Monuments and Memorials

John Pen (1534-96) & his wife Ursula (died 1610)

The earliest members of the Pen(ne) family recorded in the church are John and his wife Ursula Walleston and their six sons. They are commemorated on one of the five fine brasses in the south aisle. John’s will directed that he should be buried in the chancel and he was, but the brasses were all moved to the south aisle at some stage and then rearranged again in c.1953 when the Rev. Oscar Muspratt removed the pews and re-established a Lady Chapel.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

The church remained essentially Catholic in appearance and ritual until John Penne was into his teens and he clearly remained Catholic in his sympathies because he and his wife were listed as absentees in 1584 at a time of compulsory church attendance and the following year his wife agreed to pay a fixed annual fine towards providing horses for the Queen’s service in return for exemption from penalties to which they were liable for their recusancy (i.e. their refusal to acknowledge the Queen as head of the Church).

It may well have been that they were protected from the more unpleasant consequences of their loyalty to the old religion by Elizabeth’s fond memories of John’s mother Sybil Penne, foster mother from 1538 onwards to Elizabeth’s young brother who became Edward VI. Sybil lived at court and as John was only a year younger than Elizabeth they may well have played together as children. Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth herself all gave Sybil Penn gifts, land and an annuity. She was still living at Hampton Court when she died of smallpox in 1561.

A few years ago, Earl Howe found amongst his family papers the original letters patent, complete with a large royal seal, appointing John Penn as Elizabeth’s Escheator for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1574. The Escheator’s role was to ensure that the Crown received its dues when a royal tenant died, either without a successor or when the successor was underage, because in both cases the property reverted to the Crown. It may well have been a lucrative post because John was able to buy a good deal of property in Penn in the 1580s and 90s, including Baylins Manor, land in Forty Green, around Penbury Farm and from the Puttenhams of Puttenham Place.

Reverse of shield

Shield with ‘graffiti’

The brasses were all expertly examined in 1954 when the remaining portion of John’s damaged figure and their joint shield were loose. The shield was found to be a palimpsest, i.e. it had been re-used and the reverse (see illustration) is cut from the brass to a gentleman in a furred gown, c.1520, probably from London monastic spoil following the dissolution of the monasteries. The thickness of the shield is 3.25mm and the figure 2.5mm. For some reason, the initials ‘FL’ and W35(?) have been cut into the shield. Perhaps it is early graffiti?

The inscription is unexpectedly incomplete giving the wrong year and no date for John’s death and no year or age for his wife. The parish register, which could have been consulted, records the burial of ‘Mr John Penne Esquire on 12 Oct 1596 and of Mistress Ursula Pen, wid, on 2 May 1610′. This apparent neglect may reflect an uneasy relationship with their eldest son William since John’s will directs that a covenant to pay William an annuity to keep his family in meat and drink is only to be executed if William behaves himself. The reversion to a Latin inscription may be a last demonstration of their Catholic sympathies. The verse below translates roughly (with thanks to Earl Howe for help in interpreting some apparently rustic Latin)  as follows:

These limbs may be enclosed in an earthen grave
But only the stars hold their pious souls
Those whom love has united death has no power to separate
We have sealed together in this tomb.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.5, October 2008.

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William Penne (1567-1638/9) & his wife Martha (died 1635)

William Penne was the grandson of David & Sybil Penne whose pearls, a gift from Henry VIII, featured in the previous article. William grew up in Elizabeth’s reign and would have been 21 at the time of the Spanish Armada. We saw in a previous article (No 5) that his father, John, was only a year younger than the Queen and had probably played with her as a child. Despite Catholic sympathies, he had been appointed her Escheator for the county and profited considerably from it.

Both John and his wife were listed as absentees from the church in 1584 at a time of compulsory church attendance even though he was patron of the living and lay rector. His wife seems to have been a more fervent believer and was called to account again the next year. She and a Thomas Penn – one of John’s younger brothers was called Thomas, who was warned in his father’s will to reform his lewd manners – are amongst those on a list drawn up by the Sheriff of Bucks who agreed to pay an annual fine towards the cost of providing horses for the Queen’s service in Penn in return for exemption from penalties.  At about this time a Brother Thomas Penn appears in the records of the Jesuits so Thomas may have swung full circle. The struggle with Spain made it a dangerous time for Catholics and the Lord of Segraves Manor in Penn was imprisoned in 1587 for aiding and sheltering priests and two years later another of the county’s gentry was executed for the same offence.

