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- 1 2020-09-26T14:34:17+00:00 Craig Dietrich 2d66800a3e5a1eaee3a9ca2f91f391c8a6893490 Volume 2, Plates 41 — 55 Craig Dietrich 9 plain 2022-01-16T22:49:21+00:00 Craig Dietrich 2d66800a3e5a1eaee3a9ca2f91f391c8a6893490
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Plate 2.53: Monument of Henry and Elizabeth Bourchier
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.53: Monument of Henry and Elizabeth Bourchier. Commentary by Christopher Loar.
Plate: Engraved by James Basire (1730-1802) from drawings by Jacob Schnebbelie (1760-1792) and published in 1789. The original drawings are untraced, but the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 10 April 1788 mention that George Townshend, Earl of Leicester (1753-1811), exhibited “three beautiful Drawings” of the memorial to Henry Bourchier, First Earl of Essex, and his wife, Isabel of Cambridge” (SAL Minutes XXII.364). Presumably, these are Schebbelie’s drawings from which this engraving was taken. Notably, however, Plate 2.53 features only two images; since the original drawings have not been traced, it is unknown whether only two of the three drawings were chosen to be engraved or whether the third drawing was somehow incorporated into the final rendering.
The plate offers two perspectives on the memorial: a bird's-eye view of the brass memorial, and a side view of the entire memorial, with a detailed reproduction of the arches and stonework of the canopy above and the coffin below. Between these two images are insets of key elements of the Bourchier's heraldic symbols: the Bourchier knot and the fetterlock of the House of York. Also included are copies of the writing inscribed on the arches: the engraving renders these as “ihs everto b” and “ihs aie pite.” The latter is French, incorporating the ideogram for Jesus, and thus reads “Jesus have pity.” The Latin is more difficult to translate with certainty; in fact, the phrase as rendered on the monument in the engraving may not accurately reflect the monument’s carvings, which are hard to decipher. On the whole, however, the plate is more committed to accuracy than to reconstruction; it depicts a number of gaps which formerly housed brass emblems; these were removed prior to the time of the engraving. Notably, this image prominently features a heraldic “blackamoor's head,” part of the Bourchiers' heraldry, to the left of Bourchier’s effigy in the bird’s eye view on the print. This racialized heraldric emblem also appears in Lord Bourchier’s stall in the Knights of the Garters Hall at Windsor Castle. This part of the memorial brass is no longer extant; later reproductions suggest that it had been stolen or destroyed by the late nineteenth century (Chancellor 1890, Plate XXVI).
Other features visible on the engraving include the Knight of the Garter insignia on Bourchier's right shoulder, displaying the society’s motto: "honi soit qui mal y pense" (shame on him who thinks ill of it).
Object: The sepulchral monument of Henry Bourchier (c. 1408-1483)—or Bourgchier, as it is labeled here—has been in its current location in the Little Easton Church, Essex, from the late 1530s. It features a brass plate, formerly richly enameled, carved in low relief and set on a stone base. It is surmounted by elaborate stone arches carved in a Gothic style. The monument still may be seen today, now divided by an ironwork railing that separates the small chapel behind the monument from the nave. The brass still retains portions of its original enameling. The surface of the brass also features a number of gaps that reveal the shapes of brass insets they once housed: mostly heraldic symbols associated with the Bourchier family (particularly the York fetterlock, referencing Isabel's (d. 1484) connections to that family, and the Bourchier knot). The monument proper is surmounted by a carved stone canopy. More details are accurately described in the accompanying explanatory account authored by the noted antiquarian Richard Gough (1735-1809).
Center, Left: ihs everto b
Center, Right: ihs aie pite
On Bourchier’s Insignia: honi soit qui mal y pense
Bottom: Monument of Henry Bourgchier the first Earl of Essex of that family, & of Isabel Plantagenet his wife, / in Little Easton Church Essex. / Sumptibus. Soc. Antiquar. Londini. Publish’d according to Act of Parliament April 23, 1789.
Center, Left: As Gough notes in his later commentary on this memorial in Sepulchral Monuments, the phrase—“ever to b”—plays on the word "be" and the letter “B” for Bourchier.
