The monuments in All Saints' Church are well worth visiting for so many reasons. They are unique, with a fascinating history connected to both royalty and Shakespeare. They are also beautiful examples of stone carving and a testament to the piety and generosity of previous Bisham families.
The Hoby Chapel in the church houses three splendid, partially polychromed, carved alabaster monuments. They comprise:
The 'Worthy Knights' - Tomb of Sir Philip and Sir Thomas Hoby (c1566)
The Lady Hoby Monument - Tomb of Lady Elizabeth Russell (Lady Hoby) (c1607)
The Swan Monument - Monument to Margaret Hoby (c1605)
Singly, the monuments are of considerable historical and stylistic significance. However, in this collective group, they demonstrate some of the best and most innovative sculptural work produced in this country in the half century around the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.
For more information about the monuments housed within Bisham Church, do read Hamish Hunter's article in Newsletter No. 6. If you are interested specifically in the Hoby family, you may enjoy the article on a historical reenactment of Lady Hoby in the USA in Newsletter No. 4
The 'Worthye Knights'
Sir Philip Hoby, an ambassador to the court of the Emperor Charles V, acquired the Bisham Estate from the Crown in 1554 - had been part of the divorce settlement of Anne of Cleves. His half-brother Thomas inherited the estate in 1558. Thomas married Elizabeth Hoby, the daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to Edward VI. She was well connected to the throne - one of her sisters was Sir Francis Bacon's mother - and she took advantage of her position. After Sir Thomas died suddenly in France, she returned to settle at Bisham. In her grief, she decided to build an extension - a burial chapel - on the side of the church.
She commissioned a leading Dutch sculptor, William Cure, to create a very handsome alabaster tomb on which repose the effigies of the two Hoby brothers. Both are depicted in armour, lying unusually on their sides with their chins cupped in their hands. This was inspired by a monument Lady Hoby must have seen in the Celestine convent in Paris.
In the middle front panel are inscribed her words of lament for the two men. She also composed the Latin inscription above the tomb. These inscriptions are translated and reproduced in the Bisham Church guidebook available for sale in the church or our online shop.
The Lady Hoby Monument
Many years later, Elizabeth planned and designed 3 more memorials. Against the south wall of the Hoby chapel is a highly detailed monument to herself and her family. In the form of a tableau, we see her kneeling at a prayer desk. Behind her kneel her three daughters who predeceased her: Elizabeth Russell (daughter to Elizabeth and Lord John Russell, her second husband), Elizabeth Hoby and Anne Hoby. Lying beneath her is the effigy of her infant son Francis Russell, who sadly died shortly after birth. Facing her outside the canopy is her only surviving daughter, Anne.
At the opposite end of the monument and outside the canopy are her two sons, Sir Edward Hoby and Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby, the latter having been born in Paris shortly after the death of his father. It is thought that Shakespeare may have used Thomas Posthumous Hoby as his model for Malvolio or Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, possibly in revenge for Lady Hoby preventing a theatre to be built near her residence in Blackfriars, London. Sir Posthumous became the Lord Mayor of Hackness and his memorial plaque can be seen in the church of St Peter, Hackness, near Scarborough.
The Swan Monument
A further monument, in the form of a mounted obelisk on a cubic base, is a tribute to Edward Hoby's first wife, Margaret Carey. She is generally considered to have been the granddaughter of Henry VIII, following Henry's liaison with Mary Boleyn, before marrying her sister, Anne. The monument, inscribed and decorated, bears four swans, a symbol of the Carey family. At the peak of the obelisk is a heart.
Images by Robert Frost
Memorial to George Vansittart Neale
The Hoby family remained in the Abbey until the mid eighteenth-century, when the last Hoby owner, the Dean of Ardfert in Ireland, died in 1766. The estate was then acquired by the Vanisttart family (originally from the Netherlands), who were already owners of Shottesbrooke Park, about five miles to the south. They owed their prosperity to successful overseas trading, particularly in India.
Over the next two centuries, the family proved to be benevolent landlords and generous benefactors to both the village and church. Alongside various improvements to the church, they founded the village school in 1860. The school still occupies the original building opposite the church in Church Lane.
This ornate monument, just inside the Hoby chapel is in commemoration of George Kenneth Vansittart Neale, the 14-year old son of Sir Henry, who died of appendicitis at Eton College in 1904. The statuary, designed by Morris Harding, includes a portrayal of George's faithful dog Norman lying at his feet. A small triangular window at the top of the east wall of the Hoby chapel was also installed in his memory.
Text originally compiled by H.A Jones. Revised and supplemented by H. Douglas Sim, Patricia Burstall & John Harper. Image: Robert Frost