As an avid genealogist, I have spent a lot of time in cemeteries. There is something very peaceful about them, and whenever I am in one, I feel particularly close to my ancestors. Not just because I am literally in close proximity to their graves, but because those are places where my ancestors experienced great emotion and some of the most difficult days of their lives.
Besides cemeteries attached to churches, I am fascinated by cemeteries inside churches. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to England to visit some parish churches that some of my ancestors attended. One of my favorite churches was All Saints Church in Cople, Bedfordshire. It was built in the first half of the 1400s, and the chapels were added in the 16th century. Quite a few of my Dad’s ancestors are buried in vaults beneath the floors of the church and some in tombs above ground. The brasses and plaques near their graves tell a lot of important information about their lives, spouses, and children.
Two of the oldest brasses, or brass plates commemorating the deceased, are of Sir John Launcelyn, who died in 1435, and his wife Margaret. My 17th great grandfather is depicted in full armor with a lion at his feet, and my 17th great grandmother is wearing a long dress and headpiece. The brasses are affixed to the floor of the church, and Sir John and Margaret are buried in a vault underneath.
Their daughter Anne Launcelyn, who married Sir Walter Luke, is buried with her husband in an above ground tomb in the chancel of the church. A plaque showing Anne and Walter is above the tomb. The inscription reads:
“Here lyeth Sr Walter Luke, Knyght, one of the Justyces of the Pleas holden before the most excellent prynce King Henry the eyght, and dame Anne his wyffe Norysthe (nurse) unto his seyd magesty and one of the doughters and heyre of John Launcelyn, Esquyer, whyche seyd Sir Walter decessyd the xxith day of July in the xxxvith yere of the reygne of our Sovraygne Lorde, and the sayd dame Anne decessyd the ix day of September in the xxx yere of the reyne of the seyd most gracyus sovrange lord. On whos soulls ihu have m’cy, a.”
Anne Launcelyn had the interesting occupation as the woman who nursed King Henry VIII after he was born. As a thanks for her service, the king awarded her a 20 pound a year pension in 1515.
Nearby, another plaque designates where my 15th great grandparents, Nicholas Luke, Esquire, and his wife Cecily Wawton, are buried. Nicholas was the son of Sir Walter and Dame Anne Luke. Nicholas and Cecily’s plaque show them, their five sons, and four daughters. The inscription reads:
“Here lyeth Nicholas Luke, esquyer, one of the Barons of the Exchequer at Westminst’r and Cecyle his wyfe, one of the daughters and heyre of Sr Thomas Waulton, knyght, which Nicholas decessyd the xxii day of October in the yere of our Lorde God mccccclxiii. On whose soules Jesus have mercy.”
Two other brass plaques mark the burials of my 15th great grandparents, Robert Bulkeley and his wife Jane Gascoigne. The first plaque describes the death of Robert, and it shows him, Jane, and their sons and daughters kneeling with their coat of arms in the center. The inscription reads:
“Hereunder lyeth Robert Bulkeley, esquer, and Jone his wyfe hauynge betwene them vi sonnes and foure daughters, wch Robert decessyd the xviii day of June in the yere of our Lorde God mcccccl, on whose soules Jhesu have mercy. Amen.”
The second brass plaque was installed when Jane Bulkeley died six years later. The inscription reads:
“Here under lyeth buryd ye bodyes of Robert Bulkeley esquier, and of Joane his wyffe, doughter unto Syr William Gascoyne, Knyght, who dep’tyd this lyffe ye yere of our Lord God, 1556, on whos soules, O Lord Jesu Crist have m’cy.”
Robert and Jane’s daughter, Anne, married Thomas Spencer, also of Cople. Thomas and Anne Spencer, my 14th great grandparents, are also buried under the floor of All Saints Church. They used to have a brass, but the majority of it is now missing. The inscription reads:
“Here lyeth Thomas Spencer of this towne, gent., and Anne his wife, da. to Robert Bulkeley, esquire, which Thomas deceased the 3rd of December, 1547, and Anne departed the 28 of January, 1590, having had between them two sonnes and two daughters.”
Monumental brasses were popular forms of sculpture found in churches from the 13th century to the 16th century. They portray the deceased in various costumes and positions, with family members, heraldic symbols, and inscriptions describing basic genealogical information and vital dates. Because the brass could be melted down and sold, they were often stolen from churches, and only a little over 4,000 are still in English churches today. These brasses taught me about the arms the families held, how many children they had, when they died, and information about their careers in Tudor England. So not only is the church in Cople a sacred place where my ancestors worshiped for centuries, but the building is also their resting place. I hope to go back in the future for another visit!