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On Exham Priory: Work Notes for an Elizabethan CoC Supplement


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#1 JeffErwin

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Posted 11 May 2016 - 05:41 AM

This is a working set of notes for my Elizabethan CoC book; there is no game-specific information so I figured I'd divulge what I have. The present day of the Elizabethan flavour is 1592.
 
Exham and the Cult of Cybele
 
The location of Exham Priory, the seat of the sinister Barons de La Poer in Lovecraft’s ‘The Rats in the Walls’, is unclear. It stands 3 miles west of a village named Anchester, in an area of limestone valleys and hills. Legends of one of the Poer consorts haunt the Welsh borders, which suggests that the Priory stands in reasonable proximity.
 
Beside Lovecraft’s statement to Frank Belknap Long that Exham lay in the ‘south of Britain’ we have several clues from the post-Lovecraft mythos in the works of Ramsey Campbell. MacIntyre’s ‘The Adventure of Exham Priory’ (2003) placed the Priory in Shropshire, but this contradicts the Campbell oeuvre, which has some fairly specific clues.
 
According to Campbell, Exham is a village beyond Goatswood on the railway to London (this being in a story set in 1961, before the great upheavels of the later 1960s and reconfiguration of the railroads in Britain). As Goatswood stands between Uley and Nympsfield, this places Exham roughly around Tetbury, where there was – before 1963 – a rail spur that connected with the main line at Kemble. Notably, Tetbury, like Campbell’s Exham, is a village well known for second-hand and antique shops.
 
The name ‘Exham’ perhaps comes from the Celtic Isca-, ‘water’, though the possibility of the Germanic ‘hex’, witchcraft, cannot be rejected. Certainly the ambigiously named Wychwood once stretched east from Oxfordshire towards the Cotswolds, though name now applies only to a region on the western side of Oxfordshire since the Middle Ages.
 
Sentinel Hill stands outside Exham in ‘The Sentinels’ (Campbell, 1973); it features a configuration of megalithic stones. An identically named hill appears near Dunwich, of course, in the hills of Massachusetts.
 
A leading family of Elizabethan Tetbury is the Stephens family (formerly of Eastington [Clotton in the Campbell mythos], now headed by Richard Stephens, a Puritan lawyer. His son Nathaniel will be one of the ‘regicides’ of the trial of Charles I and a local legend holds that each Stephens heir is fetched on death by a headless coachman to join their ancestor in Hell. The Stephens seized Beverston during the Civil War for Parliament, and no doubt did the same to the abandoned hulk of Exham Priory.
 
Another interesting house in the area is Calcot manor, which possesses a secret underground tunnel and is built on the site of a Roman villa. The tunnel dates to the period that it was a tithe barn of Kingswood Abbey. The manor in 1592 belongs to Sir Thomas Parry, the Elizabethan diplomat, but he leases it to tenants. In 1598 it was purchased by Thomas Estcourt of Newington Bagpath.
 
Lovecraft’s Anchester – apparently the larger town in the 1920s – is probably an old Roman settlement on the Fosse Way, a satellite of Corinium or Cirencester to the northeast, perhaps around Crudwell in Wiltshire. In 1743 Tetbury became the main southwestern route when a new turnpike was laid out, supplanting the Fosse Way, but until then it was off the beaten path.
 
Beverstone, constructed in c.1225 by Maurice de Gaunt and which came to a branch of the Berkeleys by the early 14th century, though it is situated on flat ground, is approximately the real-world incarnation of Exham Priory or its closest fortified neighbour. By the end of the 16th century it belonged to the London merchant Sir Michael Hicks (whose mother Juliana is the landlady of a number of the London satirists and playwrights in 1592). The last Berkeley lord of Beverstone, after disposing of his estate to Hicks in 1597, emigrated to Virginia in 1621, dying there in 1622 in an attack by Powhatan Indians. His five sisters survived him; two of his sisters married clergymen (Jasper Merricke and Thomas Symonds) while his sister Jone Berkeley died in Brussels as a Catholic nun. John Berkeley of Beverstone’s uncle was Sir Thomas Heneage and his cousin was Sir Edward Dyer, the alchemist, poet, and friend of John Dee and Edward Kelly.
 
