Monument of the Month

November 2014
 
A ledgerstone at Aldenham, Hertfordshire
 
 
  Towards the east end of the north nave aisle of the church of St John the Baptist, Aldenham, Hertfordshire, is a worn ledgerstone. It has the incised outline of a shrouded figure, the shroud knotted at the head and feet, with the outline of the legs clearly depicted. The figure's bare right arm protrudes and points downwards, and two lines crossing from top sinister to middle dexter of the shroud suggest that the shroud originally revealed the face as well as the right arm and shoulder, but these must have been worn away. A speech-scroll emerges from the area where the mouth may imagined to be, bearing the words 'SARAH. SMITH.'  in Roman capitals.
 
The upper inscription reads, in Roman capitals:
 
 

HERE LYETH THE BODY OF IOHN

ROBINSON YE ONELY SON OF IOHN

ROBINSON OF ALDENHAM WOOD

WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE MAY

THE 3D 1674 AND IN YE FOVRE

AND TWENTIETH YEARE OF

                   HIS AGE

 
Below the figure are three inscriptions, the first in italics:
 
 

Death parts the dearest lovers for a while

And makes them mourne that onely vsed to smile

But after death ovr vnmixt love shall  tye

Eternall knotts betwixte my deare and I

 
The second reads, in large italic capitals:
 
         J. R.
 
The third reads, in lower-case Roman:
 

I Sarah Smith whom thou didst loue alone.

For thy dear loue haue layd this marble Stone.

 
Clearly the shrouded figure represents the shrouded body of John Robinson, and the ledger was commissioned by his surviving lover, Sarah Smith.
 
We know a certain amount about the persons involved in this act of commemoration. Both appear to come from prosperous yeoman families in that part of the parish known as Aldenham Wood. John Robinson's mother had died before him, and from the evidence of his father's will of 1675 his only surviving sibling was a sister, married with a family. The slab is mentioned in early guidebooks, but its verses are inaccurately transcribed and the shrouded figure is usually misidentified as Sarah Smith.
 
The iconography of the incised slab is complex and raises speculation about who devised it. Each section of text is distinguished by its font. The formal biographical information which heads the slab is in formal Roman capitals; the epitaph, a formal genre despite its personal declaration of enduring love, is in italics – another formal font – and the personal declaration of responsibility for placing the stone is in lower-case Roman, the most commonplace of fonts. There is a movement here from the public to the private, reflected in the growing informality of the lettering.
 
It is possible that the large Italic J.R., which is slightly awkwardly placed between the two lower inscriptions, may refer to John Robinson senior, whom we know to have been buried in the church and who was probably interred in his son's grave.
 
  This leaves the shrouded figure, with its speech-scroll. The representation of shrouded figures seems (contrary to received opinion) to have been continuing sporadically in brass and sculptural form through the sixteenth century, rather than dying out and being revived by John Donne's monument in St Paul's – there are shroud brasses surviving as late as the 1580s (Leigh, Kent) and shrouded cadavers on tombs as early as that decade (Chesterfield,
Derbyshire). Aldenham itself has a fine sixteenth-n century shroud brass to Lucas Goodyere, who died in childbirth c.1546/7.
 
In its outline the shrouded figure of John Robinson seems to resemble that of Henry Butler (d.1647) at Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire.  The position is reversed and Robinson's legs are positioned differently and enclosed in the shroud, but the draping of the fabric over the upper body, leaving the face clear, is similar. Butler's monument (ascribed to Burman) has been linked to that of William Curle at Hatfield by Nicholas Stone: are there other comparanda?
 
What the designer of the Robinson monument has done is to combine the latest form of the supine shrouded figure with the speech-scroll.  Speech-scrolls are common on brasses and their use extends to at least the 1590s, for example on the brasses to Henry Rolle (d.c.1625) and his wife Margaret Yeo (d.1591) at Petrockstowe, Devon, which were probably erected after her death. Shrouded figures with speech-scrolls survive in smaller numbers, but there is a clear indent of such a brass at Great Livermere, Suffolk, where the shrouded figures flank what was probably a Resurrection scene. Great Liveremere has surviving fragmentary wall-paintings of the Three Living and the Three Dead, and a noli me tangere scene, which may resonate with this brass.
 
