Monuments and Memorials

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.

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

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.10, June 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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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, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.11, September 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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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.


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 (see transcript below), 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.

Transcript of the 1637 survey of Penn Church

Penn   [“Pen”]                        16 Aug[ust]

 3 bells[,] sanctus bell

The wainscot over the com[munion] table to be repaired & the chan[cel] to be seiled throughout[.]  The ivy in one of the chan[cel] windowes to be pluckt downe.  A table of degrees[.]  A new service booke[.] A new cover for the font[.]  The porch dores are wanting & bars to be put into the windowes of the porches[.]  The chan[cel] wants sentencing & the church likewise to be new sentenced & also new painted.  The boards whereon the ten comandments are now written to be taken downe & the ten com[mandments] to be set up over the com[munion] table. The 2d tome of Jewell, wanting strange preachers[.] The west window in decay in the glasse[.]  Two windowes in the ile in the chan[cel] partly dambd up.

Mr Pens \seat/ to be taken downe to ye the marke[,] it being covered and 2 yards & ½ high.  Mr Nertons & Mr Allens seats built absque1 in the chan[cel] & Mr Pens seat and Mr Nertons seats stand into the middle chan[cel][.] It raines into in the south ile.  The com[munion] carpet to be fringd as the pulpit cloth.  The brickt bench joyning to the railes to be taken away quite.   Another flaggon suitable to [deleted word] that which is there.   There is a guilt chalice.  A peece of wood lying out of the wall to be cut off.  Mr Nerton commeth to Pen & doeth not keepe his owne parish church.   The high seats in the chan[cel] to be considered of concerning the turning of them as formerly vizt. Mr Pens Mr Allens & Mr Nertons.  [deleted sentence] The wainscot which is over the sepa[ra]cion of church & chan[cel] to be made up decently as in former time. The seats both of church and chan[cel] want boarding for the most part in the bottomes & also repairing[.]  [deleted word] Two or three new seats built towards the bellfry to high absque etc.  A high seat at the upp[er] end of the south ile vizt. Mr Caryes built as high as Mr Pens and covered likewise absque etc.  William Childes seat built into the south ile to high about a yeares seat since absque etc.

Qu[aer]e whether the reading seat which is now on the south side and is so high that it dambds up the light of the chan[cel] will be convenient if it be joyned to the pulpit which is on the north side[?]

The foresaid 2 or three seats are Paul Kings & absque for the first [,] th’other Richard Ives et alies Registrum incipit 9 Oct 1563 in papyro[,] in pargamena 8 Aprill 1633.2

The seats of the porches are want in decay.  Mr Long and Thomas Butterfeilds seats stand into the middle ile & are to be taken downe to the marke.  The board upon K[in]gs seat to be taken downe.  No chest nor locks.   The pavements in decay.  The south side of the mounds are hedgd and the rest raild.   The butterices & corners of the steeple in decay & the steeple church and chan[cel] want pargeting & the foundacion not sufficien[t.]

Transcript courtesy of Nick Mole, October 2022

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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
Sara Uxoris eius
Obijt decimo die Decembris
Anno Domini

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.

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