Monday, December 15, 2014

Vances of the Past: The epitaph of Roland de Vaux of Triermain

The study of gravestone epitaphs is a fascinating offshoot of genealogy, and many of our ancestors have left us some humorous or reflective evidence of their personality in a quiet cemetery.   Rodney Dangerfield is said to have used the line "There goes the neighborhood" on his tombstone, and W.C. Fields himself started the urban legend that his tombstone would read "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia".  Whole books have been written about these and other famous last words passed on by our famous and not-so-famous ancestors.

If you subscribe to the origin story of the Vance surname with the de Vaux families of England and Scotland, then one of our far-away relatives left us one of those messages which is still remembered after more than six hundred years.

While the exact story differs in the histories, it seems that when Hubert de Vaux was granted the barony of Gilsland (in Cumberland near the English border with Scotland) in 1158, he re-gifted the smaller holdings of Triermain and Torcrossock to his second son Ranulf, who in turn passed Triermain on to his own son Roland.  The histories then record of Triermain that "Roland had issue Alexander and he Ranulf after whom succeeded Robert and then they were named Rolands successively that were Lords thereof until" the mid-fifteenth century,

One wall is all that remains today of Triermain Castle
(source:  Peter McDermott, Wikimedia)

The priory of Lanercost which sits about 5 miles from Triermain Castle was founded by Hubert de Vaux's eldest son Robert and for centuries the de Vaux remained important benefactors of the priory.  In the north transept, the oldest tomb of the priory is one of the Roland de Vaux lords from the fourteenth century.  Unfortunately the knight's effigy and tomb decorations are mostly now gone, but an 18th century writer recorded the tomb's details including the following epitaph:

Which translated into modern English becomes:

Sir Roland de Vaux who was once the Lord of Triermain, 
Is dead, his body clothed in lead, and lies low under this stone.  
Even as we are now so was he on earth a living man;
Even as he is now so will we become, for all the craft we can
(i.e. no matter how hard we try).  

Not quite the wit of a Rodney Dangerfield or a W.C. Fields, perhaps, but this reflective message has outlasted the de Vaux nobility of England and Scotland, most of their castles, and even nearly the tomb itself that it was written on.

Several books mention that while the inscription is gone from the tomb itself, it survives in a plaque that was mounted on the wall of the north transept near the tomb at Lanercost Priory.  If anyone visits the priory and can find the plaque, if you can send me a picture (Gmail id davevance01) I'll post it here with my thanks!

Lanercost Priory today
(source:  Peter McDermott, Wikimedia)