Church Monuments Society

7th Earls Monument


Month: July 2022
Type: Wall monument  
Era: 17th Century

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St Helen's
3 Lower Church St, Ashby-de-la-Zouch LE65 1AA

More about this monument

A detailed discussion between the 7th Earl of Huntingdon and Grinling Gibbons illuminates the design of the 7th Earl’s monument.

The monument to Theophilus Hastings, 7th Earl of Huntingdon, is sited on the wall of the Hastings Chapel in St Helen’s church, Ashby de la Zouch (fig 1). In the judgement of the art historian Dr J. D. Stewart it is “one of Gibbons’ more attractive works, partly because it contains no large-scale figure sculpture, a genre in which the sculptor (and his workshop) was generally clumsy and pompous.” What particularly interests me about the monument is that the Earl designed it himself and intended it to be erected during his lifetime. We have letters written by the Earl which describe how he went about doing this (fig 2).

“The inscription, framed on three sides with festoons, is flanked by black columns with Corinthian capitals and an acanthus frieze with, on the cornice, two cherubim, echoed by a third at the base. The foot of the tablet has also three coats of arms, painted and coronetted.” (David Green)

The monument was a collaboration between the 7th Earl, Grinling Gibbons and Laurence Cromp of the Heralds’ office. (He was to become York Herald in 1700.) The Earl also asked a Mr Smith for advice about the wording of the Latin epitaph. The correspondence covers the period from August 1698 to July 1699. It is clear that there were letters written before this but they have not survived. Also we only have letters written by the Earl and none of the replies. We know that he received at least one letter from Grinling Gibbons.

The first letter dated 13th August 1698 is to Grinling Gibbons and indicates that the basic design of the monument had already been decided on. The letter is about details. Among other things, the Earl asks “whether a twisted or fluted Column may nott be better than perfectly Round of which I desire your opinion & whether a Swelling Shield would not bee better than a flatt one.” The Earl then asks Grinling Gibbons “to trick mee out the whole compatament … that I may see how the crest helmet coronet Supporters Mantlings & Escrole or motto will bee which you may doe on a piece of paper.”

On 10th September the Earl told Laurence Cromp that Grinling Gibbons had made a “modell” of the monument. This was presumably the sketch referred to in the 13th August letter. The Earl also took issue with Laurence Cromp over his design for the Earl’s coronet and the bull’s head (the crest of the Hastings family.) This suggests that the heraldic features were left blank in Grinling Gibbons’ “modell” and Laurence Cromp made a “modell” of their detailed design.

The same approach seems to have been taken with the Earl’s epitaph with Laurence Cromp producing a “modell” for Grinling Gibbons to work to. In a letter to Laurence Cromp the Earl commented: “It is now some weeks since that I sent you the Epitaph to bee engraven on the monument Mr Gibbons is making.” The Earl asked Laurence Cromp “to transcrible it in Capitall letters and send it mee.” Shortly afterwards the Earl wrote to say that: “I have returned this weeke by the derby Carrier … the box you sent down with the Epitaph, which I desire you to send to Mr Gibbons, the Carver in Bow Street.”

The Earl had proof-read Laurence Cromp’s “modell” of the epitaph. He told him: “I caused the Alterations to bee made in the places, wherr there was mistakes, which arr only Litterall, and are – thus amended.” The one specific mistake he mentions was particularly unfortunate: “The coupling of HS [Hic Sepultus – Here Buried] belongs only to Saram [Sarah] because shee is dead, and not to Georgium Dominum Hastings [Lord George Hastings] because hee is Living.”

The Earl was concerned about the “table” on which his epitaph was to be inscribed even if this meant sacrificing some of Grinling Gibbons’ handiwork. He told him: “I doubt the Table for the inscription will bee off the least & therefore if you could take off the innermost molding to inlarge the Table I thinke it would doe very well.” He later wrote to Laurence Cromp: “I have considered the bignesse of the Table and find the letters may bee made considerably bigger, and a space left blank at the bottom.” He concluded by saying: “you may let Mr Gibbons see this letter, if you thinke it necessary.”

The letters show that the Earl had originally envisaged a more elaborate design for the monument. Of the heraldic features that Grinling Gibbons was asked to include in his “modell” (“crest helmet coronet Supporters Mantlings & Escrole or motto”) only the coronets for the Earl and his two wives feature in the actual monument. The bull’s head that the Earl had discussed with Laurence Cromp does not appear either.

