19 January, 2020

The House on the Strand and Sir Otto Bodrugan (1290-1331)

Probably my favourite novel of all time is Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, which I must have read ten times. Our 1960s narrator, Dick, is staying at his friend Magnus's house in Cornwall, and on multiple occasions ingests a powerfully hallucinogenic drug which takes his mind back to the fourteenth century while his body remains in the twentieth. He wanders around the Cornish countryside following people many hundreds of years dead only he can see and who can't see him, and becomes obsessed with their lives, to the point where it starts to destroy his marriage and the drug starts to damage his body. The fourteenth-century sections are set at the end of Edward II's reign and beginning of Edward III's, and the last time Dick travels back in time in his mind, it's a few years later, just after the Black Death in 1348/49. The two King Edwards, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer do not appear as characters, but are mentioned a few times in the narrative. Daphne du Maurier's descriptions of the Cornish landscape are simply brilliant, especially when she describes the differences between what it looked like 650 years previously and the modern 1960s landscape, e.g. Dick wakes from one of his trips to find that he's soaking wet, having waded through water that wasn't there in his fourteenth-century vision.

One of the fourteenth-century characters in the novel is Sir Otto Bodrugan, a real person, as are all of the fourteenth-century characters. (Du Maurier did a great deal of research, and at one point in House on the Strand a debt of £200 Otto owed to Sir John Carminowe is mentioned; that's recorded on the Close Roll on 3 February 1331.) Otto was the son and heir of Henry Bodrugan, his mother was Sybil Maundevill or Mandeville, and he was born at the manor of Bodrugan, Cornwall on 6 January 1290. He was baptised at the church of St Goran on the day after his birth, and his godmother was Joan Treviur, "who especially loved him." [1] Otto was the heir of his father Henry, who died shortly before 23 January 1309, and also of Henry's uncle William Bodrugan, who died shortly before 26 March 1308. Henry was said to be "aged thirty and more" at William's inquisition post mortem in April 1308, but he must have been a good bit older than thirty then, as his son Otto was born at the start of 1290. Otto's name was also often spelt Oto or Otho or even Otes in the fourteenth century.

Otto came into a few manors in Cornwall, and the Cornish jurors at his father's IPM in February 1309 knew exactly how old he was, stating correctly that he was "aged nineteen at the feast of the Epiphany last." Two "vacant plots in the place of a capital messuage" and a few acres of arable land and pasture in Luton, Bedfordshire which had belonged to Otto's late mother Sybil passed in 1309 to John Pouwers or Poer or Power, "aged twenty-three and more," Otto's older half-brother. [2] Sybil herself was the sister and heir of Sir Walter Mandeville, and was "aged twenty-four and more at the feast of St Michael last" in  early November 1288, putting her date of birth around 29 September 1264. [3] Sybil was married firstly to Peter Poer, and and she and her second husband 'Henry de Boderingeham' were granted the marriage rights of her own son John Poer on 2 February 1291, as a "[c]onfirmation of a bequest in the will of Eleanor [of Castile], the late queen". [4] I haven't been able to find the date of Sybil's death, but she had already passed away when her second husband Henry Bodrugan died in early 1309. As well as his descent from the Bodrugans and the Mandevilles, Otto Bodrugan was descended from the powerful Giffard family on his mother's side - two of Sybil's maternal Giffard uncles were archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of Worcester, and her aunt was abbess of Shaftesbury - and from the Pomeroy family on his father's. 

Below, part of the inquisition post mortem of Otto Bodrugan's father Henry in February 1309, showing the name Tywardraith or Tywardreath, which will be familiar to readers of The House on the Strand. 'Sir Henry de Campo Arnulphi' is the Latinised form of Henry Champernowne (or Chambernoun), also a character in the novel and Otto's brother-in-law.

Hugh Despenser the Elder sold Otto's marriage rights to Sir Henry Champernowne at an uncertain date before February 1311 [5], and Otto married Henry's sister Margaret while his own sister Joan married Henry himself. Otto Bodrugan and Margaret Champernowne had three sons, born in or before 1310, in 1311, and at an unknown date in the 1310s; see below.

