Revered war poet’s dark family history

Research: Graham Woodward with family memorabilia and his pamphlet about war poet Rupert Brooke, inset.                              Pictures: Steve Parkin.
Research: Graham Woodward with family memorabilia and his pamphlet about war poet Rupert Brooke, inset. Pictures: Steve Parkin.
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A LITERARY detective project completed by a Sheffield man has thrown fascinating new light on the origins of one of Britain’s most revered poets – Rupert Brooke.

Brooke died in 1915 aged just 27 and became one of the most celebrated First World War poets – best known today for the lines, ‘If I should die, think only this of me – that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England’.

But while he has since been the subject of at least two major biographies, Graham Woodward – whose grandmother was a cousin of Brooke – knew some family secrets were still to be revealed.

Graham, of Stalker Lees Road, Sharrow Vale, has just completed a pamphlet which uncovers the truth about one of Brooke’s ancestors – MP Thomas Chaloner.

Graham’s research has shown how Chaloner was at the heart of the trial and subsequent execution of Charles I, sitting as a judge at his trial and later signing the royal death warrant.

After the Restoration, Chaloner was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – but he had already fled to Holland where he remained for the rest of his life.

“I was always aware of my family connection with Rupert Brooke, although I’m not a literary person and I’m not an especial fan of his poetry,” said Graham, aged 65, now retired from a career on the canals.

“But he was clearly extremely gifted and there is still a great deal of interest in his life and works.

“There have been several biographies of his life but none of the information we have about his mother’s side of the family has ever fully emerged.”

The key to the puzzle lies in Brooke’s unusual middle name, Chawner, chosen by his mother Mary and which was said by previous researchers to refer to her proud Puritan past.

Rupert, meanwhile, was the name chosen by his father William in honour of the famous Cavalier general Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Family traditions said the 17th century ancestor Chawner was not only a staunch Parliamentarian but a regicide – a murderer of a king.

Graham’s self-published pamphlet now tells the full story for the first time – revealing that in the 17th century the names Chaloner and Chawner were frequently interchanged.

Graham said: “I am one of the last people in the family who knows the whole story and although Brooke’s biographies are right in their suspicions, I thought it was important to put the record straight. I have been pulling all the pieces together over several years – it has taken a lot of hours of hard work to trace the family line right back but I’m happy to have got to the bottom of it all.”

n Rupert Brooke: The Regicide in the Closet is priced £3 and is available from Ald Print at 279 Sharrow Vale Road.