Not far off is the mound of the old Norman motte called Lasborough.
 
According to Lovecraft, unlike most of the ‘Priory’ houses in England, this building was an Anglo-Saxon monastery seized after the Conquest by the De La Poer family, no doubt (in fictive history) descended from the Vicomtes de Poher in Brittany, descended from the infamous Bluebeard or Comorre of the 6th century, and a certain Ranulf le Poer, sheriff of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire in the reign of Henry II, slain fighting the Welsh in 1182, or his kinsman William le Poer, a landowner of Gloucestershire around the same date. In c.1220-7 we find a Walter le Poer as a justice in Gloucestershire. In 1260 a Walter le Poer was lord of Colesbourne, about 8 miles NNE of Tetbury. The Poers of Gloucestershire seem to have died out by the 14th century, in our world, at any rate.
 

Historically, the sole English gentle Power or Poure family that survived into the 1600s were in fact neighbours of the Norreys family at Bletchingdon and Hampton Gay, Oxfordshire. A Captain Norris, notably, did live (before his untimely end) near the Priory in Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls.
Lovecraft may have been inspired by the settlement of Lord de La Warr and his brothers Francis and John at Jamestown in 1610. In 1546 the nephew and heir of the Lord de La Warr attempted to poison his uncle and was disinherited before being pardoned and reinstated in 1557 after Elizabeth’s accession.
 
The name of Poer in Lovecraft’s tale is probably derived from a 19th century legend about the origin of Edgar Allan Poe’s surname as being a version of the ‘Norman’ name of Le Poer.
 
 
The Oxfordshire Poure or Power family was Catholic with connexions to Recusant conspirators by marriage, that is Gilbert Gifford, the Verney and Catesby families, Anthony Babington and Chidiock Tichborne. The sorcerer John Prestall was married to Isabel Catesby, step-sister of Francis Power (d.1619)’s brother in law Urian Verney. Urian’s nephew is the renegado (convert to Islam) the pirate Sir Francis Verney.
 
The arms of Poure in Oxfordshire were: 1 & 4 Barry nebuly of six Argent and Sable a bend Or [D’Amory]; 2. Argent a chief indented Sable [Power of Ireland]; 3. Argen two bars Gules within a bordure engrailed [Cottesford].

 
 
The Cult
 
Cybele casts rather a larger shadow in the 16th century than one might think, being in regular use as in Renaissance iconography and literature, though there is little evidence that she was worshipped in secret grottoes. Cybele or Magna Mater was identified with Rhea, consort of Saturn or Cronos by the Romans and in the Classicising air of the late Renaissance she was seen as an archetype of the primeval goddess and symbol of widowhood and the lost Golden Age.
 
Catherine de Medicis used the imagery of Cybele as a widow-goddess and Gallic queen-dowager (cf. the pun between Gallus, cock, and gallos, castrated priest of Cybele) in her official propaganda. The Pleiade (Ronsard et al.) explored this theme at length. The Galli were indentified with the Galloi and the Phrygians, the Asiatic descendants of Troy; Catherine’s son Charles was to be understood as Cybele’s divine son. Ronsard in the Franciade (1572) tied Atys and Cybele to the month of April, celebrated immemorially by the Gauls as the spring festival.
 
Significantly, one etymology of ‘de La Poer’ was as ‘puer’, youth, young man, like the Celtic Maponos, son of Matrona.
 
John Donne compared Catholic celibate priests - particularly the Jesuits who venerate the Virgin - to the galloi.
 
Spenser compared the turreted crown of Cybele to the walls and towers of London in the Faerie Queene.
 
Cybele, despite her origin in Asia Minor was an extraordinarily popular deity in the Empire (for an import not directly connected with the state religion), specifically in Gallic and Celtic areas. Interestingly, also, Jewish legend seems to connect the mountains of Asia Minor to Lilith and her sisters, particularly as consort of Azazel/Satan, who is conflated in Hebrew mythology with Saturn; Cybele/Magna Mater was identified with Rhea by the Romans. In other words, Lovecraft's two cults of ‘The Terror at Red Hook’ and ‘The Rats in the Walls’ have a tenuous common thread.
 