Center, Right: Jesus have pity.
On Bourchier’s Insignia: Shame on him who thinks ill of it.
Original Explanatory Account: Click here to read the original explanatory account for Plate 2.53.
Commentary by Christopher Loar: On April 10, 1788, the president of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL), George Townshend, Earl of Leicester, exhibited “three beautiful Drawings” of the memorial to Henry Bourchier, First Earl of Essex, and his wife, Isabel of Cambridge, and “[t]hanks were returned to his Lordship for this kind communication” (SAL Minutes XXII.364). These drawings were presumably those of Jacob Schnebbelie and used by James Basire to produce the engravings that appear here in Vetusta Monumenta as Plate 2.53, which was published the following year.
There are no other obvious traces of this presentation or these drawings in the archive. It is not clear why these drawings were presented by Townshend rather than by Schnebbelie’s usual employer, Richard Gough. Gough had been working closely with Schnebbelie beginning in 1787 and continued to commission work from him until the draughtsman’s untimely death in 1792 at age 31 (SAL MS 267). Gough’s partnership with Schnebbelie produced many drawings that were used to produce plates either for Vetusta Monumenta or for Gough’s own Sepulchral Monuments (1786-1796) project. It seems logical to assume that the drawings of the Bourchier monument were also a product of Gough and Schnebbelie’s collaboration, though no documentation of this appears in the archive. Records of the SAL contain correspondence between Schnebbelie and Gough about draughts taken at Winchester, Canterbury, Cobham, and elsewhere between early 1787 and June of 1788, but there is no surviving record of the decision to draw this monument in that correspondence. It is possible that this correspondence simply does not survive, though there is a small possibility that Schnebbelie was commissioned to prepare these drawings separately by Townshend, who had initially introduced him to the Society and who was his first patron (Reeve 71; Heringman 2013, 240-41).
Around the time the drawings were shown to the Society and Plate 2.53 was published, Schnebbelie and Gough were actively collaborating on taking drawings of a number of funereal monuments and other church architecture. The engraving from Little Easton would certainly reflect Gough’s strong interest in medieval subjects as well as in sepulchral art and architecture, and it is logical to assume that the drawings and the resulting engraving were a product of his work with Schnebbelie. Indeed, the fifteenth-century volume of Sepulchral Monuments includes a revised version of the commentary from the Vetusta Monumenta; in this entry, Gough does not include images of the monument. Instead, Gough refers readers to Plate 2.53, suggesting that it is part of a common draughting and engraving project (Gough 1786-1796, 2.283-4).
Plate 2.53 depicts the funereal monument to Bourchier and his wife, Isabel of Cambridge. Great grandson of Edward III (through his mother, Anne of Gloucester), Bourchier was among the most important members of one of medieval England’s most prominent families. A powerful Yorkist during the Wars of the Roses, he served as treasurer to his wife’s nephew, Edward IV. He was created Earl of Essex in 1461 (Clark). Other prominent members of the Bourchier family included his younger brother Thomas, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1455 to 1486 and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral. Henry Bourchier’s wife, Isabel of Cambridge, was an important Yorkist figure in her own right; great-grandchild of Edward III, her brother was Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Thus two of Isabel’s nephews, Edward IV and Richard III, became the last two Yorkist kings of England.
The monument in Little Easton seems to have been produced in the 1470s, prior to Henry Bourchier’s death in 1483 (Badham 2007, 432; Kent 1949, 85-86). Though Gough claims that the church at Little Easton (or “Estanes,” in his self-conscious archaism) was the original site of Henry and Isabel’s interment, the original site of the tomb and monument was at Beeleigh Abbey, which had long benefitted from the Bourchiers’ patronage (Fowler and Clapham 1922, 24). When Beeleigh Abbey was dissolved by the crown in 1536, Henry and Isabel’s grandson, the second Earl of Essex, attempted but failed to obtain a grant of the abbey’s lands. It appears that the second earl arranged to relocate the monument to the parish church at Little Easton, though anecdotal evidence suggests that some traces of the original monument may have survived at Beeleigh at least into the nineteenth century (“General Meeting” 1899, 410). It is unsurprising that the second earl would have been eager to preserve the memory of his family line; childless himself, he would have anticipated, and perhaps dreaded, his title’s extinction after his death. Commemorating his grandfather, and sending a message to the future about his family’s power and prestige, would have been important to him. The second earl’s pride in his ancestry is apparent elsewhere in his efforts to confirm and document his ancestor’s achievements in the days of the Yorkist ascendency (Gunn 1992, 144).
