The Ancient Ceremony at Knightlow

It was an icy cold November morning at 6:45 AM on the 11th, and twenty six men; twenty five representing their respective villages, the other being Sir Hugo Townsend, Duke of Knightlow, stood around a stone square in the middle of a misty field, waiting for the action to happen.

They were here for the annual Wroth Silver Ceremony; since 1210, twenty five representatives of twenty five villages in the Hundred of Knightlow plus the Duke of the Hundred gathered round what remained of the ancient Knightlow Cross in order to pay annual tax to the Hundred’s current owner, the Duke of Glasgow, who’s predecessor had won the Hundred from the then Duke of Knightlow in the 13th Century.

Nothing so far had stopped the ceremony from taking place, the ceremony still took place during both world wars, and so the COVID-19 pandemic would also not deter the villagers, even if the two Dukes were technically in the vulnerable category. The only difference this year was that everyone was two metres apart and, due to the lockdown, the usual fry up at a local pub was off the cards, and so they were going to have banana bread and talk to each other over zoom in their respective homes.

Traditionally, the Duke of Glasgow always arrived late, meaning that the twenty five villagers and the Duke of Knightlow had to stand around the square in the cold for quite a while before the ceremony actually began, with nothing but small talk to keep them company.

Despite the chill, most of the villagers were cheerful, as Joe Biden winning the 2020 US Election despite some hiccups during the debating process offered a glimmer of hope in an increasingly dreary world.

The only man who was not feeling too cheerful was Sir Hugo, who believed that Donald Trump would be the guiding light for Brexit Britain, going so far as to get a giant inflatable Donald for his Brexit party back in February; almost a lifetime ago. That plus that fact that he believed it should be he getting all the Wroth Silver tax instead of some random man from Scotland had put him in a particularly sour mood.

“Did anyone see the election results?” Jeff Williams from Little Walton asked the others in order to break the silence.

“Well, I’m sure you’d have to have been living under a rock in order to not know the result by now. It’s been three days,” replied Thomas Addington from Whitley.

“Yeah, I know, but, still great though innit?” Jeff asked. “The world’s slowly going back to normal.”

“To be honest I’m slightly disappointed that he’s a “Democrat”, but I suppose it’s good to have someone somewhat credible back in the White House”, chimed in Edward Wilson from Marton; a former Tory MP from the Thatcher era.

“Yes, well, at least things finally seem to be looking up for the world,” added the Rev. Simon Abernathy from Lower Strangling, “Jacinda Ardern has won a majority in New Zealand, Joe Biden has claimed the White House, and Pfizer and BioNTech seem to have created a COVID-19 vaccine that’s not just 90% affective, but also not a suppository.”

“Huh?” the other villagers responded in unison, having no knowledge of the Vicar’s dream the previous month.1

Sir Hugo sighed exasperatedly, already starting to get fed up of having people he couldn’t care less about talking about his hopes and dreams being crushed in front of him with glee.

“Can we stop talking about this, please?” He asked urgently.

“Oh, right, yes. Of course”, said Simon, having registered the time on his watch. “Alasdair and Angus should be with us soon enough, so shall I start us off with a quick prayer?”

The others mumbled in agreement, some of them were not particularly religious but had decided to humour the Vicar since he started representing Lower Strangling in 1990.

“Ok, then,” said Simon before he cleared he throat, closed his eyes and bowed his head in prayer. The others did the same, mainly because they would stick out like a sore thumb if they didn’t.

Simon began to pray, “heavenly father, once again we congregate around this ancient cross for this ancient ceremony. We pray for your protection during this precious moment, again with regards to the weather. We thank you for the opportunity to gather together on this cold November morning which should actually be colder but isn’t due to Climate Change every year, and we pray for Angus McDougal and that he will have a safe journey down here from his native Dumfries, Amen.”

The others mumbled amen in unison, but Simon wasn’t done yet, after all, November 11th was famous for another reason as well.

“Lord,” continued the Vicar, “on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent. And just over five hours earlier at forty five minutes past the sixth hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, twenty five villagers and one Duke gathered around this ancient cross for the 708th time, not disturbed by the war in Europe. Like the soldiers who gave their lives in that terrible war, we pray for the villagers who have gone before and pray for the villagers who will come after, amen.”

The other villagers muttered “amen”, and then sighed with relief that the long prayer had finally finished.

They then stood round the cross in silence once more; the Duke had not arrived yet.

But then, “alright, boys”, said a strong Glaswegian accent. The villagers turned to face the direction of the voice. A man with short brown hair of average height in his early forties wearing a wax jacket, flat cap and boots walked up to the villagers; Alasdair Brothaigh, the Duke of Glasgow’s land agent had arrived.

The villagers and Hugo sighed with relief, the ceremony could finally start and soon they could go home to the warm.

“Ok, guys. It’s that time of year again ain’t it?” Alasdair asked the twenty six men. The others agreed in unison.

“Right, do you all have your Wroth Silver?” the land agent asked the villagers. Once again the villagers agreed.

“Great, so we won’t have to bring out the bull this year then?” Alastair enquired, in reference to the legendry red nosed white bull that whoever refused to pay the Duke their silver would have to fight. The villagers replied to Alasdair’s remark, before laughing awkwardly.

“Ok, then, without further a due, please welcome the Duke of Glasgow Angus Mcdougal,” Alasdair announced before moving off to the side. The villagers clapped as a tall man in his late seventies with wispy long white hair and a white beard. He looked exactly as you’d expect a Scottish person to look, complete with a kilt and sporran, despite the fact it was freezing cold.

“Alright, you wee bastards, give me your money,” Angus declared. The villagers placed their coins into the deep cavern of the cross in front of them.

Eventually, only Hugo remained. He stared into the dark abyss. He always found the Wroth Silver Ceremony humiliating.

“Come on, Hugo”, Angus said, “the sooner you place the silver in the cross, the sooner we can all go home.”

“Ok, ok, I’ll do it in a moment,” Hugo responded, “I’m just examining the pile of silver first”.

“Hugo, just place the bloody money into the cross, we’re all freezing here waiting for you,” Alasdair said, trying to usher the Duke of Knightlow on.

Hugo sighed for a moment. One day he’ll be brave enough to defy the Duke of Glasgow, but today was not that day. He placed his silver into the cross.

“Great. Well, that’s done then,” said Alasdair, “See you later over zoom.”

With that, the Knightlow congregation left the stone cross and went back to their cars and drove back to their villages, until the next time.

Find out about the Wroth Silver Ceremony here: https://www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/wroth-silver-ceremony-knightlow-cross#:~:text=A%20very%20ancient%20ceremony%20takes%20place%20each%20year,then%20retire%20to%20a%20local%20inn%20for%20breakfast.

1.See the Vicar’s Meditation.

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