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Sir Richard's Cap: A Tale of the Tamar

Wednesday April 30th 2008 sees the first performance of Andrew M. Wilson's latest commission for the Tavistock Festival of Music and the Arts, a cantata for adult and children's choirs, soloists, piano and organ, called "Sir Richard's Cap: A Tale of the Tamar". The text is by Prof. Liam Snow who also wrote the words for two other Wilson Cantatas: "The Tavistock Witch" (2003) and "Grendel's End" (2006).

Andrew worked on the score throughout the summer of 2007 and is pictured, left, completing the work on July 31st in Sir Richard's Chapel at Cotehele

This beautiful little building (see below) was constructed in the grounds of Cotehele, overlooking the River Tamar, on the very spot where Sir Richard made his escape in 1483.


Sir Richard Edgecombe

The Edgcumbe family, lords of the manor of Edgcumbe in Cornwall, took possession of Cotehele House on the steep west bank of the river Tamar, in 1353, and it was there that Richard was born about 1443. He was the eldest son of Piers Edgcumbe and of Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Holland.  He was MP for Tavistock in 1467 and escheator of Cornwall.


Horrified by Richard of Gloucester’s usurpation of the throne in 1483 and the rumours of the murder of Edward V and his brother in the Tower of London, Richard Edgcumbe bravely joined the rebellion led by the Duke of Buckingham to dethrone Richard III and replace him with Henry Tudor.  When this collapsed and Henry’s ships fled from Plymouth Sound without effecting a landing, Edgcumbe’s arrest was ordered and a troop of soldiers, commanded by the  notoriously brutal Sir Henry Trenowth of Bodrugan, were sent to arrest him. He hid himself on the wooded hillside of his Tamarside home, Cotehele, and , when his hiding-place was discovered, he threw his pursuers off the scent by filling his cap with stones and throwing it into the river, fooling his pursuers into thinking he had fallen in and drowned, and thus escaping a fairly certain death.  His escape led him to Brittany, where he joined Henry Tudor, then preparing his campaign to win the crown. Returning to England with Henry, he fought with distinction and valour at the decisive battle of Bosworth and was knighted, by the king, on the field. His own celebration took the form of the erection of a chapel on the site of his hideout of two years before.  Henry VII granted him Totnes Castle and its lordship. After the victory of Bosworth, he became a significant national figure and one of the first in a long line of sturdy supporters of the Tudor dynasty from his family.


He held important offices in the new reign: MP for Tavistock once again in 1485, Privy Councillor, Chamberlain of the Exchequer, Comptroller of the Royal Household,  Sheriff of Devonshire, 1487 and Ambassador to Scotland. He carried out a number of important assignments for his master Henry VII, including the administering of the oaths of allegiance in Ireland in 1488. During his last mission, a diplomatic one, to negotiate a truce with Anne, duchess of Brittany, he died at Morlaix on September 8th 1489, where he was buried. His tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution but an oil painting of it hangs in the Chapel at Cotehele and a copy of this in Tavistock Town Hall.


He married into another famous local family, the Tremaynes of Collacombe. With his wife Joan Tremayne (c.1449-c.1492) he fathered five children: Piers (1472-1539), Anne, Jane, Elizabeth and Margaret (1481-1520), who became the wife of Sir William Courtenay in 1502. After Sir Richard’s death Joan Edgcumbe married again, becoming the wife of Oliver Kelly of Kelly.