Monumental Brass Society

Samuel Harsnett

Date of Brass:


November 2006

The brass for November features another example attributed to Edward Marshall (July 2006: John Eldred, Great Saxham, Suffolk, 1632), but laid down to a very different character.

Samuel Harsnett (1561-1631) was born at Colchester, the son of William and Agnes Haselnoth; he had changed his name to Harsnett by the time he went up to Cambridge in 1579; he was ordained five years later. In 1587 he became master of the grammar school at Colchester, where he had probably been educated, but left teaching in 1589 to return to the university. He was appointed master of Pembroke College in 1605, despite having taken up the living of Chigwell in 1597. Chigwell is the first of the preferments listed on the Latin marginal inscription on his brass, as prescribed in his will. Whilst at Chigwell, his wife, Thomazine, died in 1601, having given birth in 1600 to a short-lived daughter. Harsnett rose rapidly in the church, becoming successively Bishop of Chichester (1609-19) and Bishop of Norwich (1619-29), where he found scope to impose his High Church views, and then, briefly, Archbishop of York ( January 1629-May 1631). In 1629 he founded the Latin and English schools at Chigwell; the former survives with its original schoolroom and master’s house as Chigwell School. His library of theological works was bequeathed to the borough of Colchester for the use of local clergy; it is now in the University of Essex Library.

Harsnett’s will was drawn up on 13 February 1630/1 and proved the day after his burial at the foot of his wife’s grave in Chigwell church on 7 June 1631. He gave specific instructions for his own commemoration by

a Marble stone… with a Plate of Brasse moulten into the Stone an ynche thicke
haveinge the effigies of a Bysshoppe stamped upon it with his Myter Crosiers
staffe but the Brasse to be soe riveted & fastened cleane through the Stone as
sacrilegious handes may not rend off the one without breakinge the other…

Harsnett’s insistence on an unrealistic thickness of metal reflects both the memory of the destruction of monuments after the Reformation and foreboding as to the outcome of the political situation in England under the personal rule of Charles I.

The Latin inscription, following the wording in the will, describing Harsnett as unworthy (indignus) Bishop of Chichester, more unworthy Bishop of Norwich and most unworthy Archbishop of York, has at the angles evangelical symbols, found after 1558 only on episcopal brasses. The Elizabethan Settlement prescribed episcopal vestments as a surplice or alb and a pastoral staff. Like other bishops (Salisbury, 1578; Carlisle, 1616), Harsnett is shown wearing a rochet and chimere, but he is the only post-Reformation ecclesiastic to be depicted in cope and mitre. The face beneath the mitre, with its distinctive hooked nose, may well be a portrait, but no painting or engraving has survived to confirm this. The quality of the engraving fully justifies the attribution of Harsnett’s brass to Marshall; it can claim to be the finest 17th century brass.

The brass was laid down on the chancel floor and incorporated a small plate ascribing the wording of the marginal inscription to Harsnett himself. About 1750 George Scott of Woolston Hall, a governor of the school, moved the brass for better preservation to the north wall of the chancel; a brass plate, now lost, was placed underneath, stating that the original position was marked by a slab. At some date after 1803, the brass was restored to its original position. When Chigwell church was enlarged by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1886, the brass was moved to its present position on the wall separating the old and new chancels; at the same time the gallery erected by Harsnett for the school pupils in the old north aisle was demolished.


N. W. S. Cranfield, ‘Harsnett, Samuel (bap. 1561, d. 1631)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004); online edition, May 2005 [, accessed 5 Oct 2006].

G. Martin, ‘Archbishop Samuel Harsnett and his Library at Colchester’, Essex: ‘full of profitable thinges’, ed. K. Neale (Leopard’s Head Press, Oxford, 1996), pp.35-53.

G.Stott, History of Chigwell School (Ipswich, 1960), esp. Appendix V.

TNA PROB 11/160/74.

© Nancy Briggs

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

Rubbing: © The Monumental Brasses of Essex by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (2003)

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