Monumental Brass Society

Catherine, wife of Thomas Palmer

Date of Brass:


July 2022

Many brasses survive at Ewelme, Oxfordshire, from the mid fifteenth century up to the early seventeenth. That of Catherine, wife of Thomas Palmer, shows her kneeling with her husband. Behind him are six sons, behind her just one daughter. Catherine died on 26 June 1599 in childbed at the age of 34. We learn of her from the four lines of English at the base of the inscription, but they reveal of him only his name. The rest of the inscription plate is taken up by ten lines of Latin verse.

The heraldic achievement on a plate above the figures gives us arms and a crest. Both relate to Thomas the husband, being the arms of the Palmer family of East Carlton, Northamptonshire (Argent on a bend sable five bezants or), quartered with those originally of Ward of Carlton (Sable a chevron or. between three crescents argent), from whom the Palmers inherited Easthall, part of Carlton, early in the fifteenth century by the marriage of the lawyer William Palmer with Amy, daughter and heir of Nicholas Ward. The Palmers assumed the Ward arms while still keeping their own and buying the rest of Carlton. The arms were somehow reversed with those originally representing Ward getting precedence over the original arms of the Palmers. The crest is a griffin. The Latin motto Hominis gloria in vitro posita is not that usually associated with the Palmers.

How Thomas Palmer, his wife Catherine and his children connect to the Palmer family of East Carlton is totally unclear but the heraldry confirms the connection. No earlier members of the family have surviving monuments although there are a number of seventeeenth-century examples commemorating them in various locations in England.

The brass was designed in the Cure workshop in Southwark. The basic design served from the late 1580s into the 1610s and was very flexible, with components that could be combined on a rectangular plate or engraved on separate plates. In this instance the figures, achievement and inscription each have a plate. The main figures face each other over a desk on which each has an open prayer book. The desk is draped with a cloth that covers the upper half, but the lower half is undecorated (an optional extra; some otherwise similar brasses omit it). Thomas and Catherine kneel on cushions with their children kneeling behind them on a plain tiled floor. Behind the daughter the tiles stretch away to meet what can be assumed is a wall but it is left entirely plain. Mother and daughter are dressed identically but the sons are differentiated from their father by having collars rather than ruffs.

Many brasses that show the deceased as kneeling figures are mounted murally, sometimes set in a marble slab, sometimes in a simple stone frame but sometimes as a part of a larger monument. The Palmer brass at Ewelme is on the floor. Was it always so?


Copyright: Jon Bayliss


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