Monuments and Memorials

No 6 & 7: John and Elizabeth de la Penne 1521/1537

The earliest surviving monument to anyone from Penn that I have found is a brass to John and Elizabeth de la Penne in St Mary’s, Amersham. It is a surprise to find that although the Muster Returns of 1522 show that John Penne was the biggest landowner in Penn with some 500‐600 acres he was living in Amersham ‘within the town’ where he was assessed with the second highest figure for moveable goods and a further 200 or so acres. He was the ‘firmarius’ or farmer of the Amersham glebe land, a role which also carried the responsibility for care of the church and churchyard.

Although the Penne family were lords of the manor of Penn they did not hold the patronage of Penn Church until Henry VIII granted it to John’s eldest son, David and his wife Sybil (neé Hampden) in 1541 and so John’s residence and burial in Amersham is less surprising. As a consequence of royal grants and patronage, the Penne family were to acquire much more land in and around Penn in the following century and thereafter they were all buried in Penn Church.

There is a plaque on the front of Penn House with the date ‘1536’ which Earl Howe is pretty sure is a souvenir ‐ and a genuine one ‐ from the Tudor house, two thirds of which was pulled down in c.1760.

The memorial brass is on the floor just inside the door of St Andrew’s Chapel in St Mary’s  Amersham. It shows John in civil dress rather than in the armour more usual in a landed family and he is described as ‘Magister John Penne’ in a will of 1520, which translates as ‘Master’ to indicate his social status. The same title was also used for the Rector of Amersham, the Vicar of Penn and another lord of the manor and could have indicated an MA. The French form of his name as ‘de la penne’ on the brass had gone out of fashion a century and a half earlier, and he was not using it when he appeared in the court hearing of 1520 or in 1496 when he was recorded as John Pen. Its use would seem to be a proud assertion of his ancient lineage. No brasses of any contemporaries survive in St Mary’s, which again tends to confirm his comparatively high status.

(continued …… (7))

The previous article noted that earliest surviving monument to anyone from Penn seems to be the memorial brass to John and Elizabeth de la Penne, which is now under the carpet just inside the door of St Andrew’s Chapel in St Mary’s Amersham. It shows John in civil dress rather than in the armour more usual in a landed family, but a proud assertion of his ancient lineage would seem indicated by his use of the French form of his name which had gone out of fashion a century and a half earlier.

The Monumental Brasses of Buckinghamshire notes that two parts of the original brass have been lost – a depiction of 5 sons and 6 daughters as well as two shields bearing the arms of husband and wife – and observes that John’s date of death has been added later to the brass. The brasses were moved from the south transept to the north transept (now St Andrew’s Chapel) in 1973, but as there is no mention of the depiction of sons and daughters in a record of 1847 (George Lipscomb’s History and antiquities of the County of Buckingham), the damage must have been done earlier, perhaps in a move from the chancel. The style of engraving is of a London workshop of that period. The later addition of John’s date of death in 1537 indicates that the brass was engraved around the time of the earlier death of his wife Elizabeth, in 1521. A space (shown on  the right in yellow highlight) was left blank for John’s date from ‘obiit’ in line 4 below to ‘quor’ on the next line, but it was restricted and so the inscription is in a considerably more contracted form than his wife’s.

The inscription is in Latin, as was still generally the custom at that time before the Reformation, and the many contractions makes the words difficult to read, particularly when combined with the scribe’s uncertain Latin and difficult Tudor script. The original inscription has a line above a word or a superscript to indicate a contraction. The letters omitted are shown in red in the transcript below:

Orate pro anīmabus Johannīs de la penne et Elizabeth uxoris eius filie Petri Hally
Pray for the souls of John de la penne and of his wife Elizabeth daughter of Peter Hally

Armigeri que quaedem Elizabeth obiit vicesimo primo die mensis
Esquire and the certain (same) Elizabeth died on the twenty first day of the month

Novembris Anno uni millesimo v°xxj°
of November in the one thousandth year 5 hundred and 21

Et Idem Johannis obiit xxvij die mense decembris
And the same John died on the 27th day in the month of December

Anno uni m v xxxvij quorum animabus pro’picíetur Deus. Amen.
in the one thousandth year 5 hundred and 37 may God have mercy on their souls. Amen.