As Peter Sherlock points out, the words on the speech-scroll changed at the Reformation from prayers to affirmations of faith, but they were invariably religious in content. Here the words that come out of the dead man's mouth are not addressed to the Virgin Mary, or to God, but to his lover, Sarah Smith. While this obviously carries on the theme of love triumphing over death, there is an element of blasphemy in it: John Robinson's faith is directed to his earthly lover, rather than to his heavenly creator.
 
There may be another theme here: John Robinson speaks to Sarah Smith from the grave. This is a common motif in ballads, the best-known being The Unquiet Grave (there are many recordings of this available: I like the one by Ian Campbell). This was not recorded until 1868, but close parallels are documented as early as 1740, and it reflects a much older tradition that is widespread in Europe. In The Unquiet Grave the lover cannot get over the death of his beloved, who speaks to him from her grave, saying that his mourning will not let her soul be at rest. She points out that her body is now an object of disgust and infection and recommends that he accept the transitoriness of life:
 

So make yourself content, my love

Till death calls you away.

 
The monument combines a group of tropes – the shroud monument, the speech-scroll, the unquiet grave – to produce an affirmation of undying love. Whether this was devised by Sarah Smith or by the local provider of ledger stones is not clear, but whoever did it was familiar with the traditions of funerary commemoration and able to produce a sophisticated melange for an individual client.
 
Sarah Smith's devotion did not go unrecognised.  When John Robinson Sr died the year after his son he included her in his will, leaving her five pounds, the same amount that he left his wife over and above her pre-nup entitlement (together with a selection of choice household items). To the children of someone to whom he was evidently connected, either by marriage or kinship, he left one pound each. To his grandchildren by his daughter (his only child at death) he left family pieces. Sarah Smith ranks in his will slightly behind his wife, but above other connections – his daughter was his residuary legatee. It is obvious that even after John Robinson's death Sarah Smith was a beloved member of the Robinson family.
 
JEAN WILSON
 

Suggestions for further reading:

 

Peter Sherlock, Monuments and memory in Early Modern England (Aldershot, 2008)

 

For more information about ledgerstones and how to help preserve and record them, see the Ledgerstone Survey of England and Wales <http://www.lsew.org.uk/>

 
 
 
        Monument of the Month - Contributions Wanted!
This page is designed for the general reader and is intended to feature monuments of all types and all ages: those to the famous and to the unknown, those by famous sculptors and those by unknown local craftsmen, the artistically spendid and the simple but beautiful or curious. So far mostly members of the Council have contributed but contibutions are welcome from everybody - members or non-members of the Society. We would welcome a photograph or two and a short text telling us why the monument interests you: it may be of an ancestor, of someone you admire, something you have discovered or just something you just like or find interesting.
Please send the text as a word document and the photographs as separate jpg files ; please do not send the photographs embedded in the text as I cannot then edit the document. However, it is always useful - but not essential - if an embedded version could be sent as well, as then I can lay out the document as you intended. Please send contributions to churchmonuments@aol.com . We will feature the monument for a month and it will then be archived.

