy Manners was seized with twenty-six manors; amongst others Upper and Lower Haddon in Derbyshire. She died in 1584, and is buried at Bakewell, and her husband, Sir John Manners (knighted at Worksop, by James 1., in 1603,) in 1611, leaving issue three sons and a daughter, from the eldest of whom, Sir George Manners, the ducal house of Rutland inherits Haddon Hall."


Woodcut of "Dorothy Vernon's Doorway, Haddon Hall" by Llewellynn Jewitt, F.S.A, published in "The Reliquary" Vol.1, ed. Llewellynn Jewitt (1860-61) John Russell Smith, 36 Soho Square, London and Bemrose & Sons, Irongate, Derby
Ocr-ed text also from the same volume of "The Reliquary".
In the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews. Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References:

[1] "The Reliquary" was intended to be of real value and service to the general Historian, the Archaeologist, the Biographer, the Genealogist, the Artist, the Topographer, and to men of science and letters in every walk of life.
[2] In 1924 Mary Pickford starred in "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall", a film based on a 1902 historical novel of the same name (written by Charles Major and published in New York by Macmillan Co.).
[3] Charles Cox (1915) "Derbyshire" said the doorway was not built until Sir John Manners became the owner. He added that the story had been "so often sung about in rhyme or revelled over in fanciful or foolish prose of the last sixty years". Cox was not quite correct as the story had been around for at least ninety years (see[4] below). He thought the tale was prettily told by Silverpen but "is the pure fiction of a romantic brain". You can't get much more dismissive than that! Nikolaus Pevsner (1953) "The Buildings of England: Derbyshire" limited himself to writing that the story is unproven, whilst Arthur Mee (1937) "The King's England, Derbyshire" believed that the legend is spoilt only by being untrue!
[4] None of the books written in the early decades of the nineteenth century mention an elopement. For example, Richard Ward (1814) "A Guide to the Peak District ..." mentions the couple but not an elopement; there is nothing in Lysons (1817) "Topographical and Historical Account of Derbyshire"; there is no mention in Rhodes (1818) "Peak Scenery" although he visited Haddon; David Peter Davies (1811) "History of Derbyshire" also does not mention an elopement.
[5] In 1822 a short story by Allan Cunningham, "The King of the Peak" had been published by the "London Magazine". It was followed by a long novel, written under a pseudonym (Gibbons, Lee, pseud. [i.e. William Bennett, Solicitor.] (1823) "The King of the Peak. A romance, etc.", published London).
[6] William Adam (1840) "Gem of the Peak" went no further than writing "Out of these doors, it is said, the beautiful Dorothy Vernon eloped with Sir John Manners ...".


Also see, elsewhere on this web site:
The Gentleman's Magazine Library, 1731-1868 (under Bakewell). MI of Sir George Vernon family and mentions the tomb of his daughter who is also commemorated in the church.
Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, 1891, Haddon
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811 includes a short piece about Haddon (under Bakewell)
The Wolley Manuscripts, Derbyshire



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