over my dead "carkas", you will not dismantle my tomb.

I love late medieval wills, they are so full of interesting information that tell us about contemporary attitudes towards death, burial memorialisation, about interpersonal relationships and the duty felt by people to provide for those they left behind.  I’m currently doing a bit of research on gentry display and memorialisation in Derbyshire, which is taking me into the interconnected world of late fifteenth and early sixteenth century society and a lot of that depends on the evidence of wills.  As I was doing this I came across the will of Thomas Babington of Dethick, a Derbyshire landowner, lawyer and member of parliament, who died in 1519.   I had first come across his will about sixteen years ago when I was working on the patronage of Derbyshire’s medieval stained glass.

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The county of Derbyshire, particularly the northern part, was made up of enormous country parishes, covering great stretches of upland and consisting of lots of small townships.  Dethick, the township where Thomas had the centre of this estates, was part of the parish of Ashover.  Also in the parish of Ashover was the town of Lea, home to the equally wealthy Rolleston family.  For burial purposes these major families were expected to resort to the parish church of Ashover and the eastern bays of the north and south aisles were given over to the two families for their use.  The eastern bay of the north aisle was the ‘Rolleston quire’ and the eastern bay of the south aisle was the ‘Babington quire’.  As well as containing their graves, these spaces were decorated with heraldic stained glass that referred to the families and their alliances and in effect privatised the space.  The ‘Babington quire’ was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and St Katherine and contained a perpetual chantry founded in 1511 by Thomas, at about the time his wife Edith Fitzherbert had died.
Babington appears to have had a particular attachment to St Thomas of Canterbury, his name saint and in his will he bequeaths his soul to ‘oure lady, saint John Baptist and Seint Thomas of Canterbury’ that they might pray for him.  Glass in the windows here and in the clerestory of the nave referred to Thomas Babington and Edith and also to their son Sir Anthony.  Sadly it has all gone.

This demarcation of separate space is not to suggest that the Rollestons and the Babingtons were at loggerheads or were in competition with one another, they were not.   Thomas Babington’s sister Anna was married to James Rolleston of Lea and they are commemorated by a brass in the church. Towards the end of Thomas Babington’s life his nephew Thomas Rolleston was in charge of the Lea estate.  The demarcation of separate space was to do with status and esteem, more than competition.   

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As well as providing a chantry for this soul, he also erected during his own lifetime a tomb over the grave of Edith and this still remains in the Babington quire. Their tomb is a fabulous, fashionable and expensive alabaster monument, with recumbent effigies of Thomas and Edith in secular dress in the attitude of prayer.  He has a gold chain of office around his neck and a large purse at his waist, a wonderfully conspicuous way his wealth and political authority.  The effigies have been wonderfully recoloured to give the impression of their original appearance. 
The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Their many children occupy the sides of the tomb chest as weepers.  In form it strongly resembles the monument of his father-in-law Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury.    On the west end of the monument, Thomas and Edith are shown kneeling on either side of figures of St Katherine and St Thomas of Canterbury, images that reflect Thomas’ personal devotion and the dedication of the chapel.  Thomas Babington was clearly in direct control of the creation of the monument.

 Ashover, Derbyshire//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Although Edith was buried below this wonderful monument, it seems that Thomas wasn’t buried underneath it, in fact his extraordinary will expressly forbids it:

‘I will my body be buryed in my parish church of Ashover, nere by wif Edith, it it fortune me to deceas within xx. myles of the same.  And ells in such place as shalbe thought by them that shalbe wt me at the tyme of my diceas; But I will not that the Tombe which I have made in the Church of Ashover be broken or hurt for my carkas, but that it be leyde nere the same, and over that place that I shall lye in, a stone with a scripture after myne executors and supervisour myndis or the more parte of them to be leyde’. 

So in other words, he doesn’t want the monument to be dismantled just to admit his body to a grave below it, as he is worried it would damage it, the monument was costly and he was evidently proud of it.  Instead he asks to be buried close to the tomb under a flat stone with an inscription, the inscription to be devised by his executors and executors, if they can agree on it!

On the chantry and the choirs the source is: J. C. Cox, Notes on Derbyshire Churches, vol. 1, p. 33 and vol. 2, p. 183. On the glazing: A. B. Barton ‘The Stained glass of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire 1400-1550’, unpublished PhD thesis, York, 2004, pp. 107-111. The will of Babington is published in Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 19, pp. 80-93.

3 thoughts on “over my dead "carkas", you will not dismantle my tomb.

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  1. Hello Allan – I stumbled into your blog while researching something, and enjoyed it so much that I have read it from start to finish (over several days, you understand, not all in one go, fascinating though it was). I see that you have visited the churches of Derbyshire a few times – one of the most interesting, to my mind, is the chapel at Haddon Hall near Bakewell. It's in a private stately home, but at one time functioned as the parish church. It has many surviving medieval wall paintings and a fascinating alabaster reredos… I've spent hours contemplating it, even going to the lengths of buying an annual ticket. The most interesting part, however, is the layout of the liturgical space: it is clear that social standing had a say in whether or not you got to sit near the altar or even whether you had a view of it. I think that it be right up your street. You can see pictures at haddonhall.co.ukAlso, having read your blog from start to finish, I realise that you are the same chap who kept the bookbinders in Walsingham – I'm glad to read that you've returned to ministry.John


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