Monday, September 18, 2006

Fruyte and ofspring, 1567

I went out cycling late on Friday afternoon, and was across to Shottesbrooke, a few miles east of Reading, in time to pick up the key to Shottesbrooke Church from the Landmark Trust office on the estate. It is a notable example of a 'Decorated' style Church, still consecrated, but with most of the pews removed. Among the brasses this left completely clear of the usual lengths of carpet, was this one, to Thomas Noke.

"Here lyeth buried Thomas Noke who for his great age and vertuous lief was reverenced of all men and com(m)enly called Father Noke created Esquier by King Henry VIII he was of stature high + comely and for his Excellencie in artilarie made y(e)omen of the crowne of England which had in his lief there (three) wifes and by every of them com fruyte + of(f)spring and deceased the 21st day of August 1567 in the year of his age 88, leaving behynde hym Julian his last wief, two of his brotherne one sister one only sonne and ii daughters living"

I suppose that the surviving wife, Julian, had herself depicted alone on her late husband's right, her two predecessors on his left. Nothing distinguishes their ages or costumes. Thomas Noke himself has a crown with a Tudor rose on his left shoulder, as a mark of his Royal service, and is well dressed, with fur linings to his robes and ornamental sleeves. There's a stylised flower between his feet. Facing us full-frontally, with his wives orientated to three-quarter face around him, he is made central to the otherwise inevitably assymetrical design.

The hieratic image, static and pious, makes the hazardous career Nokes somehow survived come as a surprise. I suppose that the memorial means 'artilarie' as in guns (the 'great artillery', properly), and so we have to imagine the old blue powder burns on his praying hands, and the ringing in his ears he'd probably have lived with for many years.

It is a dignified memorial, though perhaps faintly conveying (by that redundancy, in an otherwise breathlessly terse summary, about "fruyte and ofspring") the last Mistress Nokes' appreciation of her late husband as a potent man, whose various talents satisfied a King and three wives.

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