Monumental Brass Society

Francis Saunders & wives Elizabeth, Eleanor and Frances

Date of Brass:
G Hollemans


December 2009

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-under-Weatherley following the death of his first wife, Margaret, née Englefield, in 1563. She had previously been left a widow by George Carew. Sir Edward died in 1576, leaving some items to Francis Saunders in his will. However, Francis was judged indifferent in religion in 1564 and allowed to keep his place on the Northamptonshire bench. Like his fourth son, he was a member of the Middle Temple. His entry in Mill Stephenson's A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles gives some cause for concern other than in the matter of the numbers of his sons and daughters. It describes him as “ Legum Anglie apprenticius “, lord of the manor, gives his date of death as 1585 and his age as 71. This would normally mean that this information was derived directly from the brass, yet none of it does. It was presumably on the missing brass to Francis once at the foot of the monument. For many years the monument was hidden by the organ, as Mill records, and presumably he thought the organ also hid the missing brass. In view of the young age of the two youngest children, 71 seems a little unlikely.
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.
The tablet at Welford is attributable to Garrett Hollemans, an immigrant sculptor who settled at Burton-upon-Trent, the centre of the alabaster tomb industry before it was superseded by Southwark in the second half of the sixteenth century. William Cure from Holland had been invited over by Henry VIII in the early 1540s, and he settled in Southwark, outside of the control of the city companies, between 1549 and 1559, and set up a workshop, continued by his son Cornelius. His fellow immigrants Garrat Johnson and Richard Stevens arrived in Southwark in1567 and set up workshops making both alabaster tombs and brasses. Hollemans probably arrived rather later and was evidently in Burton by 1584, presumably hoping to avoid direct competition with the Southwark workshops. His style shows greater influence by Cornelis Floris, the leading Antwerp architect and sculptor, than do those of the Southwark sculptors, and this is likewise true of Giles de Witte, who settled at Blackfriars, a liberty within the city of London. Hollemans presumably was in contact with sculptors in the London area as the first mention of his son Jasper was of a payment Jasper received when in London in 1593. Jasper's own work as a tomb sculptor suggests he was trained, at least in part, in the London area. However, with the one exception of the brass surviving at Welford, there is little indication that father or son designed or cut brasses. One would like to know whether the missing brasses at Welford to Francis Saunders and his widow Frances are covered by the current tile floor or completely lost. The style of the remaining brass is distinctly different from the incised effigial slabs of alabaster that can be associated with the Hollemans workshop but it is also distinct from the products of the Southwark workshops.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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