© Miles Green, December 2007, February, 2008
Photographs © courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS


No 8: Elizabeth Rok

The earliest brass in Penn Church was originally in the Lady Chapel but was moved in c.1950, to the present grouping in the south aisle when the World War II memorial was set up by the Rev.Oscar Muspratt. It is to Elizabeth Rok who died in 1540 and shows a woman dressed in a shroud, a popular form at that time, usually quite small as this one is. It is fixed to a slab of Purbeck marble and the style of engraving is of a London workshop of that period.

There is a broken scroll above the head with the words ‘In the day of Judgement, Lorde d(eliver me) The inscription is as follows:

God which art Creatour & Redemer of all
faithfull people
Graunt unto ye Soule of Elizabeth Rok thy
servaunt & also to
the Soules of all trew bilevers depted
Remyssyon of all their synes
that through devout prayours they may
attayne thy gracious
pdon whiche they have alwey dsyed by crist
our lord Amen
9 AUGUST 1540

By 1540, Henry VIII’s Reformation had been underway for ten years. In 1538 every parish church was ordered, for the first time, to have an English bible and the wording of the inscription breathes the spirit and language of the first English Prayer Book which was to appear in 1549.

No other mention of this lady has been found so far, but it seems likely that she was the first beneficiary of Henry VIII’s largesse when Chacombe Priory was dissolved in 1535 and so was the first lay proprietor of Penn Church.

Burial in the Lady Chapel was a considerable privilege and indicates a high status. A search of the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII for this year  should establish this. It was not until the year after she died, in 1541, that Henry VIII granted all Chacombe Priory’s rights and possessions to David and Sybil Penne in recognition of her care of his son, the future Edward VI.

There is no record of Elizabeth Rok’s burial because although churches were ordered to keep a register of all baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538, Penn’s register does not survive until 20 years later. This may have been in part because, in 1539, the Vicar of Penn was himself put in Aylesbury Gaol ‘on account of the utterance by him of certain opprobrious words’. He had presumably been unwise in expressing his view of new arrangements. However, he survived and was suffering from the plague the following year and at some stage seems to have abandoned priestly celibacy for marriage. He stayed as vicar for many
years.

© Miles Green, April 2009.
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS.


No 9: David Penne (d.1564) & Sybil Penne (d.1562) Part 1

John Penne, who, as we have seen in an earlier article (Monuments No.6), lived in Amersham, was succeeded as lord of the manor by his son David, who was probably born around 1500 since he himself had a son, John, in 1534. The parish registers do not survive from before 1559, but anyway David would have been brought up in Amersham. Penn House was rebuilt, in 1536 if the plaque on the front is to be believed, probably by David and his wife Sybil (written variously as Sibille and Sibell) Hampden early on in their marriage, although the arms on the second small stone plaque below the first are those of Sarah Shallcross, a 17th-century Penne wife.

Henry VIII by Holbein 1536-7 (NPG)

Sybil was a Hampden on both sides. They were a wealthy family, well-connected at Court, and it was a family relation, Sir William Sydney, Chamberlain and Steward of the infant Prince’s household, who recommended her to the then all-powerful Thomas Cromwell. In 1538, she was appointed ‘dry norrice’ to the one year-old Prince Edward whose mother, Jane Seymour, had died a few days after his birth. It must have been a daunting task. She was young, probably still in her 20s with five young children of her own and looking after Henry VIII’s son and heir was an immensely important and probably risky undertaking. According to Sir William’s son, who was brought up with the prince, she was his ‘only nurse’ and slept with the young prince every night for the first five years ‘so long as he remained in women’s government’.