Some tips on the photographs:
1. It is always polite to ask the vicar or rector of the church for permission to take photographs, stressing they are not for profit or commercial purpose. It is important to confirm when the church is normally open. Don't forget to enclose a stamped addressed envelope for your reply.
2. Cathedrals and some other large churches have a visitors' desk and permission may often be obtained there on the day; sometimes there is a modest cost. Some of these churches do not normally allow photography although permission may be obtained if one writes before hand. To date the only place that I have been refused  is Durham Cathedral. Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral also do not allow photography.
3. Try to carefully remove items that block the view of the monument if you are able. Especially don't leave your camera case in the way as I have on occasions! Or alter the angle of the photograph to minimise this problem.
4. Try to avoid excessive contrast in taking the photographs - dark shadows and bright sunlight. In other words, try to see what the camera sees, not your eyes! Flash can be difficult to use as it creates harsh shadows and burned out highlights; this is especially difficult when a photograph is taken of a subject of some depth when the foreground becomes too bright and the background too dark, because of the rapid falling off of the brightness of the flash with distance.
5. Please send photographs as jpg or gif attachments; do not embed them in the text where they cannot be edited and require a lot of memory space. If you wish I can scan printed photographs if they are sent to me; they will always be returned.
Click on the link below to see earlier Monuments of the Month
January 2010 Thomas Moore (d. 1586) & his widow Marie at Adderbury (Oxfordshire) Sally Badham FSA
February 2010 The so-called ‘Stanley boy’ monument at Elford (Staffordshire) Dr Sophie Oosterwijk  FSA
March 2010 William Shakespeare’s monument, HolyTrinity, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire Dr Adam White PhD
April 2010 The Lovell Tomb at Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire Dr Ellie Pridgeon PhD
May 2010 The chantry of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester 1391-1447 at the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban Jane Kelsall
June 2010 Thomas Babington of Dethick (d. 1518) and his wife Edith at Ashover (Derbyshire) Dr Kelcey Wilson-Lee PhD
July 2010 Baptist Noel, Third Viscount Campden (c. 1612-1683) at Exton, Rutland C B Newham
August 2010 Isabelle of Angoulême at Fontevraud Abbey J K Bromilow MInstP
September 2010 The Monument to Thomas Strode at Beaminster, Dorset Dr Clive J Easter PhD
October 2010 The cadaver monument of Guillaume de Harcigny (d. 1393) at  Laon (France) Dr Sophie Oosterwijk FSA
November 2010 The John Donne Monument (d. 1631) by Nicholas Stone in St Paul's Cathedral, London Dr Philip Cottrell
December 2010 Walter Helyon (d. c. 1357) at Much Marcle (Herefordshire) Sally Badham FSA
January 2011 Hungerford, Berkshire Dr Ellie Pridgeon PhD
February 2011 The Schaw Monument Dumfermline Abbey Church Dr Jenny Alexander
March 2011 Two wooden Epitaphien from Königsberg Jerome Bertram
April 2011  Abbot Adam of Carmarthen, Neath Abbey South Wales Dr Rhianydd Biebrach Ph D
May 2011 Sir John Newdigate, 1610, Harefield, Middlesex Jon Bayliss
June 2011  The joint tomb of João I of Portugal (d.1433) and his queen, Philippa of Lancaster (d. 1415) Founder’s Chapel, monastery of Our Lady of Victory, in Batalha, Portugal  Joana Ramôa
Photographs by  José Custódio Vieira da Silva
July 2011 Today and not tomorrow’ Doctor James Vaulx and his two wives Editha and Philip   St Mary’s Church, Meysey Hampton Joan and Robert Tucker
August 2011 The Bourchier Monuments in St Andrew’s Church, Halstead (Essex) Mark Duffy
September 2011 Two Monuments in Bedfordshire Cameron Newham
October 2011 Floor slab of Joost Corneliszoon van Lodensteyn, burgomaster of Delft (d. 31 April 1660), his wife Maria van Voorburch, and their descendants, Oude Kerk (Old Church), Delft (Netherlands), Belgian hardstone, 223 x 136 cm. Dr Sophie Oosterwijk  FSA
