Sir Edwin Sandy's Monument

Dave Godden

Maidstone, United Kingdom

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The tomb of Sir Edwin Sandy’s Northbourne, Kent

The life of Sir Edwin Sandys (1561-1629) spans three monarchs; born at the beginning of the golden Elizabethan reign, he came to prominence in the Stuart era and died during the early years of Charles I.

Sir Edwin Sandys sat in the House of Commons from 1586 to 1626, becoming an elder statesman and father of the House. He was knighted by James I in 1603 and became the voice of the gentry during a period when Parliament was establishing a position independent of the Crown. He often came into conflict with James I; in 1624 was imprisoned for a short time in The Tower of London. He worked tirelessly on numerous committees involved in economic affairs and constitutional issues.

His book, A Relation of the State of Religion was widely read for some sixty years and ran to fourteen editions and four languages.

In 1614 he began to construct an imposing mansion at Northbourne which became his country residence until his death in 1629.

Edwin married four times and had a total of fourteen children, twelve of them by his fourth wife.

He was treasurer of the Virginia Company during the time of the establishment of the Jamestown colony. He was also one of the Gentlemen Adventurers of the Bermuda Company and a director of the East India Company. Edwin never actually set foot in the American colonies but he instructed the formation of an elected general assembly, the first representative legislature body ever assembled in America which met on 30 July 1619 in Jamestown. It is for this reason he is a well-known historical figure, particularly in America.

The troubled embryonic history of Jamestown is well documented and the colony only survived due to Edwin’s campaign of continual migration of people across the Atlantic. If they survived the voyage, on arrival many died from disease, starvation, Indian attack, or simply returned to England. The revelations of the dire situation in Jamestown and the machinations of James I led to Edwin’s downfall, the Virginia Company’s charter was annulled in 1624 and Virginia became a royal colony.

The pioneering years of the colony has been the subject of much academic work and Sandy’s role is now seen in a less romantic light. Edwin, for whatever reason, deliberately played down the serious situation in Jamestown, although it clearly troubled him. It should also be mentioned that although he aided the Puritans he did not support their political position, as far as Edwin was concerned he required colonists and the Puritans were keen to facilitate.

Sir Edwin Sandys died in October 1629 aged 68. It seems he died in London as the church of St.Nicholas, situated in the graveyard of Rochester cathedral, has an entry in its register which records that the body of Sir Edwin Sandys was ‘carried through’ St. Nicholas church, the fee being 16s. 8d. No doubt he lay in the church overnight on his final journey from London. He was buried in the Lady Chapel in the south transept of St. Augustine’s Church Northbourne; the impressive large standing wall-monument of alabaster and black marble was erected in his lifetime, as was the custom. Sir Edwin and his wife are reclining, Edwin in armour and positioned higher at the back, his wife wearing a robe, and on her head a distinctive hairband or small cap; both rest on double pillows and have their hands together in prayer.

The later plaque makes no mention of Lady Katherine Sandys, who outlived her husband by a number of years and died in 1640. I have not come across any reference to the sculptor who carved the memorial. In the 1600s the main centre for monumental work was Southwark in London, although, memorial sculptors elsewhere adopted many of the Southwark styles. It is worth mentioning that other members of the Sandys family have impressive monuments; notably Edwin’s brother Sir Samuel Sandys (1560-1623) who is buried at Wickhamford in Worcestershire along with his son, also Sir Edwin Sandys, who married Katherine’s sister, Penelope Bulkeley, in 1614. So this meant that the Northbourne Sir Edwin had a sister-in-law who married his nephew.

By 1782 the monument was in a rapid state of decay; Mrs Elizabeth Carter describes it as the ‘sinking memorial of poor Sir Edwin’. It was inscribed and restored in 1830 by the Rev Edwin Sandys, albeit with a Latin inscription. Exactly what is original is difficult to determine. The two angels at the back of the monument appear to be 19th century in date. Close examination has revealed a pair of detached gauntleted hands resting in a crevice between the two effigies. So, as might be suggested by their delicate appearance, the present hands are also 19th century.

text taken from Northbourne Sources

Artwork Comments

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