Stonor, scene of political and religious intrigue, I like to think.
On Wednesday, a friend invited me to visit Stonor, a manor house near Henley-on-Thames. The house, unlike many old stately homes, has remained in the same family for 850 years. Quite a feat, especially considering the family is Catholic.
The martyr St. Edmond Campion hid out here in the 16th century, and here he secretly printed "Ten Reasons" for why Catholicism should be preferred to the new English church. That, as you can imagine, didn't go over very well, but still the Stonor family was able to hang on to their property.
These days, when even the prime minister flirts with Catholicism, Stonor bears no stigma, and during our visit not even, literally, a full-blown cloud. During two months a year, visitors can twice weekly tour the house and grounds, which include an extensive park, a garden, a chapel, a prehistoric stone circle and the most gorgeous copper beech I've ever seen. In the summer, Stonor hosts the Summer Proms concerts on the front lawn.
This visit fit nicely with a book I just finished, An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, a fascinating tale of mystery, history, and science, set in 1663 Oxford. It's been compared with Eco's The Name of the Rose, but I found it much more readable than Rose. Told by four rather unreliable narrators, it sheds light ever so slowly on a murder and subsequent execution, as well as the political intrigue that surrounded Charles II's restoration to the throne. Peopled by famous scientists and thinkers of the day including Robert Boyle, John Locke, the mathematician John Wallis, Christopher Wren, and John Aubrey, An Instance of the Fingerpost reads like a particularly entertaining history text. But it's also a cracking good mystery.
Walking around Stonor, which must have been the scene of more than one heated religious debate, I couldn't help but imagine John Wallis peering around corners, searching for stray Papists.
Now, how was that for a segue?