Church Monuments Society

Plaque 1

‘Divorced by close imprisonment’: A Civil War double monument in St Mary’s, Cheltenham

Month: August 2021
Type: Board / Plaque / Tablet  
Era: 17th Century

Visit this monument

Cheltenham Minster, St Mary's
Cheltenham Minster, St Mary’s
44 Clarence St,
Cheltenham GL50 3PL

More about this monument

A poignant Civil War drama on two unassuming memorial plaques

In the north porch of St Mary’s Church in Cheltenham (known since 2013 as Cheltenham Minster), there are a pair of early seventeenth-century freestone plaques, the second of which catches the eye with its bold use of blood-red paint. At a glance these two monuments appear conventional enough. On closer reading, however, a complicated and ultimately rather poignant Civil War drama begins to play out.

The first plaque is the ‘sad memoriall’ of John English to his wife Jane and daughter Marie. English was the rector of Cheltenham from 1624. He was a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, graduating as Doctor of Divinity in 1630. He was evidently the first man of learning to have ministered in Cheltenham for a considerable while – the local parishioners had struggled hard in the previous years to improve the stipend for their clergy for this purpose.[1]

Like many clergymen of the period, John English held multiple benefices – rectories at Rudford in Gloucestershire and Sherborne St John in Hampshire.[2] The latter was close by to The Vyne, the seat of the politically prominent Sandys family. John’s wife, Jane, was the daughter of Elizabeth Sandys, suo jure Baroness of the Vine.[3] I can find nothing more of John’s own family background, so it seems reasonable to assume that he married up. Their marriage was blessed with two daughters, Jane (b. 1629) and Marie (whose birth is not recorded in the Cheltenham Parish Register).[4]

In the 1640s, the security of the English family was shattered by the religious and political upheaval of the English Civil War. In c.1643, John was imprisoned for eighteen weeks, apparently by the Puritan party. The cause is unrecorded as far as I know, though I wonder if he might have been caught up in the Siege of Gloucester (where he was a canon at Gloucester Cathedral) – the rest of Gloucestershire was largely Royalist controlled (at least after the Battle of Roundway Down on 13 July 1643), but Gloucester was staunchly Parliamentarian and held out in a siege from 10 August to 5 September.

Jane died around this time, on 8 August 1643 and Marie soon after on 25 October. It is unclear whether this was before or after John’s release but, judging by the memorial plaque, John clearly blamed the separation for the death of his wife, ‘from whom hee was divorced by 13 weeks close imprisonment’. The use of the word ‘divorced’ is striking – he criticises his captors, and by extension the whole insanity of the era, for tearing apart two lawfully wedded people. His epitaph for Jane and Marie (mostly in English, with a two line Latin envoi, which I have translated) is heartfelt and heartbreaking:

Deare soules and blest: you Both deliuered bee;
Having exchang’d your prisons beefore mee.
Whilst I survive to greive and find it true
That for my selfe I weepe, more then for you.
Nor can tears quench my zeale, like funerall fire
That flames for her I lou’d till I expire.

<Thus sang, while mourning and desiring to be dissolved,[5]
A loving husband and a sorrowful parent>.

                       The second plaque was evidently created a little after the first and commemorates John himself – though his date of death is missing from its obvious spot (obiit anno Christo…), which may suggest that it was installed while he was yet living, unless the date has been removed later. Interestingly, it is explicitly presented as a ‘sequel’ to the first, beginning with the Latin qui (‘who’), following on from the J.E. at the end of the first. The last years of John English’s life saw no respite from suffering. His brother-in-law, Henry (the 5th Baron Sandys of the Vine) died fighting for the Royalists at the Battle of Cheriton in 1644. In 1646, English was called (but did not appear) before the Committee of Plundered Ministers, which sequestered him from his living at Cheltenham. Ostensibly this may have been for his pluralism (his holding of several benefices), but it was almost certainly a sign that he held Royalist and High Church views which were disagreeable to the Presbyterians who controlled the committee. However, the fact that he was buried in Cheltenham suggests that he remained resident there until his death – his burial is recorded in the parish register on 26 November 1647, with the note ‘and rector here’.

The text of the second plaque is mostly in Latin, apart from two lines, and shows a playful creativity in form and layout, wedded to a sincere and Christocentric piety, having something of the spirit of George Herbert about it. The name of Jesus and the words ‘Saviour’ and ‘Amen’ are painted in red, as are the initials J-E-S-U-S in the acrostic. Here is the Latin text of the inscription translated – see the image provided for the original formatting:

<Who, breathing in this world and hoping for heaven
Cried out without ceasing:
Good JESU, be my JESUS
Be mine, O JESU, be JESUS (Christ) of my own ones>.

Sweet SAVIOUR of mankind
The SAVIOUR bee of mee and mine.

<So: {breathing, he prayed
breathing his last, he cried out
breathing again, he will say without end}>.

<John English, of the {Sacred, Holy, Eternal} {Word, Truth and Life} a Student>.

<Died in the year of Christ —-. Amen.


Samuel Cardwell


[1] See the draft text (Version 1.2) of the section on Religious History for Victoria County History, Gloucestershire vol. 15 (ed. Alex Craven, Beth Hartland and Jan Broadway), pp. 11–2, available at

[2] CCEd, Person ID 93004.

[3] The Sandys family tree is difficult to untangle – not aided by the fact that Elizabeth’s husband was Edwin Sandys, of an entirely unrelated family. Several sources only make reference to one surviving child of Elizabeth and Edwin, Henry, who became the 5th Baron in 1629.


[5] Phil. 1:23.