Otto joined the Contrariant rebellion against Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger in 1321/22, and Edward II ordered the arrest of 'Otto de Botringham' on 7 December 1321. [6] (The unusual spellings of his and his father's last name that sometimes appear reveal that Chancery clerks in London didn't have a clue about Cornish names.) He fought against the royal army at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322. [7] During the York parliament of May 1322, Edward II pardoned Otto on the latter's acknowledgement of a due fine of 1,000 marks (£666). His lands were restored to him in July 1322. [8] In March 1324, Otto received a safe-conduct to go on pilgrimage to Santiago. [9] It must have been a relief to Otto, as to so many others, when Edward and the Despensers fell from power in 1326, and on 3 December that year Isabella of France made Otto keeper of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, recently forfeited by Hugh Despenser the Younger. [10]

Sir Otto Bodrugan died shortly before 10 October 1331 at the age of forty-one, when the writ for his inquisition post mortem was issued, and it was held at the beginning of 1332. As is basically always the case, we don't know the cause of his death, though I imagine Otto didn't die in the dramatic way Daphne du Maurier describes it in House on the Strand. Otto's heir was his first son Henry, but sadly - as du Maurier mentions in the novel - Henry only outlived his father by three weeks, and did not know of his father's death. The reason why he was not informed is not explained in the inquisition, but perhaps Henry was seriously ill, and out of compassion his carers did not tell him Otto was dead, or perhaps he was so ill that he spent the last few weeks of his life unconscious. In late 1331/early 1332, Henry Bodrugan was "aged twenty-one and more," so he was already of age when Otto died, and was born in or before 1310, when his father was twenty or younger. Henry was married to a woman called Isabella, but they had no children. Otto's heir therefore was his second son William Bodrugan, born at 'Trevelouan' on 1 or 2 September 1311. Otto and Margaret also had a third son, named after his father, whose date of birth is not recorded, and Margaret outlived her husband and received her dower, as did her daughter-in-law Isabella, in March 1332. [11] 

None of Otto's three sons had any sons, and William left a daughter, Elizabeth, as his heir. Elizabeth married Sir Richard Sergeaux (d. 1393) also of the county of Cornwall, who married secondly Philippa Arundel (d. 1399), daughter of the earl of Arundel's disinherited son Edmund Arundel. Otto Bodrugan the younger, the third and youngest son of Otto, also left a daughter, Joan, as his heir.


1) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-17, no. 285.
2) CIPM 1307-17, nos. 10, 139; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, pp. 28, 35, 41.
3) CIPM 1272-91, no. 678; CFR 1272-1307, p. 258.
4) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1281-92, p. 420.
5) CPR 1307-13, p. 306.
6) CFR 1319-27, p. 85.
7) Vicary Gibbs, 'The Battle of Boroughbridge and the Boroughbridge Roll', Genealogist, new series, vol. 21 (1905), p. 224.
8) CFR 1319-27, p. 155; Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-23, p. 618; CPR 1321-24, pp. 183, 191.
9) CPR 1321-24, pp. 391, 399.
10) CFR 1319-27, p. 425; CCR 1323-27, p. 622.
11) CIPM 1327-36, nos. 385-86, 486; CFR 1327-37, pp. 277, 288; CCR 1330-33, pp. 444, 466.


sami parkkonen said...

Couple things came to my mind:

1. How different were the Cornish people at this time? Was Cornish already gone as a spoken language etc? I know that men from east England had great difficulties to understand the dialect even when speaking English with men from various districts of the realm. Yorkshire men spoke a dialect that made them sound almost as foreigners to Londoners etc. One reason why the great armies of the time where not too effective and could be defeated by a smaller, much tighter opponent.

2. The quite early death of Otto.
In the absence of inflammatory drugs even a small infection could develop into a real hazard. It is possible that he might have cut himself accidentally, ignored a tiny scratch which the developed into a sepsis or other of such nature.

Ironically the low born were in better position as many healers in the rural regions and country side knew the natural medications and herbs better than the official doctors in many cases. For example, the resin of the spruces and pines is antibacterial and now it is sold as purified ointment in pharmacies in Finland. My grand father used it for my wound when I cut my self with a knife when I was a kid and it worked even during the hottest summer. No infection at all.

Unfortunately many men and women who knew about the medicines of the nature were seen as witches and suffered for this culminating withe Great Witch Hunt of the 1600's when tens of thousands of mid wives, healers and others were killed as witches.

Viola said...

This is very interesting, Kathryn. I actually exchanged a book for an old Penguin copy of this at the Greenwich railway station and I will be reading it again soon. It is great to have more information about the historical characters. I can certainly understand why this is your favourite book. I have always loved it too.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Viola! Yes, it's a wonderful novel.

Sami, as far as I know, Cornish didn't die out as a native language until as late as the 18th century.