This plate forms part of a larger grouping of sepulchral monuments in this volume of Vetusta Monumenta, which also includes engravings from Westminster Abbey (Plates 2.29-2.35) and Winchester Cathedral (Plates 2.45-2.50). This grouping reflects the influence of Gough during this period, whose interest in medieval church and sepulchral architecture strongly shaped this volume. Though lumped together by John Fenn with other religious subjects such as abbeys and churches, the sepulchral monuments held a special fascination for Gough whose investment in this subject is apparent from his simultaneous work on his multi-volume series Sepulchral Monuments (1786-1796). These volumes include many engravings of monuments in brass, stone, and other media, richly illustrated with plates carved by Basire, among others. However, the specific reasons for including the Bourchier monument here in Vetusta Monumenta alongside those at much larger and more well-known sites are somewhat obscure.
The original drawings, as the minutes suggest, were valued for their aesthetic qualities, and the resulting engravings are certainly striking. The two images are detached from their immediate surroundings in the church; unlike some of the images Basire engraved for Sepulchral Monuments, the monument itself is visually isolated in Plate 2.53, with no traces of the surrounding architecture. An inset ruler below the memorial offers a sense of scale; beside it, we see representations of heraldic symbols that do not survive. Basire’s—and also, perhaps, Schnebbelie’s—remarkable skill with shading is visible in the side view of the monument, particularly in the detailed stonework of the arches. In the bird’s-eye view, the faces of the Bourchiers are rendered vividly, much more so than the surviving brass. Basire’s experience as a portrait artist perhaps encourages him to create more liveliness and detail to the face than the original brass could render. Henry’s eyes, for example, are lined in a way that adds depth to the image and that are not visible in the brass. The harsh line of Isabel’s nose in the brass is similarly rendered more subtly in the engraving, conveying a sense of depth and softness. One might read these details as humanizing and sentimental in a way that partly offsets the decontextualizing aspects of the engraving.
Nevertheless, the print presents as an accurate rendering of the monument in a state of decay, rather than as an idealized reconstruction. For example, Plate 2.53 depicts many indentations in the brass and stonework where heraldic emblems had been defaced or removed by the time of the print’s engraving. Likewise, the print preserves elements that were also apparrently lost in the nineteenth century, including the head of the “blackmoor,” part of the Bourchier family crest (as is still visible in Bourchier’s garter stall plate in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor). There are a number of differences between the rendering of the “blackmoor” in the stall plate and in Basire’s engraving, however; rather than the pronounced nose and somewhat melancholy countenance of the plate at Windsor, the face of this figure looks sideways at the viewer, smiling knowingly.
Despite this visual rhetoric of accuracy, there are a few inconsistencies in the plate’s handling of the language inscribed on the spandrils above the tomb, and reproduced in isolation at the center of Plate 2.53. Though Gough’s commentary confidently renders these as "ihs everto b" and "ihs aie pite," the engraving of the monument’s north face instead appears to depict the letters “everto” as “ener.” It is not clear whether this error was made by Schnebbelie or Basire. In fact, as the rendering at the center of the print attests, the inscription should be read as “ever to B,” as Gough also notes in his later commentary on this memorial in Sepulchral Monuments (2.283). The phrase plays on the word "be" and the letter “B” for Bourchier; the letter B is also stylized as a bouget, which forms part of the Bourchier family’s heraldry. In the original monument, the length of this phrase seems to have caused some problems for the stonecarver, as the letters break through the decorative frame. In Basire’s plate, the border is intact, though this integrity forces the reproduction to omit several letters.
