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The Thomas Farnham Monument (c.1562) at Stoughton, Leicestershire: a conundrum or two

Month: May 2019
Type: Effigy  
Era: 16th Century

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St Mary and All Saints
Church Lane, Stoughton, Leicestershire

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The Farnham monuments at Stoughton reveal a story of family politics and dynastic claims.

The Thomas Farnham Monument (c.1562) at Stoughton, Leicestershire: a conundrum or two.

Moira Ackers

Two years ago, I wrote a ‘Monument of the Month’ about the early-modern alabaster, Farnham monuments at Quorn. In the Sixteenth Century, the two sides of the Farnham family had engaged in a flurry of memorialising (nine monuments in total). It’s important to remember that monuments were neither mandatory nor commonplace objects automatically erected by gentry and nobility.[1] They were very costly. Payments are recorded for this period of between £20 – £40, which did not include the installation nor the maintenance. To give an indicator of what this meant, the inventory made in 1557 of the goods and chattels of Francis Farnham, one of the memorialised, came to the sum of £29.13s. Hence, we should always ask why a family have engaged in this activity.

I concluded that the monuments at Quorn both indicated a degree of one-up-man-ship between the two sides of the family, the Over hall and Nether hall Farnhams. But also, the monuments themselves expressed a change in values and self-definition. I remarked that one of the Farnham monuments was not at Quorn, but at Stoughton and it is this monument I wish to focus on now.

Sir Thomas Farnham had bought the Stoughton Estate in 1560 following the dissolution of Leicester Abbey. A wealthy man, Teller of the Exchequer for both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, and a second son, he was creating his own manorial space. This was not unusual during a period well known for the potential for upward mobility and self-fashioning. Not only did Thomas buy the Stoughton estate but he also invested hugely in the family’s Quorn estates[2]. It was he who had bought the family’s chantry chapel at Quorn church from the crown, even though this was not the resting place for his side of the Farnham family (they were in the North aisle). In addition, he had bought the Quorn Farnham estates for £80, from his older brother John a gentleman pensioner at the court of Elizabeth I. Presumably being a gentleman pensioner (a sort of elegant body guard) was an expensive occupation. During Thomas’s period of ownership of the Quorn estate, he also did much to consolidate it. What is remarkable is that in his will of August 6th, 1562, after bequeathing all his Stoughton lands, a third part of his estates, to his heirs. He continues,

   Also in consideration of the brotherly  love and zeal which I bear to my well-beloved brother John Farnham I bequeath all other my lands and tenements which I have in Quardon … for the term of his natural life, the remainder after his decease to the heirs males of my body, in default to the heirs males of my said brother John Farnham of his body, in default such issue the remainder to my brother Matthew Farnham and his issue male, in default to my brother Robert and his issue male, in default to Thomas Farnham the younger and his issue male.

It is safe to say that Thomas felt very strongly that the Quorn estate should stay in the male line and keep the Farnham name! Thomas died in October 1562. So why if Thomas has such an attachment to Quorn and the Farnham estates does he have his monument at Stoughton? In his will he requests ‘my body to be buried at the discretion of my executors and supervisors either at Quarndon or at Stoughton ‘; Quorn being his first choice. His wife Helen Chaloner was his full and sole executrix. When Thomas died he had two heirs: Catherine and Anne. Anne, a baby, died 3 days after her father. Catherine was four years old. In Thomas’s will he makes provision for her.

to my said dear friend Nicholas Beaumont, Esquire, £100 to be paid conditionally that he procure of the Queen the Wardship of the body and lands of my daughter Catherine Farnham and that he shall after enjoin her in marriage to his son Thomas Beaumont my godson or to one of the sons of the said Nicholas which she the said Catherine shall like best.

This was a very common practice at the time. Though often abused it was a way of protecting the children of the deceased from losing their lands to any step-father. Helen survives her husband by seven years and during this time she marries a Francis Saunders (one of Thomas’s confidants, a witness to and beneficiary of his will. Francis’ sister Anne was married to Nicholas Beaumont). She died in 1569.

I would argue that Helen wished to establish her daughter’s position in Stoughton, launching her into the ‘honour community’ (the titled and landed) through the display of a monument in the local church, which reminded the locals who her father was. After all Catherine is not to get the Quorn, Farnham estate. Helen knew Catherine was already bequeathed to Thomas Beaumont, a second son. Thus, Catherine’s Stoughton Estate would almost certainly become their main residence. The monument placed in the church next to their Hall would underline Catherine and Thomas’s position in this community. Being in a traditional form, it also encourages a viewer to believe that this is was a well-established family with a lineage (elaborating the truth just a little). Catherine did indeed marry Thomas and Stoughton Grange was their residence. They went on to have ten children. There is a marble wall monument to Thomas and Catherine nearby her parent’s monument. The Beaumont family continued to fill the north aisle (the family pew) with memorials that created a strong visual message of continuity.

The monument continued to serve the family and its dynastic claims. A hiatus was reached in 1737 when Sir George Beaumont died unmarried. His estate was left to his three surviving sisters (Arabella, Christiana and one other) and his nephew, William Busby. William’s daughter, Anne, married Anthony Keck in 1739 and thus the estates pass to the Kecks. However, it is not surprising that Arabella, Christiana and William decide it is time to give the family monument a bit of a restoration, with the addition of this inscription;

Here lye the remains of Thomas Farnham, esq. Teller of the Exchequer In the reign of Queen Mary, Who, having purchased this manor of Stoughton, Left to his daughter Katherine (afterwards married to Sir Thomas Beaumont, Knight), And died in Sept. 4,1562.

And Hellen his widow, Daughter of Roger Chaloner, esq. And, lastly, wife of Francis Sanders, of Welford, in the county of Northamptonshire, esq. She died Jan. 8, 1569.

In grateful remembrance Of these their worthy ancestors, This tomb decayed by time and defaced by sacrilegious hands, was re-edified and repaired by the direction of Arabella and Christiana Beaumont and William Busby, esq. 1739.

It shows that a monument nearly 100 years old is still important and that it continues to maintain the status quo for a family and when there is a break in the line it can become a very useful way (with a little appropriation) of maintaining the family’s position.

I hope, I have established a very good reason for the monument to be in Stoughton rather than Quorn and shown how well it served the family. There is still another conundrum and it wasn’t until my third visit to the monument and after a lot of puzzling that it occurred to me. Who are the five – two boys and three girls – delightful little ‘weepers’ that appear on three sides of the monument. Here I should point out that the monument is a fine example of Richard Parker’s (fl. 1534 -d.1570) work.[3] From his Burton upon Trent workshop. The monument maintains a traditional form – that of a table tomb – and the ‘weepers’ on the side panels are a very good example of Richard Parker’s charming figures.

We know that when Thomas wrote his will he had only two surviving daughters. There are no other heirs mentioned anywhere. So, who are these young people? Nichols[4] records that they all have the same heraldry but doesn’t say who’s. This is strange as heraldry is particular to an individual. So, this needs to be explored. Thus far, I have no explanation, unless in one of the restorations (we know of three), these panels were taken from some other monument and used to replace damaged ones. This would seem a little strange, but it’s not unheard of. Nevertheless, it is always good to be reminded that not everything on a monument can be taken at face value.

[1] See Llewellyn, N., (2000). Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England and Sherlock, P., (2008). Monuments and memory in Early Modern England.

[2] History of Parliament, Members,

[3] Bayliss, J.C., (1990).’Richard Parker The Alabasterman’, Church Monuments Vol. V

[4] Nichols, J., (1795 -1815) History of Leicestershire