William was therefore brought up in a very Catholic household. Before his father died, he was already married to Martha, daughter of Ferdinando Poulton or Bourton, Bucks. She too was a Catholic and was presented by the churchwardens for recusancy on several occasions, in particular in the three years before she died.

William took over a considerably enlarged estate when he inherited in 1596 at the age of 29.  He seems to have had an uneasy relationship with his father who directed that a covenant to pay him an annuity should only be executed if William behaved himself.  The incomplete inscriptions on his parent’s monument in the church may also suggest some family difficulties.­

However, he was presumably well though of in later life because he was appointed Sheriff of the County in 1624. In 1631 his name appears amongst. those who had neglected their services at the musters, possibly as a mark of disapproval of the King’s unconstitutional methods of government. There was no standing regular army. The country’s defence was organised by ‘men of means‘ providing equipment and horses according to their incomes. The vicar of Penn, for instance, jointly with the vicar of Hitcham, had to equip a man armed with a culiver or harquebus to defend against a Spanish invasion. When soldiers were needed they had to be levied from ‘musters of the militia‘ ­which consisted of (at least in theory) every able-bodied man between 18 and 60.

William and Martha had one son, John, and two daughters, Sibill and Katharine, both of whom were married. The parish register records the girls’ christenings in 1602 and 1608 respectively, but John must have been born elsewhere.

William died in 1639 (although the brass records that he died 9th January, 1638)1, aged 70, a good age for those days. His will included £5
for the poor of Penn, a ‘white nagge‘ to a grandson and a ‘brown nagge’ to a brother. He directed that he should be buried in the day-time in the chancel of Penn church and the handsome brass portraying him, his wife, who died three years before him, and their children, was later moved from the chancel to its present position in the south aisle.  It is interestIng that Catholic sympathies remaIned so strong In the Penn famIly for a full century after Henry VIII broke from Rome.

There was no consistency in spelling the family name at that time. It was spelled variously in the register as Penne, Pen and Penn.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.12, November 2005
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS


From The Nottingham Daily Express Thursday 21st September 1899.

WILLIAM PENN’S COFFIN UNEARTHED

An interesting discovery has just been made at Penn, in Buckinghamshire. A facuky (sic) applied for by the Vicar (Rev B J S Kerby) and churchwardens of the parish for the removal of a dilapidated, high-backed pew in the historic church has been granted, and the pew has just been taken down. The floor upon which it stood was found to be a false one, resting on the original floor, which had perished to such an extent as to be a source of danger. The decayed material having been cleared away, the coffin of William Penn, who was buried here in 1638, was discovered, lying within 4in. of the surface. It was of oak, black with age and perfectly sound. The coffin was carefully covered and sealed, and the floor was relayed and cemented round.

Thanks to Ron Saunders November 2021

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John Pen (c.1595-1641) & his wife Sarah Drury

Lady Susan Drurey

John was the only recorded son of William & Martha Penne, who we noted in the last article were both Catholic sympathisers although William later became High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. The parish register does not include John’s christening and it may have been in Bourton where his mother was from. He had two sisters Sybil (Jeffries) and Kate (Winchcombe), who were christened in 1602 and 1608 respectively.

John married Sarah, daughter of Sir Henry Drurey of Hedgerley, and they had ten children, five boys and five girls. The fine brass in Penn Church shows them all in a neat gradation of size, although actually at least three died as small babies. There is also a brass to Sarah’s mother, Lady Susan Drurey, who died in 1640.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)


John died in 1641 only two years after his 72 year-old father and just before the Civil War got properly underway. His eldest son and heir, William, was only 12 and so until he came of age, at 21, he was a ward of the Crown and all profits from his estate were payable to the King.

A formal Visitation or inspection of Penn Church took place in 1637, just two years before John inherited its patronage from his father. This was part of a national enquiry instigated by Archbishop Laud and it reveals a church in a dismal state: some windows without glass and partly boarded up, a leaking roof, seats in disrepair, the stone floor breaking up, the tower and buttress in a bad way. There were three huge family pews in the chancel (an important mark of a family’s social status), each 7 1/2 feet high and roofed, obscuring any view of the altar, with two more in the nave extending into the centre aisle and one at the front of the south aisle. If that sounds bad, it was worse at Chalfont St Peter where one side of the church was ‘so broken that a hog may creep through’.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.13, February 2010.
Photographs: courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS.

