Brass of the Month

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    Page last updated 05 September 2017

September 2017 - Lady Martha Chedworth, 1775, Erwarton, Suffolk


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Around the time in the seventeenth century that monumental brasses were becoming a less popular form of commemoration, English burial customs for the better-off were changing. They had  begun to demand more luxurious coffins for their dead. Amongst the fittings that could form part of such coffins was the coffin or depositum plate. At the most basic end of the scale these would be of lead but pewter, silver, copper and tin (the most expensive) were also used as well as brass. Where crypts and burial vaults have since been cleared, such plates can now often be found attached to the interior walls of churches and those of copper or its alloys are properly seen as monumental brasses. There is little to distinguish them from other memorial brasses of the same era other than their original context. Earlier coffin plates were presumably often made by the same engravers as conventional monumental brasses.

    An interesting example has attracted attention recently, albeit more for the facial reconstruction of the coffin's occupant, Thomas Craven, than for the the large brass plate on the lead coffin. Craven was a young Englishman who died of the plague in Paris on the 20th November 1636 at the age of 17. He was in Paris to pursue his studies. Son of a Lord Mayor of London, his burial was arranged by his elder brother, William, later first Earl of Craven. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Saint-Maurice (Val de Marne) in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, which was destroyed after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. His coffin was found in excavations in 1986. The brass plate is now on display in the Médiathèque Delacroix. The plate is trapezoidal  with a long inscription in Latin but with a semi-circle at the top with an heraldic achievement.

    The example that is the subject of this month's article is much later and smaller. It is the latest of five now on the wall of St Mary's church, Erwarton, on the Shotley peninsular in Suffolk. It commemorates the Right Honourable Lady Dowager Martha Chedworth, widow of John Thynne How, 2nd Baron Chedworth. She died on the 28th November 1775 aged 61. Other than the motto of the How family, and an heraldic achievement, there is no further information given on the plate. Daughter of Sir Philip Parker-a-Morley-Long, Bart., of Erwarton, she had married on 23rd September 1751. Earlier that year, the House of Lords has passed a bill entitled An Act for enabling the Right Honourable Jobn Thynne Lord Chedworth to settle a Jointure on Martha Parker Spinster, upon their Intermarriage; and for making Provision for their younger Children; and for explaining the Will of Sir Philip Parker Long Baronet, deceased; and for other Purposes therein mentioned. On 30st May the Commons passed the bill but with amendments and sent it back to the Lords for their concurrence. It gained royal assent on 25th June. The act proved largely unnecessary as the couple had no children. The baron died on 9th May 1762. His widow's death was reported in the Annual Register as taking place in Leicester Fields, suggesting she died in her late husband's house at 25 Leicester Square. However, the date was given as the 12th of December, whereas three other publications gave her date of death as 30th November, so, including the coffin plate, we have three different dates varying by as much as a fortnight. The achievement at the head of the plate shows a lozenge of Lord Chedworth's arms: Or, a fesse between three wolves' heads, couped at the neck, sable, with an inescutcheon (small centrally placed shield) of the Parker arms: Argent a lion passant gules between two bars sable thereon three bezants, two and one, in chief as many bucks' heads caboshed of the second. The How motto Justus et propositi tenax (just and firm of purpose) is engraved on a ribbon underneath.

    Lady Chedworth was evidently taken back to Erwarton for burial. She and her sister Elizabeth were co-heirs of the Parker properties. The other plates in St Mary's commemorate Lady Chedworth's parents Sir Philip Parker Long died 1740/1, and Dame Martha Parker Long died 1758, her niece Lady Catherine Hanmer died 1747/8, and  Mrs Elizabeth Plunkett died 1757. The latter was Lady Chedworth's sister Elizabeth who married James Plunkett.


© Jon Bayliss