Nor should we ignore that the Cybele-Attis legend was, in the 1920s, connected to the Graal legend (which contains, of course, one or more castrated kings), by Jessie Weston in her From Ritual to Romance.




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#2 deuce

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 05:30 AM

Excellent work, Mr. Erwin. B)

 

I find little to argue (considering your parameters). I vote for "Isca"/"water" as the root of the name.



#3 JeffErwin

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 04:55 AM

Excellent work, Mr. Erwin. B)

 

I find little to argue (considering your parameters). I vote for "Isca"/"water" as the root of the name.

 

Thanks, deuce.



#4 Taavi

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Posted 20 May 2016 - 11:40 PM

I took a slightly different angle. Exham is clearly on the river Exe, which is the name-root of Exmoor, Exwick, Exbridge, Exeter, etc. The old form of the name Exeter was Esc-anceaster, hence Anchester. This places Exham in Devon, bordering on Cornwall, which makes sense if they were intermarrying with Cornish nobility.

I rather like having Exham in Devon because it lets me tie in the folk tradition of 'The hunting of the Earl of Rone' in Combe Martin on Exmoor, which commemorates the flight of the Earl of Tyrone under suspicious circumstances - the Earldom of Tyrone being a title that in fact incorporated the Barony of Power, or Poer :-) The Barons Power of Waterford in Ireland were Anglo-normans originally settled in Devon by Will the Conquerer before moving to Ireland in later conquests. In the 1660s a Walter Power (Lovecraft has Walter delapore) moved to Massachussetts, and another branch moved to Virginia. The family graveyard Walter established has some notoriety as being desecrated, which could have attracted HPLs attention.


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#5 JeffErwin

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Posted 21 May 2016 - 04:18 AM

I took a slightly different angle. Exham is clearly on the river Exe, which is the name-root of Exmoor, Exwick, Exbridge, Exeter, etc. The old form of the name Exeter was Esc-anceaster, hence Anchester. This places Exham in Devon, bordering on Cornwall, which makes sense if they were intermarrying with Cornish nobility.

I rather like having Exham in Devon because it lets me tie in the folk tradition of 'The hunting of the Earl of Rone' in Combe Martin on Exmoor, which commemorates the flight of the Earl of Tyrone under suspicious circumstances - the Earldom of Tyrone being a title that in fact incorporated the Barony of Power, or Poer :-) The Barons Power of Waterford in Ireland were Anglo-normans originally settled in Devon by Will the Conquerer before moving to Ireland in later conquests. In the 1660s a Walter Power (Lovecraft has Walter delapore) moved to Massachussetts, and another branch moved to Virginia. The family graveyard Walter established has some notoriety as being desecrated, which could have attracted HPLs attention.

 

 

A few comments...

 

The Marquessate and Earldom of Tyrone were titles granted to the De La Poer Beresford family though they had no connection to that part of Ireland. The Le Poer estate was in Co. Wexford.

 

Exe or Isca is an ancient Celtic root word meaning "water" (Uisg in Irish). The river Usk in Wales and the Esk in Scotland are from the same root (as is the word whiskey); these sorts of etymologies will be common throughout northern and western Britain. The main Devon branch of the Le Poers died out in the 15th century so far as I know. In any case, they were closely related to the Gloucestershire family.

 

My main criteria however was in making it work with the references in Campbell... As any sort of synthesis of British Mythos stories really centers on his work. So I did consider Devon but ended up going with Campbell's details so it was consistent.



#6 deuce

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Posted 21 May 2016 - 05:15 AM

I took a slightly different angle. Exham is clearly on the river Exe, which is the name-root of Exmoor, Exwick, Exbridge, Exeter, etc. The old form of the name Exeter was Esc-anceaster, hence Anchester. This places Exham in Devon, bordering on Cornwall, which makes sense if they were intermarrying with Cornish nobility.