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William Penn (1628-93) & his wife Sarah Shallcross (d.1698)

William was only 13 when his father died in 1641 and so was made a ward of the Crown until he came of age, when a compounded sum of £1,450 would be due to the Crown. However, in 1645, when he was only 17, Parliament, still struggling for victory over the King, reduced the sum to £800 providing it was paid immediately, half to the Parliamentary governor of Windsor garrison and half to the governor of Henley, to be used for the purpose of reducing Bucks, Oxon and Berks in the Parliamentary interest.

Like most Buckinghamshire gentry he seems to have sympathised with the Commonwealth since he was High Sheriff of the county in 1656 at the age of 28, but he wisely headed the county’s subscription list for Charles II’s restoration in 1660.

He was a near contemporary of Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-70), the father of the famous William Penn the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania. Both he and the Admiral became convinced (wrongly) that they were descendants of the same family; the one pleased to claim a relationship with the leading Admiral of his day and the other, in reality the descendant of a yeoman, anxious to share the lineage of one of the three oldest families in Bucks.

William Penn the Quaker’s diary records a visit to Penn Street in 1669, presumably to Penn House.  William the Squire’s older sister, Elizabeth, was very probably already a Quaker, and just over a year later the Quaker recorded the dramatic conversion of a second sister.

A sister of the family of PENN in Buckinghamshire, a young woman delighting in the finery and pleasures of the world, was seized with a violent illness that proved mortal to her.” She had a vision of Christ “in the likeness of a plain countryman without any trimming or ornament whatever; and that his servants ought to be like Him”.  She said to those around her, “Bring me my new clothes, take off the lace and finery”; and charged her relations not to deck and adorn themselves after the manner of the world.” The heroine of the Quaker’s story was William’s youngest sister, Susan(na) Penn, who was buried at Penn church on 30 Dec 1670. Her widowed older sister Elizabeth was buried a week later, presumably a victim of the same ‘violent illness’.

In c.1651, William married Sarah Shallcross, the daughter of Humphrey Shallcross of Digswell near Hatfield, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1654.  They had the same coat of arms as Sir John Shallcross of Shallcross, a small village on the edge of the Peak District.  Sir John Shallcross was Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1638 immediately following Sir John Curzon of Kedleston.   The Shallcross connection may have led to the Curzon connection with Penn.

William and Sarah had 11 children, spread over 25 years between 1652 and 1677.  Only two boys survived to adulthood and John, the eldest, died aged 31, ten years before his father, leaving only Roger Penn, who was to be the last of his family’s name. Only one daughter married – Sarah, who was the wife of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, the direct forebear of the Earls Howe.

Portraits of the young couple and their family still hang in Penn House, painted by F.van Hees, a Dutch portraitist of considerable quality, but of whom almost nothing is known, even by the Netherlandish Institute for Art History at the Hague.  A comparison of the ages of those in the portraits with the information in the recently revised Penn family tree (see below), suggests that he paid three visits to Penn House, in about 1651, 1656 and 1660, to paint 7 portraits.

Many of the portraits have names and dates added in gold paint, which cannot always be trusted since they seem to have been added many years later.
The portraits are:

In 1651William Penn, then 23, and Sara Shallcross, probably a little younger, since she went on to have so many children.  The portraits are clearly a pair and presumably mark their wedding.

In 1651 -‘Mr Shallcross, one of Sarah’s two brothers, probably Francis.   It is unsigned.  He is holding a paper on which is written “For my Deare sister Mrs Sarah Pen att Pen Place”.  It may well have been a wedding present.   There is man o’ war in the background.  Francis inherited the manor of Digswell, Herts, from their father Humphrey in 1665 and there is a memorial to him dated 1681 in Digswell church.

There is also a later portrait in Penn House, probably 1660, with the description ‘Mr Shallcross’.  It is unsigned.

In 1656 A group portrait of their four young children

William & Sarah’s four oldest children and their dog, by F.van Hees in c.1656.  Their names have been added below at a later stage (from left), as ‘John eldest Son of Wm & Sarah Penn’, ‘Elizabeth eldest daughter Born 1653’, ‘Sarah 2nd daughter Wife of SrN Curzon’, and ‘William 2nd Son Born 1655’, and this accords with the
Penn Family tree 16th to 18th century
(PDF opens in new window)

In 1660 – William & Sarah with their four surviving children

William & Sarah with their four surviving children in c.1660, by F.van Hees.  To accord with the earlier portrait and family tree they are assumed to be (from left) Elizabeth, Sarah Martha, & John.    (click images to enlarge)

Their two dead sons, William and Humphrey, were added in the top L.H. corner as ‘angels’, probably the two with dark hair and wings.  Two later babies who died, Mary and Francis, must have been added after Francis died in 1669.

