Saturday, April 01, 2006

The D'Oyley Tomb, Hambleden

With Spring finally arrived, out for a walk near Henley on Thames, watching red kites playing in the wind above Fawley, and then descending down to Hambleden. Here the stream, confidently shown on the OS map, has not run for two years; a local told me that two years of significant rainfall was needed for the stream to run again, so low has the water-table in the Chilterns sunk.

In the church at Hambleden, a monument to Sir Cope D’Oyley (1571-1633) and his wife Martha, ‘who received the crown of glory in the year of Grace 1618’. She died shortly after the birth of their 10th child, and 5th little girl: for they had ‘lived together in inviolated bands of Holy Wedlock 22 years, and multiplied themselves into five sons and five daughters, viz. John, James, Robert, Charles, Frances, Martha, Mary, Dorothie, Elizabeth & Joan.’

As is usual, the boys kneel in front of their Father, the girls in front of their mother, both sets facing one another, as the parents face one another in prayer.

Here are the verses beneath, first for Sir Cope:

Ask me not who’s buried here

Goe ask the commons, ask the Shire

Goe ask the Church, they’l tell thee who

As well as blubbered eyes can doe

Goe, ask the Heraulds, ask the poore

Thine ears shall heare enough to ask no more

Then – if thine eye bedew this sacred urne

Each drop a pearle will turne

T’adorne his Tombe, of if thou canst not vent

Thou bringst more marble to his Monument.

And again, for Martha:

Woulds’t thou, reader, draw to life

The perfect copy of a Wife

Read on, & then redeeme from shame

That lost, that honourable name

This Dust was once in spirit a Jael

Rebecca’in grace, in heart an Abigail

In works, a Dorcas: to the church, a Hanna

And to her spouse, Susanna

Prudently simple, providently wary

To the world a Martha, to heav’n, a Mary.

This was a family with connections to literature: Martha was the sister of the poet Francis Quarles. The verses might be locally written – that sounds to me like a South Oxfordshire rhyme of ‘here’ and ‘shire’. But the last lines of the Sir Cope epitaph, that rebuke to the stony-hearted reader who fails to weep, are very well turned. It could be his brother in law writing, but it is not among Quarles’s published works (Quarles is fond of 'marble' conceits, and has a striking Martha and Mary poem). Then Martha: five couplets matched to his five, but suddenly the poet had recourse to that all too ready cultural despair about women. Sir Cope is just a good man, prompting no need to make general reflections about men. Martha, however, gets praised in the usual way the 17th century could praise a woman, as a glorious exception to a general rottenness. Conversely, you could say, look how high the bar was raised. Sir Cope is an individual who can call on the testimony of everyone locally, from all ranks of society, to witness his virtues. But Martha is measured against, first, other wives, and she surpasses them, to be ranked with eight women from the Bible. Her achievements as a person are at once resonant, and beyond normal reality, so she is placed among a Biblical elect, just as their virtues had been alive on earth in her. It is the man who is wept for, the woman who is admired (that Sir Cope's was the recent death influences this). Once again, our poet knows how to end a set of verses, with that flash of wit in the play between her earthly and heavenly identity. Can personality emerge from this pageant of Bible heroines? ‘In spirit a Jael’ – could that allusion to the Bible’s fiery murderess have been welcomed as an excellent way to convey what her real temper was like? Is ‘Susanna’ totally inseparable from a faintest suggestion of one of the Bible’s sexier women?

They had 10 children, four of them dying young. John, the eldest boy, was a royalist, while Charles, the fourth son, fought for the other side, commanding Lord Fairfax’s Life Guard at the Battle of Naseby, where he offered the bare-headed Fairfax – a wildly courageous man from a military family – his own helmet in the midst of the battle. The two brothers seem to have come close to fighting one another in smaller local actions, but both survived the war.

I post an image of the elder sons. The Church guide asserts that John, the eldest, and James, the second brother, are dressed as Cavaliers, while the three younger sons are dressed as Puritan roundheads. The first thing about John is that he is a mature man, scaled at two thirds the size of his father, that was the conventional way to sculpt a tomb like this. He is barbered and dressed for court, his next brother ‘died young’, but was presumably intended for the army, for he is in 17th plate armour. The last three boys are indeed in plainer attire, the simple linen flap falling down square over the shoulders, and in two shorter lozenge shapes at the open front. But how was this done? How could a monumental mason carve in alabaster in 1633 the outward form of the boys’ political persuasions in the 1640’s? No, the three younger sons are just in the neutral attire of younger sons of an Oxfordshire gentleman, their careers neither settled nor projected.

I usually tell my students – the young women at least – what their reproductive career might have been had they been born 400 years before. None of them remotely contemplates that 5-7 children average. Martha came from a Puritan family of 8 children, her brother Francis and his wife managed 18. What nets of kinship they must have had!

1 comment:

Arnold said...

There's an interesting article by Karl Josef Holtgen, in Notes and Queries for 1975, arguing that the verses on the D'Oyley monument are indeed by Quarles. I'm not usually a fan of the attribution game, but Holtgen makes quite a convincing case, based on the fact that a line in the poem for Martha D'Oyley, 'Prudently simple, providently wary', turns up again, almost unchanged, in Quarles's elegy for Sir John Wolstenholme in 1640: 'Prudently simple, providently wise'. Evidently Quarles felt that it was too good not to use again!

One striking thing about the D'Oyley monument is that Cope and Martha are given equal prominence: as Holtgen says, this is very much a 'combined D'Oyley-Quarles monument', and as such, it's making a dynastic statement as much as (or more than) a gendered one.