The epitaph is in Latin. The Earl wrote to Mr Smith asking for his advice on wording. He wanted to “avoid characters as not being proper when erected in the Lifetime of the person.” He was also concerned about how he should describe himself in relation to Charles II and James II and asked for advice on the religious phraseology as well.

The epitaph describes the public offices bestowed on the Earl by Charles II and James II, gives details about his two wives and lists his children. However, what is doesn’t say is more significant than what it does. He alludes to this in an injudicious comment in his letter to Mr Smith: “It is true my employments are mentioned but not distinguished under the 2 kings reigns because Our King is not on the throne.”

The Earl remained loyal to James II. In November 1688 James sent him to Plymouth to assist the Earl of Bath in attempting to repel William of Orange’s invasion. The Earl had to leave his heavily pregnant wife behind in London. When he reached Plymouth, the Earl of Bath had changed sides and had him imprisoned. There was a period of anarchy in London after James II had fled and before William of Orange arrived. On 15th December the Earl’s wife wrote to him via a merchant in Plymouth talking of: “itt being reported the mobily [mob] threatened my hous.” On 24th December she died in childbirth. William of Orange ordered the Earl’s release on 26th December. However, the Earl was not trusted and he was specifically excluded from the general pardon granted by William and Mary the following year.

It seems that the monument was carved in two stages. In his letter of 5th October 1698 the Earl asks Grinling Gibbons “to forbear carving the armes till you have finisht the rest of the monument, and not to goe about them till you acquaint mee. I like not your painting of the Armes on Sir Humphrey Ferrers at Tamworth (fig 3), Mr Poole at Radbourn (fig 4) nor the Duchess of Somerset at Westminster, which were all off your work nor yet the shields of the two former” (The reference to the Duchess of Somerset’s monument is crossed out in the Earl’s copy letter and so presumably did not appear in the letter Grinling Gibbons actually received.)

The basic monument was presumably finished when the Earl wrote to Mr Smith on 8th May 1699 about “Mr Gibbons having by my directions made a Monument as a memoriall of myself my wives and children.” On 31st July the Earl asks Laurence Cromp to take the corrected epitaph to Grinling Gibbons so that the monument could be completed.

The Earl was concerned about the execution of the carving. He told Grinling Gibbons: “I desire you to bee very exact in carving the Armes & particularly the Crest & Coronett.” Not content with this he then asked Laurence Cromp to “overlooke the cutting of the letters, and the Cote of Arms.”

We don’t know when the monument was finished and so whether the Earl had his wish to see it erected in his lifetime. He died in London on 30th May 1701 and was buried in St Helen’s church, Ashby de la Zouch on 11th June.

Dr Stewart was of the opinion that the monument has been moved from its original position: “Its present position, so high off the ground as to make even photography difficult, is doubtless to be explained by the monument below it to the 3rd Marquis of Hastings who died in 1851.” However, the Earl had installed extensive wainscotting in the Hastings Chapel and the chancel. The monument is sited just above the wainscotting and so it seems to me that this is just where the Earl intended it to be.

Ian Scruton


J D Stewart “Some Unrecorded Gibbons Monuments” The Burlington Magazine, March 1963, Page 125

David Green “Grinling Gibbons – His Work as Carver and Statuary 1648-1721” (1964) Page 157

7th Earl’s Letter Book in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California – Document Ref HA6107

British Library – Harleian Manuscripts Document Ref 4712/129 Folios 366 and 379

Fig 1 – The 7th Earl’s Monument

Fig 2 – A letter from the Earl to Grinling Gibbons

Fig 3 – The Tamworth Monument (courtesy of Patrick Comerford)

Fig 4 – The Radbourne Monument

7th Earls Monument

Fig 1 – The 7th Earl’s Monument

13 August 1698 Mr Gibbons 520282 COPY4

Fig 2 – A letter from the Earl to Grinling Gibbons

Tamworth monument 1 Patrick Comerford 2016

Fig 3 – The Tamworth Monument (courtesy of Patrick Comerford)

geograph 4045172 by J Hannan Briggs

Fig 4 – The Radbourne Monument