The frequent marks of royal favour and exchanges of gifts over the ensuing years show that she was highly esteemed by Henry VIII and his successors. She remained at Court all her life serving Mary as a Woman of the Queen’s Privy Chamber and Elizabeth as a Lady of the Bedchamber. The royal nursery moved between Havering, Hampton and Ashridge near Berkhamsted, and since her own children were contemporaries with the King’s (John was a year younger than Elizabeth) they may well have played together. As we have already seen (Monuments No 5), Elizabeth I was to appoint John Penne to a lucrative role as her Escheator and largely ignore his family’s recusancy. In 1561, she gave a generous ‘New Yeres gift’ of £18 sterling to the ‘sometyme nource to our dere and well beloved brother King Edward the Sixt’.

The last portrait of Edward VI before he died
of TB aged 15. he is gallantly imitating his
father’s stance in the Holbein portrait (NPG)

In 1539, ‘David Penne and Sibille, his wife’ were granted an annuity of £40 during her lifetime ‘in consideration of her services as nurse to Prince Edward, the heir apparent’. Later the same year, shortly after the dissolution of Missenden Abbey (which her own family had helped establish in the 12th-century), she wrote to Cromwell asking for its lease from the King, but was not successful Two years later, ‘in consideration of her services in the nurture and education of Prince Edward’, and apparently after she had successfully nursed Edward through a fever, Henry VIII granted her for life all the rights and interests in Penn that had formerly been enjoyed by Chacombe Priory. This was the rectory (probably centred on Parsonage Farm) which was farmed out at the time to Richard Balam and included two cottages (possibly Crown and Church Cottages near the church). Altogether it was worth £8-13-4d p.a., representing over 300 acres, together with the patronage of Penn Church.

At the same time, she also received the small neighbouring manor of Beamond and the rectory and patronage of Little Missenden, both of which had belonged to the monastery of Bicester in Oxfordshire, worth £13-6-8d p.a;. the manor of Holmer in Little Missenden that had belonged to manor of Burnham; and the small manor or farm called Auffrikkes in Little Missenden that had belonged to Godstow monastery in Oxfordshire and was worth £3-6-8d p.a.

The grant stipulated that after Sybil’s death a yearly rent of £2-10-8d, representing 1/40th part of a knight’s fee, would have to be paid to the King, but in 1553, just two months before his early death, Edward VI confirmed these grants to her and her heirs in freehold. They almost trebled the Penn family land-holding in the parish and its immediate area, and 456 years later, Earl Howe, her direct descendant, is still patron of both Penn and Little Missenden churches and owns a good deal of the same property.

Despite their significance in the history of both the family and the parish, there is no surviving monument to either David or Sybil Penne in Penn Church and the next article will suggest why this is and retell a good ghost story.

© Miles Green, June 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS


No 10: David Penne (d.1564) & Sybil Penne (d.1562), Part 2

We have seen that it was probably David and Sybil Penne who rebuilt Penn House in 1536 and that in 1538 Sybil was appointed to the highly responsible and prestigious role of looking after the year-old prince who was to become Edward the Sixth. She was richly rewarded with land, churches and generous gifts which trebled the Penn family’s property and set their descendants on a course of good marriages and increasing prosperity for the next 350 years, right up to the start of the 20th-century when high taxes and profligate spending started to take its toll.

Sybil Penne’s life-sized effigy in her monument in Hampton Church

Sybil Penne, as we have seen, remained at Court all her life and died of smallpox at Hampton Court Palace on 6 November 1562. She was a Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber and was probably nursing the young Queen Elizabeth, not yet 30, who had caught smallpox and very nearly died of the disease three weeks earlier. Indeed, at the point of crisis she was unconscious, her doctors thought she would die and her Council were in an adjoining room discussing the momentous question of the succession. The Queen herself believed she was dying and had made provision accordingly. It is intriguing to think that Sybil Penn’s care – she had known and looked after Elizabeth since childhood – might have played a significant part in England’s history, which would have been very different had Elizabeth died.

