This stunning seventeenth-century memorial is to Hester Salisbury who died too young, while out hunting in Stansted Park, Essex
I am in love with this memorial to Hester (Middleton) Salisbury in St Mary’s church, Stansted Mountitchet. It speaks to me for several reasons. Firstly because her dress is amazing! Secondly because hers is one of few lone female effigies dotted around the country. And thirdly because this is a monument to a woman who was killed by a stag while out hunting!
Although there isn’t very much about her in the archives here is what I have managed to find out…
Life and death
She was born Hester Myddleton, daughter of Thomas Myddleton. He was mayor and alderman of London, and Lord of Stansted Manor from 1615 until his death in 1631. She married Sir Henry Salusbury, 1st Baronet of Llewenny (1589-1632) and died on 26 January 1614, killed by a stag while out hunting in Stansted Park.
Not very much information is it?
Her father proved his devotion to Hester by erecting this fabulous memorial in her memory and her tragic untimely death. Hester’s effigy is a lasting monument to this woman killed by a stag, that visitors to the church can admire.
Lone female effigies are not exactly ‘rare’ but they are far less common than their male counterparts or effigies of couples together. Where men receive detailed inscriptions describing their wonderful achievements, women are often described as ‘the wife of…’ sometimes not even getting a mention by name.
Thomas Myddleton’s own monument is on the south wall of the chancel. Thomas had Hester’s monument erected opposite his own on the north side of the chancel. Building and development of the chancel meant that Hester’s memorial moved first to the Lancaster Chapel, and then in 1951, to the east end of the north aisle.
The canopy over the top of Hester’s monument was lost during this shuffle-around. But a cartouche survives complete with Crown of Thorns and Symbols of the Passion – which were rare depictions so soon after the Reformation. (Epiphanus Evesham, one of the most celebrated early gentleman sculptors, may have erected this monument. This tentative guess was made by a Mrs Elsdale but it is not generally supported. See comment below by the knowledgeable C. B. Newham)
Hester’s dress is striking, black and elaborate, with layers of fabric and lace carved intricately into the stone.
This dress, although impractical by our standards, was made for outdoor pursuits and supports the legend that she was killed while out hunting in Stansted Park.
The top hat was popular attire in the seventeenth-century for women to wear while outdoors as well as a dark coloured jacket and a long skirt. Her waist has been pinched to a (quite literally) breathtaking wasp-waist corset. This style of corset was pulled so tight that the waist resembled the joints in a wasps body!
This woman is hardly heard of but because of her death – literally something straight out of Game of Thrones – she has really captured my imagination! I will not be forgetting her in a hurry. And that dress is just lush.
What do you think of her? Could you wear that dress? And was she really, truly killed by a stag?
Want to find out more interesting adventures in churches? Read about my adventures around Salle church in Norfolk.
Bye for now! xx