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Posted by portugalpress on October 11, 2018
Interior of Santa Ana Chapel, Tavira
Portrait of Sir Edmund Keynton Williams
Santa Ana Chapel

The river in Tavira is strange in that below the Roman Bridge it is known as the Gilão and, above the bridge, it is called the Séqua. On the hill on the northern bank of the Rio Séqua, opposite the bus station, there is a small chapel dedicated to Santa Ana, the mother of the Virgin. This Chapel dates from the time of the conquest of the town in either 1239 or 1242 by knights of the Order of Santiago. It was bought and restored by the Câmara in 1936 and underwent more restoration in 2006.

The main altar is dedicated to Santa Ana and its most notable object is the British grave next to the main altar, on its north-west side. The grave is in the form of a grey-black slab, measuring about 1m x 0.6m. It is a big stone for the small tenant, Henrique Hawker Gamage Williams, a five-month-old baby.

The inscription on the grave (in Portuguese) reads as follows: “In memory of Henrique Hawker Gamage Williams, son of Sir Edmund Keynton Williams, Comendador of the Tower and Sword, Comendador of the Order of the Bath, Colonel of the Infantry Regiment nº XIV and Lt Colonel in the service of his Britannic Majesty, and of Caroline his wife. He died at the age of five months in the year of our Saviour 1818.” There is no indication of an exact date.

Ever since the foundation of the Anglican Church under Henry VIII, the English had been regarded in Portugal as heretics, whose dead the Portuguese Church would not allow to be buried in Catholic soil. It is, therefore, highly unusual to find a British grave anywhere in the country, apart from in the English Cemetery in Lisbon (opened in 1717), the British Cemetery in Funchal (from 1770) and the military cemetery in Elvas (permitted by the Portuguese Governor of Elvas after the Battle of Albuera on May 16, 1811). To find an English grave inside a church is even more unusual.

This gravestone provides two conundrums. First, who was Sir Edmund and what was he doing in Tavira? The second question is, why is a heretic Briton buried in a Catholic chapel?

After the earthquake and the following tsunami had flattened the current residence in Lagos of the Governor of the Algarve, that gentleman decided to move his residence to Tavira. The Governors took for their residence the buildings of which the Chapel of Santa Ana formed the western part of a quadrangle. In 1808, the Bishop of the Algarve, D. Francisco Gomes de Avelar, was appointed Governor and he continued to live in the Bishop’s Palace in Faro. The Governor’s residence in Tavira was, therefore, unoccupied.

During the Peninsular War, as a result of the need for the Portuguese Army to adopt modern practices, the whole of the Portuguese military effort became modelled on the British pattern. In order to facilitate this remodelling, a great many, particularly senior, British officers were appointed to posts in the Portuguese Army as from 1809. Their presence in the Portuguese Army continued until the influence of Marshal Beresford disappeared from Portugal in the year 1820, when most of these officers left their positions.

At the end of the Peninsular War in 1814, the Fourteenth Regiment returned to its base in Tavira and their commanding officer almost certainly used the unoccupied former residence of the Governor, the buildings of which the Santa Ana chapel forms a part.

From an entry in the London Gazette, it is clear that in April 1816 the commanding officer of Infantry Regiment nº14 was a Briton, Colonel Sir Edmund Keynton Williams (1778–1850), and it seems that he was in Tavira probably from 1814, but certainly between April 1816, when he was appointed Knight of the Portuguese Military Order of Tower and the Sword, and at least some time in 1818, which is the date on the grave.

The year 1818 was a time in England when Catholic Emancipation was a lively issue, and the restrictions on Catholics in Britain were not lifted until 1829. It is highly probable, therefore, that Sir Edmund and his wife were not Catholics, and that their child would also have been regarded as an English heretic.

We are led to one of three possible conclusions. First, that the child may have been baptised as a Catholic, perhaps when his poor health indicated a fast-approaching death. This view is supported by the fact that the infant’s first name on the gravestone is in the Portuguese style of Henry. Second, the Colonel may have used his military position to insist on the burial of his son in the Governor’s private chapel. Third, the Colonel may have pointed out that his decoration as Comendador of the Portuguese Military Order of the Tower and Sword gave him the right to have his son buried in a Portuguese Catholic chapel.

Henrique Hawker Gamage Williams sadly never did make the journey back to Britain and it would appear that there is no other grave similar to that of Sir Edmund’s son either in the Algarve or perhaps in the whole of Portugal. Henrique, therefore, occupies a unique position in the history of Portugal.

This article is based on a much longer article published this year by the British Historical Society in Lisbon.

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