November 2011  Berengaria of Nevarre, Queen of Richard the Lionheart in L'Épau Abbey J K Bromilow MInstP
December 2011  The Watton Monument at Addington, Kent Dr Clive Easter
January 2012  The monument of Lady Margaret  Grey (d. 1330) at Cogges  Oxfordshire Sally Badham
February 2012 The Effigy of Walter Stewart, Earl of Menteith, at Inchmaholme Priory, Scotland Mark Downing FSA
March 2012  Thomas Walwyn (d. 1415) and his Wife  at Much Marcle (Herefordshire)   Sally Badham 
April 2012  Lady Barbara de Mauley, St Nicholas, Hatherop   Joan and Robert Tucker  
May 2012 The tomb of John Marshall in Llandaff Cathedral Dr Madeleine Gray PhD FRHistS
June 2012 The double tomb monument to Reinoud III van Brederode (d. 1556) and Philippote van der Marck (d. 1537) in Vianen (Netherlands) Trudi Brink
July 2012 Lowsley Family Tomb, Hampstead
Norris, Berkshire
Dr Andrew Sargent
August 2012 Oliver Cromwell's Coffin Plate J K Bromilow MInstP
September 2012 A Monument in Holy Trinity Church Hull Sally Badham FSA
October 2012 East Worldham (Hampshire) Sally Badham FSA
November 2012 Floor slab of Cornelis Pietersze (d. 1532) and his wife Jozijne van Domburch (d. 1557), Sint-Maartenskerk, Sint Maartensdijk (province of Zeeland, Netherlands), Belgian hardstone, 254 x 141 cm. Dr Sophie Oosterwijk  FSA and Kees Knulst BA
December 2012 An exercise in white marble and whitewashing: Cenotaph of Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam (d. 13 June 1665), by Bartholomeus Eggers, situated in the choir of the Jacobskerk, The Hague (Netherlands), white, red and black marble and wood. Dr Sophie Oosterwijk  FSA
January 2013 Martin Kistenmaker and his Parents
Heiligenkreuz, Rostock
Jerome Bertram
February 2013 The monument to Archbishop James Sharp (d.1679) in Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews (Fife) Phoebe Armstrong
March 2013 The Monument at Sheriff Hutton (Yorkshire).
Is this the tomb of Richard III’s son?
Dr Jane Crease
April 2013 Zacharias Johannes Szolc, 1682, and Stanisław Bużenski, 1697 Frombork Cathedral, Poland Jerome Bertram
May 2013 The monument to Dr Thomas Turner, died 1714. Stowe-Nine-Churches, Northamptonshire  Dr Clive J Easter FSA  
June 2013 'Left for dead' Major Thomas Price Robert Tucker
July 2013 An unusual saint: Floor slab of Jacopmine Huyghendochter, wife of Foert Christiaenszoon (d. 1553), Sint-Maartenskerk, Wemeldinge (province of Zeeland, Netherlands), Belgian hardstone, 185 x 114 cm Dr Sophie Oosterwijk  FSA
August 2013 Thomas and Mary Acton, erected 1581, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire Jon Bayliss
September 2013 Cholmondeley Monument, St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London  Dr George Roberts
October 2013 Revd Theophilus Pickering (d. 1710) and John Dryden, Poet Laureate (d. 1700), Titchmarsh (Northamptonshire) Sally Badham FSA
November 2013 Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland, 12th Baron de Ros of Helmsley (c.1492 – 1543) Bottesford, St Mary (Leicestershire)   Edward Higgins MA BSc (Hons)
December 2013 Maria Rebekka Schlegel, 1736, Stadtmuseum, Meissen, Germany Jon Bayliss
January 2014
Lady Elizabeth Clinton (d. 11 September 1423) Haversham (Buckinghamshire)
 Sally Badham
February 2014 LUGENS MŒRENSQUE Moira Ackers
March 2014 A son’s delayed memorial to his dead mother: The tomb of Catharine of Bourbon, Duchess of Guelders (d. 1469), Stevenskerk, Nijmegen (Netherlands). Sophie Oosterwijk and Trudi Brink
April 2014 Robert Crane (d. 1500), Chilton (Suffolk) Sally Badham
May 2014 A monument with a story
Double monument said to commemorate Lady Constantia and her son John, St Leonard’s church, Scarcliffe (Derbyshire).
Sophie Oosterwijk and Sally Badham
June 2014 A military effigy
St James's Church, Iddesleigh, Devon
John K Bromilow MInstP
July 2014 Brecon Cathedral: a post-Reformation cross slab Dr Maddy Gray PhD
August 2014 The monument to Lady Wolryche, 1678: the Lady with the Lute Dr Clive J Easter FSA  
September 2014 Row On Row (1) Robert Tucker
October 2014 A Fool’s Monument?
The Tomb Slab of Hans Has at Wertheim, Germany
Dr Martin Spies
 


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