Sunday, 23 May 2010

Lady Margaret - errr who?

After saying mass on the altar at Torksey, I removed the frontal to take some photos of the fascinating object it covers. The front of the stone altar at Torksey is formed from a fifteenth century incised slab. The centre of the slab has a full length, but very worn, figure of a woman. She wears a long gown, her fully covered head resting on a tasselled pillow, a little lap dog playing at her feet. The marginal inscription around her is fairly generic 'Hic jacet Domina Margareta' it says 'Here lies Lady Margaret'. The slab is very broken and sadly the bit of slab that gave her surname is badly damaged, but you can work out that her name ended in 'on'. She died sometime in the fifteenth century, but once again the bit that was engraved with the year has been broken. On either side she has two shields of arms, 'barry of six', but in the absence of tinctures, they are frustratingly of little use. So Lady Margaret the anonymous.

Torksey, Lincolnshire

It has been suggested that the figure was that of the last prioress of the Priory of Fosse, a poor Cistercian priory within the parish of Torksey. Given that the priory was dissolved in 1539 and the slab is fifteenth century, that seems unlikely. Various suggestions have been made to complete the name of the 'prioress', including Margaret Winton and Margaret Multon. However, neither name accords with any in the list of prioresses in the Victoria County History. The only Margaret who served in that office was Margaret Barnby elected in 1410 and as the surname of this mysterious Lady Margaret ends in 'on' this is a blind alley too. So for the moment she remains unidentified.

Torksey, Lincolnshire

Personally I am not convinced she is a prioress at all. I would expect her ecclesiastical position to be noted in the inscription and it is not. Also the little lap dog at her feet is perhaps indicative that she is in fact a lay woman, I can't imagine a prioress of a poor and austere Cistercian house (and in 1539 it was described as a 'beggarly poor house') is likely to have owned or asked to be portrayed with such a luxury on her grave slab.

For some reason F A Greenhill, the slab historian, managed to miss this slab in his 'Monumental Incised Slabs in the County of Lincolnshire' even though he recorded another inscription in the church. I suppose the location of the slab doesn't help! Anyway an interesting puzzle, one that I am determined to work at. My next stop is a search of Lincoln Wills to see if any match up.

2 comments:

Carolyn said...

I was very interested in your comments regarding 'Lady Margaret' and the discussion questioning if she was a lay person or the Prioress.

Being a 'Time Team' addict it reminded me of a dig they undertook at Towcester, Northamptonshire in January 2008. Here they discovered a Cistercian priory and one of their finds were floor tiles decorated with the image of a dog. I remember them quoting a document that said that the nuns used to keep small dogs to keep their beds warm and that the Bishop did not approve of this. It is interesting that there is a small dog depicted with Lady Margret.

Congratulation on your blog, I love it.

Allan Barton said...

Thank you Carolyn. That is really very interesting. The nuns at Foss were, were visited by bishop Alnwick in the 1440s and were found to be very 'poor and chaste', I'm sure they didn't have dogs in their beds!!!