- Date of Brass:
- Burton Latimer
December’s brass is one members saw during the excursion to the Nene Valley earlier this year.
The Bacon family is usually associated with East Anglia but a branch was established in Northamptonshire by Edward Bacon, who was descended from the Bacons of Hessett in Suffolk, in the early seventeenth century. Edward's eldest son, Thomas, was recorded in the heralds' visitation of Northamptonshire in 1618 as seventeen years old. Eight years later, he had a monument with a brass erected to his wife, who died on 29 January 1626 (or 1627 by modern reckoning). The brass is evidently of London manufacture, but the monument was made locally. The motif of an obelisk over a shell can be seen treated in exactly the same manner over the door of the Montagu Hospital of 1611 at nearby Weekley. Edward Bacon died about the same time and was also commemorated by a brass, from which the inscription is lost but the achievement of arms survives.
Margaret's figure is accompanied by a small plate representing a swaddled child. Her daughter Anna had been baptized just four days before Margaret’s death. Above her are two plates with shields of arms in strapwork frames, one for Bacon, the other for Franklin of Bolnhurst in Bedfordshire. As the inscription records, she was the youngest daughter of George Francklyn, esquire. The inscription is rather more personal than most. It begins:
THOMAS BACON PIOVSLY DEDICATES THIS MT TO YE HAPPY MEMORY OF MARGARET HIS LATE WIFE.
Like many other monuments of this period when poetry was flowering, it includes an English verse epitaph that is original. Whether it was written by either Thomas or someone he knew, or commissioned by the workshop that made the brass we will probably never know.
IN THIS BLEST VRNE, IN HOPE, THE ASHES REST
OF OVR DEARE SISTER, WHOSE SOVLE, BLESSED GVEST
AMIDST THE SAYNTS IN HEAVEN AND BLISSE DOTH CEASE
FROM ALL HER LABOVRS IN ETERNALL PEACE
WHY DOE I DECKE THY HEARSE, THOV ART NOT DEAD,
ONLY BY CHANGE THY LIFE IS BETTERED
Thomas Bacon's remaining time on earth was certainly not entirely peaceful. In 1629, a new rector arrived in Burton Latimer whose ideals were very different from his own. Robert Sibthorpe was already widely known as someone who saw it as the duty of the king's subjects to pay whichever taxes the king, as an absolute monarch, chose to levy. His 1627 sermon on very this subject had been published. When Ship Money, the tax that had been used to support the navy in times of war, was extended by Charles I to inland counties in the 1630s, Bacon objected to the assessment as inequitable and took steps to get a reassessment. Sibthorpe viewed any such move as part of a puritan conspiracy and eventually took Bacon to the court of the Star Chamber, charging that he and others had conspired to sabotage the levy. In the interim, George Plowright, a freeholder and one of the constables of the parish had tried to collect the original amount from Bacon and his tenants. When Plowright, whose duties included pressing men for the Bishops' War of 1639 against the Scots, was himself pressed as a soldier and then accused of desertion, he accused Bacon of orchestrating his pressing, a charge which Plowright was unable to substantiate. By the end of 1640, the tide was beginning to swing against Sibthorpe, although he remained rector of Burton until ejected in 1644. Bacon did not live to see this. He died in 1642 and was succeeded by his son Edmund.
Mark Charles Fissel, The Bishops' Wars: Charles I's Campaigns Against Scotland, 1638-1640 (Cambridge, 1994)
Kenneth Fincham, The Early Stuart Church (Stanford, 1993)
Jonathan Fielding, Opposition to the Personal Rule of Charles: the Diary of Robert Woodford, 1637-1641 in The English Civil War, ed. Peter Gaunt (Oxford, 2000)
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
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