The monument contains a remarkable example of a monumental brass plate. While most medieval and early modern funerary memorial effigies were primarily carved in stone, a vogue for the more striking and durable brass effigy emerged in the thirteenth century (Norris 1977, 1.1-24). A considerable body of work has been devoted to tracing the history of the development of this art form (see, for example, Le Strange 1972; Macklin 1890; Norris 1977; Trivick 1969). As Saul notes, recent interest in brasses has taken new directions, ranging from materialist studies of production and craft to examinations of the role of these monuments in the preservation of family dynasties (8-9).
Yet as Plate 2.53 indicates, this fascination with brass and other funerary monuments was already well underway in the eighteenth century. Several earlier antiquarian works had treated this topic, and some of them even described the Bourchier monument. It appears, for example, in John Weever's Ancient Funerall Monuments (1631, 629). By Gough’s day, as Rosemary Sweet notes, funeral monuments were prized by antiquarians not only as objects of melancholy or nostalgia but also (and more importantly) as records of Britain’s architectural and cultural past (2004, 273). Records of such monuments could be compiled to provide otherwise unrecorded information about lifeways and clothing styles, among other topics. This sort of work was partly inspired by the 1726 English translation of Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquite expliquee et representee en figures, and numerous antiquarians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had attempted to compile more-or-less comprehensive lists of funeral monuments surviving from the middle ages. Antiquaries like Gough, however, turned to such monuments in search of details and knowledge about the past that written materials rarely mention (Sweet 2004, 274-75).
The interest in the Bourchier monument is clearly part of a burgeoning nationalist interest in the English and British past, but it also represents a particular obsession with funerary and burial practices, exemplified elsewhere in Gough’s writing—especially in Sepulchral Monuments. According to Gough, the belief that the dead should be honorably interred is culturally universal, an act of natural impulse; it is also both a marker of religious belief and a necessity for modern biopolitical governance, since “it concerns the state that every one of its inhabitants should be accounted for” (Gough 1786-1796, “Introduction,” 2.1). Gough’s massive introductory essays to the individual volumes of Sepulchral Monuments include lengthy catalogs that constitute a sort of universal history of interment and commemorative practices. Gough describes his method and motivations as broadly empiricist and preservationist; he seeks to preserve the memorial as an object, with accuracy, rather than to evoke an affective response, as the memorial itself does. As he puts it, his work is a battle against “the devastation of false zeal and fanaticism [and] the depredations of time, caprice, ignorance, interest, and false taste” (Gough 1786-1799, “Preface,” 1.5). Gough presents himself as recording a decaying past for future study and reviving a knowledge of the past by recording it.
Yet in safeguarding the past, Gough echoes the purpose of the funereal monument itself; these monuments reproduce and commemorate, so studies of them become recursive, investigating and commemorating styles of commemoration. As Peter Sherlock has noted, a burial monument is a self-conscious message from the past to the future. Following Nigel Llewellyn, Sherlock notes that “the chief function of tombs was to replace the natural and social bodies of the dead with monumental bodies that maintained cultural unity and social continuity in the face of the breach created by death” (2). Gough and nationalist antiquarianism, in turn, seek to transform the particularities of this memorial into an interpretive tool for reading more general truths about the nation’s past. The Bourchier monument thus becomes a site in a contest of memory and meaning. The rhetoric of the memorial seeks to align its Yorkist subjects with piety and virtuous service to a monarch—as well as to underscore their status at a time of upheaval in English political life. Gough, however, seeks to attenuate this specific message; rather than revere the decaying dead, he subordinates awe and melancholy to practices of preservation, classification, and rational ordering in the service of reconstructing a national past. Ultimately Plate 2.53 exemplifies many of the tensions inherent to the evolving sphere of antiquarianism in the eighteenth century; this rendering of the Bourchier memorial makes visible a range of aesthetic, analytic, nationalist, and commemorative purposes.
Many thanks to John Bromilow, Megan Cook, Matthew Davis, Christina Fitzgerald, Warwick Newbury, Stephanie Opfer, Carl Pyrdum, and Kathryn Vulic for their assistance with this commentary.
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