1660 – ‘Brother of William Penn’This must be Edward, the only brother who survived to adulthood (1639-1708). He would have been 21 in 1660.  It is unsigned.   He inherited Chalfont House in Chalfont St Peter as well as property in Hedgerley from his mother’s  Drury family (see British History)  He had one son, Marmaduke.  What is taken to be a later portrait of Edward, has the partly erroneous description, “The father of Marmaduke and cosen of William Penn”

The memorial on the chancel wall shows the arms of both families (with the Penn roundels mistakenly re-painted in gold rather than silver).

“This is placed in memory of
William Penn Esquire,
who died on
the 12th day of May
in the year of the Lord 1693,
at 64 years of age,
buried, at his wish,
outside in the cemetery”1

 

William died in 1693, aged 64, and the monument on the north chancel wall records that he was buried at his request in the cemetery outside the church. This was unusual because the family vault was beneath the chancel. His wife died five years later and their grave, the oldest still legible in the cemetery, is a brick altar monument with a black marble top just outside the chancel south wall.

Hic iacet Corpus
Gulielmi Penn Armigeri
qui Obijt duodecimo die Maij
 Anno Dni 1693 Anno
Etatis suae 64
Hic etiam iacet
Corpus
Sara Uxoris eius
Obijt decimo die Decembris
Anno Domini
1698  

Here lies the body of William Penn Esquire, who died on the 12th day of May in the year of the Lord 1693 at 64 years of age.
Here also lies the body of Sara his wife. She died on the 10th day of December in the year of the Lord 1698


The Shallcross arms also appear on a plaque outside Penn House suggesting that the house was extended in their time.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.14, April 2010
Photographs, courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS.

This entry was first published by .

Brasses a General Review

The earliest surviving brass in England is AD 1277 and the fashion lasted until the Civil War in the mid 17th century. Brasses were successors to the incised stone slabs decorated with a long cross of which we have one example in Penn Church and were originally exclusive to knights and their ladies and to ecclesiastics, but the c.1350 brass at Taplow to a fishmonger heralded the rise of the middle classes.

Brass was preferred because it was more durable and easily worked than stone and took up much less space. Only about 4,000 brasses survive in England, mainly in the eastern counties (228 in Buckinghamshire), out of an estimated 150,000, with the vast bulk destroyed during religious and civil upheavals, particularly following the Reformation in the 1530s and 40s when churchwardens’ accounts record the sale of the brass.

The anti-catholic sentiment of the following centuries meant that anything expressing ‘Popish’ sentiments was in danger of being neglected or vandalised. Thus only a few inscriptions with no figures survive in Beaconsfield and Wycombe churches and the six Amersham figures are not complete. Gratifyingly five post-Reformation brasses survive in Penn of which four are complete, of high quality and in good condition, although any earlier ones have gone. Nevertheless, ten times as many brasses survive in England than on the Continent where invasion and revolution have been much more frequent.

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.

The oldest surviving brass in Penn church, to Elizabeth Rok who died in 1540. 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.

Many people had their brasses prepared in their lifetimes anxious that the inscription should include a prayer for God to have mercy on their soul and ask for prayers on their behalf. The date would be left blank to be filled in by their descendants. Perhaps the most important function of the brass was to attract the prayers of passers-by to help the soul through purgatory, the spiritual purification before entering the future life when the dead were not able to help themselves and needed the prayers and devotions of the living particularly on the anniversaries of their death, which was why noting the date of death was so important. After the Reformation the value of prayers for the dead was discounted and inscriptions instead tended to recount the deceased’s good deeds and exemplary qualities, often in over-flattering terms.

Brasses were generally set east-west with the head to the west, as were the bodies beneath so that the deceased was ready to rise up to greet Christ on Judgement Day. The brass was always placed as close as possible to an altar in which holy relics had been placed. The brasses of the three Elizabethan and early Stuart Penns, all lords of the manor, were still in the chancel in 1847, but the other two brasses were ‘in the south aisle amongst the tombs of the Penn family’. William Penn, who died in 1693, is the first recorded head of his family to ask to be buried outside the chancel in the graveyard and even then his black marble tombstone hugs the wall of the chancel and the Lady Chapel. By 1925, all five brasses were grouped together in the southern half of the south chapel but were moved again, c.1950, to their present grouping in the south aisle when the World War II memorial was set up by the Rev. Oscar Muspratt.

