Recently we had a lovely break in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, which is one of the most picturesque villages I’ve ever visited. There is a lovely church there, with a beautiful Saxon font, the arms of Cardinal Wolsey on the altar, and a memorial to W.H. Smith, of the retail chain, churchwarden, and apparently model for Sir Joseph Porter KCB in HMS Pinafore. His widow was created Viscountess Hambleden, and lived at Greenlands, now home to Henley Business School, built on the former home of the D’Oyley family, and it is this D’Oyley memorial in the church which most interested me. This impressive alabaster monument memorialises Cope and Martha D’Oyley, who, according to the wording, ‘lived together in inviolated bonds of holy wedlock 22 years, and multiplied themselves into five sons and five daughters’. Martha died in 1618 during the birth of her tenth child; Cope was knighted by Charles I and later died in 1633.
Their ten children are depicted kneeling around them; those who pre-deceased their father are holding skulls, and the eldest two, John and James, are in Royalist costume, while the rest are dressed as Puritans, indicating dramatic and difficult divisions in the family’s politics. Charles D’Oyley, one of the Puritan offspring, became an officer under Cromwell, fighting for Henley on the Parliamentary side while his brother John defended Greenlands for the Royalists. I am no expert on church monuments (unlike my father), but the memorial is nicely described by Nikolaus Pevsner, who tells us the monument has been attributed to either John Hargrave or William Wright, in The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire: ‘Two kneeling figures facing each other. They are surrounded in the most engaging way by the crowd of their kneeling children. The children, usually reduced to miniature size and banished to the base of the monument, are here treated literally on the same level as their parents.’ We can surmise how the family was viewed, then, or viewed themselves: their fondness for each other and their children, though we don’t know who commissioned this remarkable memorial. Such alabaster monuments remind me of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’, denoting what might not have been meant and what we might wrongly surmise:
Ask not me who’s buried here;
Goe ask ye Commons; ask ye Sheire,
Goe, ask ye Church; They’l tell thee who
As well as blubberd eyes can doe;
Goe, ask ye Heraulds; Ask ye poore,
Thine eares shall heare enough to aske no more;
Then, if thine eye bedewe this sacred urne,
Each drop a pearle will turne
T’adorne his Toombe or if thou canst not vent
Thou brings more Marble to his Monument.
Wouldst thou reader draw to life
The perfect copy of a wife
Read on; & them redeeme from shame
That lost that honorable name;
This dust was once in spirit a Jael;
Rebecca in grace; in heart an Abigail,
In works, a Dorcas, to ye Church a Hanna
And to her Spouse, Susanna
Prudently simple, Providently wary,
To th’world a Martha, and to heav’n a Mary.
Although not, perhaps, the best poetry, the immediacy of the monument itself addressing the reader, and the conjuring of the saintly Martha D’Oyley in particular, offers a pleasing, if slightly spine-tingling, sense of dead voices speaking to the living. I wonder, though, how a modern church would respond to such an expensive display of family pride and grief: it would seem like an ostentatious waste of money now, which is urgently needed for other things (for example, I think that these days people are more likely to leave legacies to a church for something to be renovated or restored in their name). Yet we can hardly regret the elaborate and expensive memorials of the past since they leave us with such fascinating insights into their lives, and such interesting monuments.