Church Monuments Society

monument at Tamerton Foliot resized

An anonymous monument at Tamerton Foliot, Devon

Month: May 2024
Type: Wall monument  
Era: 17th Century

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St Mary's Church
Tamerton Foliot Rd, Tamerton Foliot, Plymouth PL5 4NH

More about this monument

A monument commemorating one of the four daughters of John Copleston (d. 1608) – but which one?

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Situated at the confluence of the rivers Tamar and Tavy, the village of Tamerton Foliot became part of Greater Plymouth in 1951. The village’s unusual name is partly derived from the Foliot family, John Foliot being a half-brother to William the Conqueror and the recipient of large amounts of land in the area. The manor subsequently passed to the Gorges family in the thirteenth century and by marriage to the Copleston family in the later fifteenth century. An early fifteenth century double effigy monument to a member of the Gorges family and his wife can be seen on a low modern tomb chest on the left of the chancel and adjacent to the north aisle. From the Copleston family, the manor passed by marriage to Sir John Bampfield (c1610-1650) and was later sold to one Walter Radcliffe.

Near the Gorges monument, on the south wall of the north aisle, is a monument depicting a standing female figure wearing her burial shroud, as if awaiting the Resurrection. She is placed in front of a scalloped niche and accompanied by two seated female figures who wear long gowns with padded sleeves, lace collars, their hair in ringlets, and wearing a veil. The standing figure holds a book close to her chest but the right hand is missing. No surviving inscription and no heraldry makes the identity of the person commemorated all but impossible but there are possibilities nevertheless.

There are two questions concerning this monument, firstly, who is commemorated, and secondly who commissioned it?

The accepted view is that the monument commemorates one of the four daughters of John Copleston who died in 1608. Of these four daughters, Susanna the eldest was married to Edward Calmady, scion of an old Devon family, and she died in 1617. The youngest daughter Elizabeth was married to Sir Shilston Calmady and she also died in 1617. The second oldest daughter, Phillipa was twice married, the second time to one Nicholas Trefusis in 1632 and whose date of death is unknown. Lastly, Joan Copleston, married to William Crimes of Buckland Monachorum, has no recorded date of death. Given that two of the sisters died in the same year, the monument could indeed commemorate one of them and the likely contender is Susanna.

From an aesthetic perspective, the monument was erected somewhat later than 1617 as it does not equate stylistically with that date and appears to have been made in the mid-1630s. The motif of the standing figure in a burial shroud was first seen in Nicholas Stone’s monument to John Donne, 1631, in St Paul’s, Cathedral London. The format was copied by other sculptors, most notably William Wright of Charring Cross, as shown in his standing figure of Lady Deane, 1634, at Great Maplestead, Essex. The overall style of the dress of the attendant figures on the Tamerton monument supports this date.

Given the strong possibility that the monument was set up in c1635, Phillipa could have been responsible for its erection if she was not the person commemorated. Given its somewhat rustic style, the monument, made from alabaster probably quarried in Somerset, may have been made in the workshop of a sculptor called Wellar who was known to be active in Devon in the early seventeenth century but of whom little else is known.

What then can we make of this monument? Its overall style is typical of some monuments dating from the 1630s. The person commemorated is almost certainly a daughter of John Copleston but which one? If it does commemorate Susanna or Elizabeth why is there a gap of about eighteen years between death and commemoration? These are intriguing questions, typical of the sort that monument observers frequently encounter but, in the absence of documentary evidence, we will never know for certain.


Clive J Easter



1 Christine Faunch. Church Monuments and Commemoration in Devon c.1530-c.1640 PhD Thesis, University of Exeter 1998.

2 Lt Col JL Vivian. Visitations of the county of Devon. 1895.

3 John Prince. Worthies of Devon 1701

4 Cherry and Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Devon 1989 Penguin Books