I rather like having Exham in Devon because it lets me tie in the folk tradition of 'The hunting of the Earl of Rone' in Combe Martin on Exmoor, which commemorates the flight of the Earl of Tyrone under suspicious circumstances - the Earldom of Tyrone being a title that in fact incorporated the Barony of Power, or Poer :-) The Barons Power of Waterford in Ireland were Anglo-normans originally settled in Devon by Will the Conquerer before moving to Ireland in later conquests. In the 1660s a Walter Power (Lovecraft has Walter delapore) moved to Massachussetts, and another branch moved to Virginia. The family graveyard Walter established has some notoriety as being desecrated, which could have attracted HPLs attention.

 

Isn't it so true that the "Power" kept those peasants down? Way down. Shouldn't we first distinguish who are the colonizers and colonized, and the "white" and "non-white" in this situation? I'm not sure how that sorts out between Romans (and other Mediterraneans) and Britons and Saxons (and Howard's Picts), but deconstructing the situation would be instructive (though problematic) in an intersectional way, I'm sure.  :)

 

Exactly where does HPL say/imply that Exham is on the River Exe or that the story takes place anywhere on the Cornish peninsula? I don't see how any of the internal geographical/cultural evidence points to that conclusion.

 

If we throw out Mr. Erwin's theorem, then the strongest position defaults back to Haden's Hexham/Exham correlation:

 

http://www.yog-sotho...-16#entry314342

 

Personally, I rather like Jeff's use of the Campbell texts and believe it works best overall.  :D



#7 Taavi

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Posted 21 May 2016 - 12:33 PM

Exactly where does HPL say/imply that Exham is on the River Exe or that the story takes place anywhere on the Cornish peninsula? I don't see how any of the internal geographical/cultural evidence points to that conclusion.

 

If we throw out Mr. Erwin's theorem, then the strongest position defaults back to Haden's Hexham/Exham correlation:

 

http://www.yog-sotho...-16#entry314342

 

Personally, I rather like Jeff's use of the Campbell texts and believe it works best overall.   :D

 

Well, "Exham" means "village (ham, hamlet) on the Ex" so putting Exham somewhere near the river Exe seems pretty logical to me. And the story says that a Baron Exham married a Lady Margaret Trevor from Cornwall, and since they weren't much for attending London society, they are more likely to have met and intermarried the nobility of nearby areas.

You're free to like what you like. I just find the hunting of the earl too delicious to pass over. Thanks to the link to Haden, interesting stuff.


Edited by Taavi, 21 May 2016 - 12:51 PM.

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#8 JeffErwin

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Posted 27 May 2016 - 07:24 PM

Well, "Exham" means "village (ham, hamlet) on the Ex" so putting Exham somewhere near the river Exe seems pretty logical to me. And the story says that a Baron Exham married a Lady Margaret Trevor from Cornwall, and since they weren't much for attending London society, they are more likely to have met and intermarried the nobility of nearby areas.

You're free to like what you like. I just find the hunting of the earl too delicious to pass over. Thanks to the link to Haden, interesting stuff.

 

 

The trouble with the Trevor family is the only one of note is the Trefor or Trevor family of note in the late Middle Ages would have been the family of Denbighshire. That plus the reference to the Welsh borders does suggest an area in the Severn Valley, or in Shropshire, as MacIntyre supposed. Aristocratic marriages were frequently over some distance, so this may be no matter.



#9 JeffErwin

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Posted 28 June 2016 - 05:36 AM

I'm trying to determine if the ape-like humans living under the Priory - the products of centuries of devolution and cannibalism - are properly simply ghouls. Thoughts?



#10 SunlessNick

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Posted 04 July 2016 - 10:25 PM

I'm trying to determine if the ape-like humans living under the Priory - the products of centuries of devolution and cannibalism - are properly simply ghouls. Thoughts?

No reason why they couldn't be.  Maybe trade the dog imagery for rat.



