Wednesday 4 July 2018

Seriously Imposing

Today my researches took me to St Peter's, Titchfield, down in Hampshire, to marvel at the grand – not to say grandiose – monument to two Earls of Southampton, Thomas and Henry Wriothseley, and Thomas's wife, Lady Jane. That's a view of part of it above, seen through a doorway from the chancel. The whole thing, made by the Dutchman Garret (or Gerard) Johnson, is seriously imposing, occupying most of the South chapel of the church. At each corner stands an obelisk of all things, modelled on the famous red granite obelisk in Rome, and the tomb is on three levels, with Lady Jane, surprisingly, lying above her husband (Thomas) and son (Henry). There are extravagant displays of heraldry – achievements, coats of arms and heraldic beasts – all over the monument, and four kneelers, children of Henry, in pairs on the long sides of the tomb chest. One of them, kneeling to the right of the picture above, was another Henry, the Third Earl of Southampton, who was a major patron of the young Shakespeare, among other poets. He was the dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and has been widely identified as the Fair Youth of the Sonnets.
  His grandfather Thomas, the First Earl, by contrast, put all his energies into advancing his career, unhindered by any scruples, in the courts of Henry VIII and Edward VI, until he finally fell from grace, losing the office of Chancellor and his place on the Privy Council. In the course of a deplorable career, Thomas, despite his supposed Catholic faith, played a big part in the dissolution of the monasteries and profited hugely from his endeavours. Along the way, he personally tortured the supposed heretic Anne Askew in the Tower of London, turning the wheel of the rack with his colleague Richard Rich – yes, the same Rich who is memorialised in one of Epiphanius Evesham's greatest monuments.
  On the Titchfield monument, Thomas lies in his Garter robes, bland and blameless, his hands together in prayer – but this is a generic image. In real life, Thomas, though slim and handsome in his youth, became, like the King he served with such zeal, fat and bloated – so fat that, at the time of his death, a horse could not be found strong enough to bear his body. No man, or woman, is fat on their monument – at least, not until post-Restoration times, when true likenesses came into fashion and a gentleman was expected to look well fed and a little corpulent.


  1. Thought I saw you whizzing by on the M27. Saw someone talking about Thomas Wriothseley, the first Earl, in a programme about the Dissolution the other day (regarding the cases of the endless removals of King Alfred's bones from place to place). The historian chap pronounced it Rothsly. Did you look at the Evesham of the little girl at Titchfield? I think you were prepared to be disappointed by it.

  2. Certainly wasn't disappointed – it's a beautiful piece of work – but I don't think it's Evesham.