Picture Library - Maidens and Matrons

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Maidens and Matrons

It is often assumed that a female figure with loose hair commemorates a young unmarried girl, as shown in groups of female weepers, e.g. on the brass at Stoke Charity, Hampshire. Virginity was indeed highly regarded, as the medieval cult of dead virgin martyrs illustrates, and brides wore their hair loose as a sign of virginity. Virgins were thought to enjoy higher status in Heaven, and there was even a belief that all souls would attain a perfect age in Heaven, with the female elect as brides of Christ. The truth about effigies is a little more complicated: loose hair on female effigies can be misleading with regard to both age and marital status.

Two examples of such maidens on brasses can be found at Sherborne St John and Lingfield; the flowers in the hair of both suggest their virgin status. A later example is that of the three daughters on their father's brass at Great Chart. However, it is less easy to determine the age of such maidens: Princess Guta commemorated on an incised slab at Prague died shortly after birth, while Elizabeth Broughton at Chenies, described on the inscription as a spinster, was of uncertain age.

An engraving of the lost brass of Mary Cave, wife of Brian Cave, Lord of Ingarsby, at Hungarton shows that married women could also be depicted with loose hair, as one finds at Muggington. It is known that medieval queens wore their hair loose at their coronation, and this is how Eleanor of Castile and Anne of Bohemia are represented on their relief cast latton tombs at Westminster Abbey. Likewise Joan Ratcliffe at Tattershall is also shown in the robes of a countess with her hair loose, despite having been married twice. Her hair is bound by a jewelled circlet, rather than a wreath of flowers.

On the other hand, memorials to young virgins can also deceive by their costume and appearance. Just like the alabaster effigy of Blanche of the Tower at Westminster Abbey, the almost contemporary incised slab of Joan de Lucy at St Bees Priory shows her in adult dress with her hair tied up in fashionable cauls, yet both girls died in infancy.

Copyright Sophie Oosterwijk.

Click the links below for the corresponding thumbnail image. Click any image for an enlarged view. 

Princess Guta, died shortly after birth in 1297, incised slab, Lapidarium, Prague


Joan de Lucy, 1369, St Bees Priory, Cumberland


Margarete  Brocas, c. 1390, Sherborne St. John, Hampshire


Unknown maiden, c.1450, Lingfield, Surrey


Joan Kniveton, c.1475, Muggington, Derbyshire


Joan, Lady Cromwell, 1490, Tattershall, Lincolnshire


Daughters on brass to Thomas Hampton, 1483, Stoke Charity, Hampshire


Dorothy Markham, 1495, incised slab, Sedgebrook, Lincolnshire


Mary Cave, c.1510, lost brass from Hungarton, Leicestershire


Elizabeth Broughton, 1524, Chenies, Buckinghamshire


Bridget Toke, 1680, Great Chart, Kent


Daughters of Thomas Pever, c.1500,  figures renewed c. 1890, Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire





Princess Guta, died shortly after birth in 1297, incised slab, Lapidarium, Prague







Joan de Lucy, died 1369 when she was under 3 years old,

 St Bees Priory, Cumberland

For more slabs at St. Bees see

http://www.stbees.org.uk/history/hist_stones.htm




Margarete  Brocas, c. 1390, from the brass to her and her brother, Sherborne St. John, Hampshire






Unknown maiden, c.1450, Lingfield, Surrey

Although some married women wore their hair loose, the wreath of flowers is traditionally a sign of virginity.









Joan Kniveton, shown with her hair loose despite being the wife of Nicholas Kniveton, lord of Mircaston and Underwood, engraved c.1475,

Muggington, Derbyshire







Joan, Lady Cromwell, died 1490, married 1st Sir Humphrey Bourchier and 2nd Sir Robert Radclyffe, shown with her loose hair bound with a jewelled circlet, Tattershall, Lincolnshire









Two unmarried daughters with loose hair and berets,  standing behind their married sisters on the brass to Thomas Hampton, 1483, Stoke Charity, Hampshire







Dorothy Markham, 1495, daughter of Sir John Markham, Chief Justice of the Kings Bench, on her incised slab,

Sedgebrook, Lincolnshire







Mary Cave, c.1510, wife of Brian Cave, Lord of Ingarsby, from Nichols' drawing of her lost brass

formerly at Hungarton, Leicestershire


 





Elizabeth Broughton, spinster,

 d. 1524,

Chenies, Buckinghamshire


 


Great Chart brass


Bridget Toke, one of Nicholas Toke's three unmarried daughters, on his brass of 1680, Great Chart, Kent


 


Maids Moreton brass


Daughters of Thomas Pever, c.1500,  figures renewed c. 1890, Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire


 


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Page last updated 08 December 2004