Monuments and Memorials

No 5: 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.

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, October 2008.


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