It was a morning like no other in Exeter history. On November 9, 1283, a man dressed in white robes was set upon by a mob within a short distance from the still yet uncompleted Exeter Cathedral.
The attack occurred on what is now Bear Street, where an area of Exeter Cathedral School now stands.
But this was no random medieval assault. The assailants knew exactly what they were doing. Their victim was Walter Lechlade, the precentor of the cathedral and his attackers were fierce: soon Lechlade was dead.
Trouble had been brewing for some time because there had long been a feud between the city’s guilds and the growing cathedral over who held the balance of power in the city.
Following his death, 21 people including the dean, John Pycot, and the city’s mayor, Alured de Porta, were ultimately charged with involvement in the conspiracy.
King Edward I himself came to oversee the trial which took place in the Great Hall of Exeter Castle during December 1285. Five men were executed, including the mayor.
Pycot himself, though thought to be guilty, took full advantage of his right to be punished by the church authorities rather than the secular ones. The church authorities proved incredibly lenient.
If Pycot did have any role in planning the murder on the Cathedral Green on that fateful autumn day in 1283, he largely got away with it.
The tale is just one of many told in new book A-Z of Exeter – Places, People and History, written by Chris Hallam, which tells of the endlessly fascinating and compelling history of Exeter which include 2,000 years of castles, cathedrals and civil war, sieges, students and shopping centres, witches, walls and world wars.
In the city bombs have fallen, battles have been fought, and houses have moved. It is a story which still has a long way left to run.
In the book, it also reveals the number of Queens who have had associations with Exeter.
Author Chris explained: “The Tudors had little to do with Exeter. Interestingly, however, Catherine of Aragon stayed in the city for a few days en route from Spain to marry Arthur, the Prince of Wales in 1501.
“Disturbed by a persistent noise during a stormy night, an offending creaky weathervane had to be removed from St Mary Major Church during her stay. The same man had to do the same dangerous climb to reinstate the vane after the Spanish princess left Exeter.
“Catherine’s domestic life was to prove less easy to fix however: Prince Arthur died five months after the marriage and Catherine married his brother Henry instead. In 1509, he succeeded to the throne, becoming King Henry VIII.
“Henry’s second daughter, Elizabeth I, never actually visited Exeter but was nevertheless grateful to the city for its role in helping defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. ‘All my best men come from Devon,’ she once said and recommended the motto Semper Fidelis (ever faithful) for the city, a slogan which wore slightly thin after Exeter switched sides several times during the English Civil War, in the next century.
“Surprisingly, Queen Victoria never made an official visit to Exeter during her entire reign from 1837 to 1901. She did visit several times unofficially as both princess and queen, however.
“In particular, she and Albert were greeted warmly with three bouquets of flowers after being forced an unscheduled stop in Exeter, after a bout of seasickness led her to abandon a trip to Plymouth.
“The year 1956, saw her first formal visit to Exeter as Queen: indeed, it was the first ever formal Royal visit to Exeter by any reigning Queen. She returned to the city in her silver jubilee year of 1977, and again in 1979, when she left by plane from Exeter Airport.
“Her next visit in 1983, was notable for incorporating the traditional distribution of Maundy Thursday gifts in a ceremony, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Exeter Cathedral.
“The Queen returned to the city for her Golden Jubilee year of 2002 and in her diamond jubilee year of 2012. Other royals such as Princess Anne, Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, have also visited on a number of occasions.”
When it comes to heroes and villains, a celebrated figure in Exeter is General Redvers Buller.
“The Royal Albert Memorial Museum was, of course, named in honour of Prince Albert who died in 1861. There is also a statue of the Queen in Queen Street, a street opened in 1839, two years’ after Victoria ascended to the throne.
“Under Queen Elizabeth II, Exeter has enjoyed more royal visits than ever, all thankfully much more peaceful. As Princess Elizabeth, she toured some wartime army barracks in 1944 and returned to visit the rebuilding of the bombed city centre in 1949. She was the ‘princess’ which Princesshay is named after.
A statue of the old soldier on horseback takes pride of place is by Bury Meadow, exactly where the roads divide. Hele Road leads down to St David’s Station while New North Road leads to Crediton which was Buller’s birthplace.
Chris said: “Born to a very wealthy and distinguished local family, the positive aspect of Buller’s reputation is based almost entirely on the events of one single day. In one day of spectacular heroism, performed as a young lieutenant during the rapid retreat from lnhlobana at the height of the Zulu Wars in 1879.
“Buller rescued wounded and vulnerable men in three separate incidents while on horseback at the height of the Zulu pursuit. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.
“Buller’s later career as a general during the 1899-1902 Boer War is remembered less favourably now. The ageing Buller had only accepted the call to command again reluctantly but ended up being retired on half pay after military confrontations at Coleno and Spion Kop ended badly.
“Buller spent his last years delivering talks to local schools. In retrospect, it is perhaps unsurprising that some have questioned whether Buller deserves to be immortalised as a statue at all.
“At the time, however, many did, however, feel he had been unfairly blamed, perhaps being scapegoated for the failures of others.
“Attitudes to empire and to the upper classes were different in those days. Buller’s family were distinguished locally, and his father had been a 19th century MP. The old soldier clearly still had his fans.
“The statue itself was erected after donations were received from around 50,000 admirers. Unusually, Buller himself was present to attend the ceremony when his own statue was unveiled in 1905: usually such statues only spring up after the subject’s death.”
The A-Z of Exeter – Places, People and History is published by Amberley and is available from all good local bookshops and online retailers.