Sybil was buried in the chancel of Hampton Church and a fine monument was erected consisting of a recumbent life-sized effigy of her under a marble canopy supported on pillars. A rhyming epitaph extols her virtues including the lines, ‘Twoo queens that sceptre bare, gave credit to this dame…..Before eche joye, yea and her life, her Princes health prefard…’.

The church was struck by lightning and in 1829 it was pulled down and rebuilt. Sybil’s monument was moved to near the staircase leading to the organ loft and according to some contemporary reports, the tomb was irreverently disturbed and her remains scattered.

Sybil Penne as depicted on a wall
painting around a door at the rear
of Hampton Church.
Her monument effigy appears
to have been used as a model.

Immediately afterwards, so the story goes, strange noises as of a woman working at a spinning wheel, and muttering the while, were heard through the wall of a room in Hampton Court Palace. A hidden chamber was discovered in which there was an antique spinningwheel and the old oak floor boards were worn away where the treadle struck them. In the 1880s there were frequent accounts of seeing ‘Mrs Penn’s tall gaunt form’ around the haunted room and gallery, exactly corresponding with the appearance of the effigy on the tomb, and of the low whirring of an unseen spinning-wheel, a sepulchral voice and a stealthy tread. There was also another, surprisingly well-authenticated sighting in 1905.

There are monumental brasses to four of the five generations of the Penne family of the Tudor and Stuart periods, and the only one missing is to David and Sybil Penne. David died on 3 February 1565, just over two years after his wife, and his will directed that his body was to be buried in Penn chancel, ‘among myne ancestors’. He also directed that the body of his wife should be removed from the place where she was then buried and be placed beside his body. An alternative account of when Sybil’s tomb was moved in 1829 was that ‘only a little yellow hair and a few hair-pins’ were found in the grave, suggesting that her body had been previously removed. However, there is no record that this was ever done and it may be that her absence is why no brass was ever prepared – unless of course it was lost or damaged when the family brasses were all moved to the south aisle.

© Miles Green, June 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS


No 11: David Penne (d.1564) and Sybil Penne (d.1562),
Part 3 Hat and Pearls

In previous articles, Miles Green has described the close links which existed between Sybil Penn, nurse to the King Henry VIII ‘s infant son Edward, and the royal court of the mid-16th century. As tangible evidence of those links I am fortunate in being able to show visitors to Penn House two very interesting items

The first of these is a boy’s cap. Made of blue velvet with a silk lining, and trimmed at the base with ermine, it is of the style of head-covering worn by young men during the early Tudor period. By family tradition, it is known as Prince Edward’s cap, the assumption being that it was retained as a keepsake by Sybil Penn, when her royal charge had outgrown it. The size of the cap is quite small and it was clearly made for the head of someone very young. Luckily successive generations of my family have treated it with care. It occupies a special display case, covered by a glass dome to prevent handling and to keep out dust, with the result that it is still in excellent condition.

The second item is even more evocative. It is a string of pearls, which again by family tradition, are known as ‘King Henry VIII’s pearls’. The story attached to them is that they were given to Sybil Penn by the King as a token of gratitude for Sybil’s loyal service as the royal nurse. Objects of this sort can be difficult to date, but quite recently I showed the pearls to an expert in Tudor and Stuart jewellery who was confident that they can be dated to the mid-16th century. The picture gives an indication of how unlike modern pearls they are, being quite uneven in size and colouring. In a way this adds to their charm, and although they have lost a good deal of their natural lustre (a fact which unfortunately reduces their monetary value considerably), my wife still enjoys wearing them. When doing so she is sometimes able to introduce an element of theatricality. On occasions when she has given talks to groups of school children about my family’s history she has recounted the story of Sybil Penn’s ghost, said to haunt Hampton Court Palace. Legend has it that the ghost is looking for a lost set of pearls. At this point my wife takes great delight in revealing, with a flourish, the said pearls hanging round her own neck!

© Frederick Howe, September 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS