Memorial XXVIII: The Burial of a Deceased Brother, 1608

Pages 131-138

Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Originally published by Harrison, London, 1875.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



1. The earlier custom of the Fraternity was that the deceased Brother should be buried from the Hall, or that a deputation of members should attend his funeral at the church, and the 18th Ordinance of Henry VII. provided for the attendance of the Fraternity in these terms:—

"Also it is ordained that what person of this Fraternity which at any time hereafter shall be duly summoned by the Beadle to be present with the Master and Wardens in his whole livery at a place and hour assigned to or for the burying of any Brother or Sister deceased which aforetime hath not been Master nor Warden and denieth at the commandment of one or two of the Wardens then being to bear the said Brother or Sister to burying if he be not sick or diseased nor that the said Brother or Sister died on the great sickness called the Pestilence shall forfeit and pay to those of the said Fraternity for every time making denial 6s. 8d. provided always that such persons as have been Wardens aforetime, and summoned by the Beadle after the manner and form aforesaid for the burying of a Master when it shall happen at the desire of the Wardens then being 4, 6 or 8 of those who have been Wardens shall be ready to bear the said Master to burying, the causes aforesaid reserved upon the pain of forfeiture of 10s., the piece as often and when as such case shall happen."

2. In either case the pall (fn. 1) of the Fraternity covered the coffin, and a dinner at the Hall usually succeeded the funeral, for which (fn. 2) 20l. or 40l. were not unfrequently given by the deceased Brother, the balance of expense (if any) being paid out of the "Common Box" by special vote of the Fraternity.

3. Two of these palls or herse-cloths are still in the possession of the Company, and are drawn on the annexed sheets. They were exhibited (fn. 3) at the Society of Antiquaries in June 1874, and in the Journal of their proceedings are thus described (fn. 6) :—

"It is well known that it was the practice for such of the City Companies as were originally gilds to possess herse-cloths which were used in the burial of members of the Company. The general construction of these palls consists of a breadth of baldakin cloth in the centre, about 6 feet by 2 in dimensions, to the sides and ends of which are attached embroidered velvet flaps, rectangular in shape, and about ten inches in breadth. The palls exhibited this evening may be thus described:—

I. In the centre is a piece of baldakin cloth, or cloth of gold, 6 feet 4½ inches by 1 foot 10 inches. The pattern is a huge red stalk running from end to end with fruits and blossoms, chiefly of the pomegranate. In general arrangement and colour it closely resembles the pall of the Ironmongers' Company as figured in Shaw's Decorative Arts of the Middle Ages, plate xxxiv., and that of the Vintners' Company as figured in the Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society, vol. iii., p. 491. The flaps at the sides and ends are of purple velvet. The sides, 10 inches broad, may be thus described:—In the centre is the Baptism of Our Lord; to the Saviour's left is John the Baptist kneeling and pouring a vessel of water on Our Lord's head; to His right is an Angel holding some drapery.

"The baptism is flanked by two pairs of Agnus Deis, rayed and spangled, and between each pair is a figure of John the Baptist, with the label, Ecce Agnus Dei. At each end is an Angel holding the head of John the Baptist in a charger, with the label:


"At each end is a pair of shears placed saltierwise.

"The other side is a repetition of what has been described, with the exception that one of the shears has a tent between the blades.

"The ends are of the same breadth as the sides. On one is a representation of the Decollation, with an Angus Dei on each side. Salome is holding a dish, on which a figure, in the costume of a lanzknecht of late fifteenth century, is about to place the head of John the Baptist, whose bent body is seen falling forward on the ground; the blood streaming from the neck.

"At the other end is the entombment of John the Baptist, with an Agnus Dei on each side. Two figures hold the body, a third standing in the middle in an attitude of prayer. This pall may be dated about 1490–1500.

"II. Centre piece, cloth of gold, 6 feet 3½ inches by 1 foot 11 inches. The pattern consists of garlands of flowers with pomegranates and other fruits intermixed. The amount of gold in this cloth is much larger, more massive, than in the other. The side flap, which is 9 inches broad, is divided architecturally by arcades into seven divisions. Beginning at the spectator's left—the first, third, fifth, and seventh of these are filled with the words ECCE AGNVS DEI—the syllables of the word AGNUS being divided between the third and fifth arcade. The second and sixth divisions contain the arms of the Company, viz., Argent, a tent-royal between two robes of state, gules, lined ermine. The central and largest division represents the Baptism of our Lord, John the Baptist kneeling to the spectator's right with a hand stretched over the head of Christ— an Angel standing to the left. Above is a scroll with the words:—


"The same subject is repeated on the other side.

"At each end is the Decollation flanked by the Company's arms. The costume, however, is about half a century later than the pall just described."

Burial cloth, c.1490-1512

4. Mr. Augustus W. Franks, M.A., F.R.S., under whose charge the British and Mediæval Antiquities at the British Museum are placed, has furnished the following memorandum upon these cloths:—

"The two herse-cloths belonging to the Merchant Tailors' Company are not very far apart in date, but, judging from some of the details of costume, and other reasons, I consider the less ornamented one to be the earlier. This is also more likely to be the case, as the Company would scarcely have a new cloth made less rich than one already in their possession.

5. "The older cloth has in the centre an oblong piece of cloth of gold velvet, exhibiting a rich running pattern in crimson on a gold ground, in some places small loops of gold thread are visible, which seem to be characteristic of the stuff. A piece of the same kind of stuff, with a similar pattern, forms the centre of the herse-cloth belonging to the Ironmongers' Company, dated 1515; and is engraved in 'Shaw's Decorative Arts of the Middle Ages,' pl. 34. The Ironmongers' Cloth is noticed in the 'Catalogue of Works of Art,' exhibited at Ironmongers' Hall in 1861, vol ii., p. 456, as well as the cloth now under consideration, where the tissue is stated to be Flemish on the authority of Dr. Rock. Although, however, such stuffs are frequently represented in Flemish pictures, there is no evidence that they were made in Flanders. When any indications of origin are furnished by inventories or accounts, they are always Italian. At this period, Lucca seems to have had a specialité of such fabrics, and on showing the cloth to Signor A. Castellani (who had brought several pieces of a similar kind from Italy), he told me that he considered it to be Pisan. It will be remembered that Lucca and Pisa are no great distance apart. The style of the design is also against a Flemish origin for the stuff, as the pattern has too little traces of Gothic design to have been made so early as 1515 in Flanders.

"The central panel of rich stuff is surrounded by four flaps or borders, with embroidery in silk or gold thread, sewed on to purple velvet, and edged with fringe. The design of the long sides is the same; in the centre the Baptism of our Lord, who is standing in the centre; St. John the Baptist is kneeling on one knee, and pouring water over Him out of a vase; on the other side an angel holding the Saviour's robe; on each side of this an Agnus Dei surrounded by rays and spangles, no doubt what is called in the Inventory (fn. 7) of 1512 'the Holy Lamb in a sun'; then follows on each side a figure of the Baptist holding the Lamb, and a scroll, inscribed ECCE AGNVS DEI. Then follows the Agnus Dei as before, then an angel bearing the head of the Baptist in a dish with a scroll, CAPAT IOHIS BAPTESTE Ī DISCO; then again an Agnus Dei, and at the extreme ends a pair of shears, open.

"In one instance, a tent is placed between the points of the shears, and from the blank spaces left in the same spot in the other shears, it is probable that this ornament has once existed in all of them.

"One of the shorter flaps exhibits the entombment of the Baptist, whose headless body is being placed in a saracophagus, by three men in rich dresses; this is flanked on each side by an Agnus Dei as before.

"The other short flap exhibits the Decollation of the Baptist, flanked also by the Agnus Dei. In the centre is the headless body of the Saint, whose head is held up by the executioner, while Salome is holding out a dish to receive it. The execu tioner is in the dress of a landsknecht of the period, and has a long executioner's sword. He wears a cap with feathers, a vest slashed in front, and tight fitting hose, in one piece from the feet to the waist; his shoes are broad toed; Salome has a veil flying behind from her head dress, a long gown, over which is a jacket with long wide sleeves, trimmed with ermine.

"This is the most important part of the decoration, as the figures are in the costume of the period. I have not paid very special attention to the costume of the 16th century, but I should conjecture that the date of the embroidery might be placed between 1490 and 1510, that is, before the end of the reign of Henry VII. Should this date be correct, it is possible that this herse-cloth may be the 'burying clothe' kept in a deal chest, of the Inventory of 1512. One of the three hersecloths mentioned in 1562, is called 'the burial cloth of black velvet broidered with gold,' in contra-distinction to the 'State Cloth.'

Burial cloth, c.1520-30

6. "The other herse-cloth has in the centre, a piece of cloth of gold velvet, of still finer design than that of the first hersecloth, and still better suited to its purpose, as the design is more symmetrical, and fills up the panel much better; its Italian origin is very conspicuous. The pattern is in purple and gold, the latter has in patches the same small loops that have been noticed in the other specimen.

"It has similar flaps or borders, entirely covered with embroidery in silk and gold, somewhat monotonous in design, but very rich in effect. The long sides are in every respect alike, being divided by pilasters into seven compartments of unequal widths. In the centre is the Baptism of our Lord by St. John, who is standing on the bank of the stream to the right of the Saviour; to the left is an angel holding the Saviour's robe; above is the Holy Dove with the scroll, inscribed HIG EST FILIUS MEUS. The smaller compartments on each side, contain the old arms of the Company, with the Agnus Dei in the chief. The four other compartments contain the inscription ECCE AGNVS DEI in large ornamental letters.

"The smaller borders are also alike, divided by pilasters into three panels; in the centre is the Decollation of St. John, at the sides the arms of the Company as before.

"The costume of the executioner and of Salome are of the period; the former, a landsknecht, wears a hat with feathers and has a slashed doublet, and his sleeves and hose are slashed, puffed, and gathered in at intervals. He wears boots with broad falling tops, and carries a long executioner's sword. Salome has an elaborate head-dress with a long veil flowing behind, a long dress with a jacket over it, and with slashed, puffed, and gathered sleeves. The slashed, puffed, and gathered garments of both these figures, point to a later date than the costumes of the other cloth, and I should be disposed to place them between 1520 and 1530. It is possible that a more elaborate herse-cloth, such as this one, was made for the Company, or presented to it by some member, on account of the arms not appearing on the other cloth. The embroidery in both specimens must have the same origin. The costumes are somewhat Flemish, but as the English embroiderers enjoyed at this time a considerable reputation, there does not seem to be any reason why they should not have executed the work."

7. After the Reformation, funeral solemnities were still observed, as recorded in the following extract from the Court Minutes:—

"Memorandum that this day the funeralle of the Woorll Mr. John Swynnerton, late Mr of this Company, were solempnized, and the Mr Wardens and Assistants, lyvery, Warden Substitutes and Almsmen, dyned at the Hall at a bountifull Dynner there provided of the guift of the said Mr. Swynnerton. Before which Dynner there was openly pronounced a grace or thanksgiving drawne by a learned Dyvine upon the Motion of a grave and Worthy auncient Master of this Company, intituled A Comemorable grace at a funerall dynner in the Hall for a good brother deceased."—[3rd November 1608.]

8. This "commendable grace" which the worthy Robert Dowe (fn. 8) gave an annuity of 5s. a-year to the Clerk for reading, was in these words:—

"Almightie God and most mercifull Father, wee thy most unthankfull Servaunts unworthy of the least of all thy mercies, being at this present assembled together in thy feare and in remembraunce of our worshipfull Brother deceased, doe humbly entreate thy heavenly Majestie to accept at our hands this poore Sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving which wee offer up unto thee, as for all other thy blessings, so namely for thy contynuall providing for and feeding of us and oures from tyme to tyme. O Lord wee are not worthy of the meanest repast that ever wee tooke at any tyme at thy gracious hands, much lesse of this greate bounty and kindness which thou hast nowe vouchsafed us by the liberall guift of our loving Brother deceased. Graunt us we humbly beseech thee the assistance of thy holy spiritt that this and such other examples may contynually putt us in mynde of our mortallitie, that we may learne to feare and serve thee by true faith in Jesus Christ. And whensoever it shall please thee to call us out of this transitory lief, guide us so by thy Grace that wee may according to the measure of thy temporall blessings wherewith it shall please thee to blesse us, shewe our kindnes with upright hearts not for desire of vain glory or for fashion sake, but to make knowne thy bountie towards us in the blessinge of this lief to the praise of thy name and to witness our thankfulnes to this worshipfull Company wherein wee have bene trayned upp and advaunced, that so having the holy use of this, and all other thy mercies wee may in them see thy tender love and care over us and have our harts stirred up to true thankfullnes in all holy Obedience to the Glory of thy name, the good Example of our Brethren, our owne present and everlasting comfort through Jesus Christe our Lord Amen."


  • 1. See Mr. Gough Nichols' note on "Herse Cloths," Machyn's Diary, p. xxx. (Camden Society, 1848).
  • 2. Shepham's funeral in 1604.
  • 3. These were exhibited in 1862 at the South Kensington Museum, and were thus described in the Catalogue (pp. 257–8):— No. 3,017. A hearse-cloth, of very rich cloth of gold, diapered with crimson velvet; all around on the purple velvet border is figured in gold the "Lamb of God," and subjects expressive of the life and beheading of St. John the Baptist, and richly embroidered. A pair of shears with the blades apart, or salterwise, shows this pall to have belonged to the Merchant Taylors Company, Tissues Flemish; embroidery English, 16th Century. (The Lamb in a Sun or Glory, which was in the chief of the Shield of the Company's Arms, granted in 1480, became the Crest of the Company in the grant of 1586, and a Lion guardant substituted for it in the chief of the Shield, as seen in the Arms now used by the Company.) No. 3,023. A hearse-cloth of rich purple silk, brocaded in gold, and on the ends and sides richly embroidered with the life and matyrdom of St. John the Baptist and shields of arms, blazoned with argent, a tent royal between robes of state gules, lined ermine, 16th Century, English. (The arms here mentioned are those granted in 1480, and the intervening spaces are filled with the words Agnus Dei repeated, in massive embroidery.)
  • 4. See Mem. xv.
  • 5. See Mem. xvi.
  • 6. Journal of Antiquaries, vol. vi., Second Series, pp. 245–6.
  • 7. See page 85.
  • 8. See Mem. LXIX.