Brass of the Month
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Copyright © 2007 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)
Page last updated 04 March 2015
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
It is quite unusual to find a brass combined with an alabaster tablet; usually alabaster tablets have inscription panels of slate or black marble, some of which also have incised figures. An alabaster tablet at West Malling, Kent, to Jane, Lady Fitzjames, who died in 1594, has a large brass inscription panel set in an alabaster tablet attributable to Giles de Witte, a sculptor from Bruges who arrived in England in 1585. The alabaster tablet to Francis Saunders at Welford in Northamptonshire goes one step further and has a plate with kneeling effigies of Francis, his three wives and their children set in a panel of Purbeck marble. Surprisingly, the inscription is cut in the Purbeck marble rather than on brass. The inscription names Francis Saunders but he is the only person named although the brass has kneeling figures of Francis, his three wives and eight of their nine children, the ninth being shown in a cradle. Francis was the second son of William Saunders of Welford but the first by his second wife Dorothy Young and was born around 1525. His elder half brother Clement died before him. Three shield with the arms of Saunders impaling the arms of three other families spaced along the frieze of the tablet help identify his three wives, who were Elizabeth, daughter of George Carew, Eleanor Chalenor and Frances Pope, who survived Francis and died in 1594.
Beneath the figure of the first wife are the figures of two sons and a daughter, depicted as adults; beneath the second is a cradle containing a baby with its head propped up on a pillow; and beneath the third are an adult son and a smaller, younger looking son, and three daughters. The two sons under the first wife are presumably Edward, born 1556, and William, although they are said by the Victoria County History to be the sons of the second wife, Eleanor. Francis Saunders made his will in October 1584 and left Welford to his second son, William, the manors of Hardwick and Shangton, to his son Matthew and Yelvertoft to his son Francis, with the remainder going to his eldest son Edward. The obvious son under the third wife is Matthew. The apparent second son (Haines and Mill Stephenson both record 1 son and 4 daughters below the third wife) is Francis. His figure is immediately behind his brothers, with the three daughters in line behind the two sons. He is bareheaded with short curly hair, which clearly suggests a son. The third daughter in the group wears, like her sisters, a ruff and a bonnet, but both she and the second son have leading strings attached to their clothing at their shoulders, so they are depicted as very young children or toddlers, as we might call them. The differentiation between these two figures of young children certainly suggests that they were of different sexes. The records of Middle Temple, showing the admission in 1601 of Mr. Francis, fourth son of Francis Saunders, late of Welford, Northants., esq., deceased, confirm that the figure in question must be that of a son, and specifically, that of Francis. This fits with the heraldic visitation records, which also show three married daughters of this third marriage, Frances, Dorathey and Susan. These are the same records, however, that show Edward, William and their sister Elizabeth as the issue of the second marriage. The question is whether the order that the wives are shown on the brass is accurate.
The Saunders families in Northamptonshire were split on religious grounds. Laurence Saunders was burnt as a heretic during Mary's reign but his brother, Sir Edward, was a Roman Catholic and erected an astonishingly Catholic monument at Weston-
The four Latin verses cut on the stone that holds the brass can also be found fifty years earlier on the brass that forms part of the monument to the priest William Throckmorton at Shottesbrooke, Berkshire, and fifty years later on the alabaster monument to Herbert Weston and his wife at Broadwell, Gloucestershire. Two other Latin inscriptions cut in stones that are now loose at Welford may date from the same period.
E TERRA IN VILEM RESOLUTO CORPORE TERRAM.
SANCTAM EXPECTO DEI MISERICORDIS OPEM.
EXPECTO ET NITIDŪ REDIVIVÆ CARNIS AMICTŪ.
ET TANDEM EXCELSI REGNA BEATA POLI.
The tablet at Welford is attributable to Garrett Hollemans, an immigrant sculptor who settled at Burton-