#11 Travern

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Posted 04 July 2016 - 11:40 PM

For seasoned CoC players, ghouls may be a bit too predictable when it comes to perpetrators of underground anthropophagy, to such an extent they may be better as red herrings.  Staying close to HPL's obsession with degeneracy/devolution, especially in subterranean environments, presents an opportunity for an unfamiliar danger in preliminary stages of an Exham Priory investigation - Eoanthropus exhami, the hideous quadruped ape-men.

 

Incidentally, as the Lovecraftian Science blog has begun a series on the Martense Family, some elements of "The Lurking Fear" could be used to flesh out (so to speak) unspeakable practices below the earth.



#12 Taavi

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Posted 07 July 2016 - 12:52 PM

Ghouls are predators, and the things below are obviously prey.


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#13 WinstonP

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Posted 07 July 2016 - 04:05 PM

Ghouls are predators, and the things below are obviously prey.


Don't ghouls act more like carrion scavengers? If they're hunting food, you'd think Boston would run out of people quickly.
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#14 Nick Storm

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Posted 07 July 2016 - 06:21 PM

Yeah, I dunno if we can assign actual biological terms such as 'predator' to such creatures. Ghouls almost exclusively consume the dead, and more than not -the 'riper' corpses that are sufficiently aged. I think they would certainly kill or maim a living human but not so much for food, even preferring the buried dead as their 'go-to larder'. I picture a ghoul taking a bite from the shoulder or mid section of a live human or one prone,bleeding and only freshly expired...swallowing, and then almost throwing up due to the abhorred 'freshness' of the meat.

 

Now the de la Poers? Were they aristocratic ghouls? Were they ghouls at all? I must admit, I like the de-evolution of the human cattle below the priory theory instead of the 'ghoul theory', myself.


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#15 Travern

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Posted 07 July 2016 - 11:08 PM

Now the de la Poers? Were they aristocratic ghouls? Were they ghouls at all? I must admit, I like the de-evolution of the human cattle below the priory theory instead of the 'ghoul theory', myself.

 

Fitting the de la Poers into an established Mythos role is difficult, given how early "The Rats in the Walls" occurs in HPL's career.  Thematically, they have more in common with the old man from "The Picture in the House" than the fully-realised creatures of the later stories "Pickman's Model" and "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath".  (As an interesting aside, when Lovecraft wrote that Randolph Delapore "went among the negroes and became a voodoo priest", he probably had in mind the contemporary lurid reports of voodoo cannibalism that were coming out of Haiti during the US occupation.)  The de la Poers as quasi-sorcerous cannibal-cultists can be presented as human and still be terrifying antagonists for investigators as they dig into the pre-Druidic foundations of Exham Priory.  The final revelation at the bottom of it all is trickier, especially since the story's climax is more Poesque than Lovecraftian - the horrors are ambiguously mental rather than undeniably physical.

 

In any case, while Shub-Niggurath is an easy match for a fertility goddess like the Magna Mater, the "white-bearded daemon swineherd" of the narrator's nightmares could be still another avatar of Nyarlathotep.



#16 JeffErwin

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Posted 08 July 2016 - 03:42 AM

Fitting the de la Poers into an established Mythos role is difficult, given how early "The Rats in the Walls" occurs in HPL's career.  Thematically, they have more in common with the old man from "The Picture in the House" than the fully-realised creatures of the later stories "Pickman's Model" and "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath".  (As an interesting aside, when Lovecraft wrote that Randolph Delapore "went among the negroes and became a voodoo priest", he probably had in mind the contemporary lurid reports of voodoo cannibalism that were coming out of Haiti during the US occupation.)  The de la Poers as quasi-sorcerous cannibal-cultists can be presented as human and still be terrifying antagonists for investigators as they dig into the pre-Druidic foundations of Exham Priory.  The final revelation at the bottom of it all is trickier, especially since the story's climax is more Poesque than Lovecraftian - the horrors are ambiguously mental rather than undeniably physical.

 

In any case, while Shub-Niggurath is an easy match for a fertility goddess like the Magna Mater, the "white-bearded daemon swineherd" of the narrator's nightmares could be still another avatar of Nyarlathotep.