The brasses were made of sheets of ‘latten’, an alloy of 75% copper similar but not identical to modern brass, which were imported until zinc, a necessary component, started to be mined in England in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The design was drawn, copied on to the metal with paint or a pointed instrument, and then engraved with a sharp metal chisel struck with a special hammer. The design seldom attempted portraiture and different workshops often developed a characteristic face. All the Buckinghamshire brasses are from London workshops. The lines were then blackened with bitumen or often a coloured pigment and the surface was polished.  It was fixed with brass rivets. Palimpsests, old brasses turned over and re-used, are quite frequently found (there is one 1597 example in Penn), often looted after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. The last three Penn brasses (1638, 1640, 1641) came right at the end of the fashion for brasses at a time when quality elsewhere was very low, but they are notable examples from the leading workshop of Edward Marshall the Royal Master Mason from the City of London.

Norman French was usual in England for inscriptions until the mid-14th-century (it was the official  language of the law courts until 1362).  The first inscription in English in c.1370 appears at Brightwell Baldwin, Oxon), but Norman French still remained in use to the early fifteenth century. Latin generally took over for the last century or so up to the Reformation and the many contractions of the words make them difficult to read, particularly when combined with difficult Tudor script as in the Amersham brass to John de la Penne of 1521. By 1500, English had gained in popularity as demonstrated in the 1540 Penn brass to Elizabeth Rok. After the Reformation, English generally took over except for ecclesiastics who stayed with Latin.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.15, June 2010
Photograph © courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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Sarah Curzon (1678-1707) & Charles Curzon (1684-1713)

Sarah Curzon and Charles Curzon, the oldest daughter and youngest son of Sarah Penn and Nathaniel Curzon, are both buried at Penn and there are two small wall monuments in the chancel of Penn Church in their memory. Both spent their childhood in Penn and Charles went to Berkhamsted School and was a doctor of civil law in London.

A comparison of the Penn Parish Register entries with the wording on the two wall monuments throws up surprising mistakes. Sarah’s baptism is recorded on Feb 11 1678, and her burial as ‘Madam Sarah Curzon, eldest daughter of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, Baronet of Kedleston in the County of Derby’, is noted on Jan 26 1707. She was therefore 28, nearly 29 years old. The memorial however records her death on Jan: 19th, 1701. Aged 29 Years.

Charles’ baptism was on 1 Feb 1684 and his burial is recorded in the Register as ‘Dr Charles Curzon a civilian, youngest son of Sir Nathaniel Curzon was buried on Feb 11 1713’. He was therefore just 29 years old. His monument however records his death as on Feb. the 4th, 1713. Aged 32 Years.

Thus Sarah’s monument is six years out and Charles’s mistakes his age by three years, which suggests that both were put up a  considerable time after their death. This was probably because there seems to have been a serious fire in the chancel in the early 1730s which would have damaged earlier monuments.

Sir George Grove wrote many years later about his grandfather’s memory of such a fire in the chancel at that time. We know for sure that in 1736 Sarah and Charles’s elder brother, Sir Nathaniel Curzon, rebuilt the upper part of the chancel and he presumably erected the new monuments. However it is surprising that no one thought to check the Register.

There is an earlier note in the Parish Register, in 1678, ‘Memorandm In ye first day of August the Act of Parliament came into force for burying in woollen’. This refers to the Burial in Woollen Acts which attempted to protect the English Wool Trade requiring that all bodies should be buried in wool with the exception of those who died from the Plague. A five pound fine was imposed for burials which did not comply with the Acts. This legislation was in force until 1814, but it was an expensive alternative and only a few Curzons, Penns and Bakers are so noted in the Penn Register up to 1713 and none thereafter.

The Register entries for Sarah and Charles Curzon both record payment of the requisite fine. Charles’s entry records that ‘His corps were brought from London & buried at Penn… and Affidavit made of his being buried in linen (for which forfeiture was paid) before John Smith Esqr. Justice of the Peace for the County of Middlesex.’ Sarah ‘was buried in Linnen… and the Penalty for Burying in Linen paid the same day’.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter No 19, March 2011
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS

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