 

 

It seems likely that Nyarlathotep is at the root of it, like the mediaeval Devil imprisoned (literally) beneath the Earth. Of course Magna Mater is chiefly transgressive (even in her heyday) because she's the widow/partner-less "Great Goddess". The Romans associated her with Rhea, consort of Saturn/Kronos, the emasculated god of the Golden Age, in a probable parallel to her Galloi or eunuch priests. There's a fair bit of S-N apocrypha that has come from Delta Green that connects her to the castrated Skopsi of Russia. Of course, Nyarlathotep is not a jealous god and seems to encourage worship of other entities alongside him. Incidentally, reports of cannibalism in the 1580-90s in Ireland were much talked about in England and the Caribs were still unconquered in the West Indies.

 

Cybele is the "God of the Mountain" (her name is cognate with Gebel or Jebel, mountain in Semitic languages). In Sicily she was associated with Persephone or Proserpina, and hence she with Ceres or Gaea. I'd note that Jessie Weston in 1920 associated Attis and Cybele/Magna Mater with the Grail Cult and King Arthur. The Grail legend contains a repeated motif of emasculation or castration and of course the foundations of Exham itself link the British druids to Magna Mater. There is certainly some fun to be had incorporating her ideas into re-envisionings of the story.



#17 Travern

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Posted 08 July 2016 - 02:20 PM

The Romans associated her with Rhea, consort of Saturn/Kronos, the emasculated god of the Golden Age, in a probable parallel to her Galloi or eunuch priests.

 

As a bonus for HPL's story, there's the link between Kronos and cannibalism (and HPL was fairly preoccupied with the theme of elders consuming the young, literally or metaphorically).



#18 JeffErwin

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Posted 08 July 2016 - 05:59 PM

As a bonus for HPL's story, there's the link between Kronos and cannibalism (and HPL was fairly preoccupied with the theme of elders consuming the young, literally or metaphorically).

 

 

 Indeed, as Kronos as in fact a Titan, rather than a God, he could be interpreted as a pre-human deity. He is, however, a sky god, not the god of caves - the chthonic cave of Zeus' birth is the womb of Rhea ("ground")/Gaea ("earth'), his mother. In "The Mound" Shub-Niggurath is connected to Astarte, who is also connected to Cybele. In "Out of the Aeons", she is said to be a less-hostile or at least appeasable god, opposed to Ghatanothoa, a god wholly hostile to humankind.

 

It would be interesting to interpret her cult as opposed to Gods devoted to extinction and destruction as incompatible with life and generation (however monstrous it might be). Hence one could create a story of war between her cult and even more nihilistic beings.



#19 Necrothesp

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Posted 29 July 2016 - 10:22 AM

The trouble with the Trevor family is the only one of note is the Trefor or Trevor family of note in the late Middle Ages would have been the family of Denbighshire. That plus the reference to the Welsh borders does suggest an area in the Severn Valley, or in Shropshire, as MacIntyre supposed. Aristocratic marriages were frequently over some distance, so this may be no matter.

 

Lovecraft, of course, uses the Trevor name in connection with Cornwall twice. Trevor Towers is King Kuranes' ancestral home in Cornwall, which suggests he too is either a Trevor or closely related. So he clearly fully intended them to be a Cornish family.


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#20 JeffErwin

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Posted 29 July 2016 - 04:26 PM

Lovecraft, of course, uses the Trevor name in connection with Cornwall twice. Trevor Towers is King Kuranes' ancestral home in Cornwall, which suggests he too is either a Trevor or closely related. So he clearly fully intended them to be a Cornish family.

 

 Huh. That's interesting. It is... potentially, a spelling of Trevear, "big farm". It does little damage to my theories, however. I have some notes on Cornwall begun and I'll have to identify Trevear/Trevor (there's more than one). There's a Trethewy of Trevear family in the Visitation of Cornwall - which I'm related to.

 

Anyway, the spelling "Trevor" is unknown in Cornwall in the Middle Ages/Renaissance, when it would have been spelt Trevear.

 

However, "Trevor Towers" is no doubt the same place in Lovecraft's universe, and suggests a small castle. Given the meaning of the word, it could be found anywhere west of the Tamar, but presumably is on the coast.