In the chapel of St Paul in Westminster Abbey is a large monument of marble and various types of alabaster, about 24 feet high, to the memory of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, founder of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her recumbent effigy is dressed in a long red robe, lined with ermine, and she wears a gilded coronet. At her feet is a wooden blue and gold porcupine, the crest of her family. There are two more of these animals on the top of the tomb. During repairs and repainting of the monument in the early 1960s three hundred new quills of wood were made for the porcupines. The monument is adorned with columns and decorated with fruit, urns, scythes, lions masks etc. The designer was possibly Ralph Symons and the sculptor may have been Richard Stevens. At the top is a coat of arms. On the centre panel is a Latin inscription which is translated into English on the left and right panels:
“Here lyeth the most honorable ladye Frances, sometyme Countess of Sussex daughter of Sir William Sidney of Pencehurst [Penshurst] Knight wyfe and widowe to ye most noble, most wyse and most martiall Gent: Tho[mas] Radclif Earle of Sussex: a woeman whyle she lyved adorned with many and most rare gifts both of mynde and bodye, towards God trulie and zelouslie religious: to her frends and kinesfoulke most liberall: to the poore, to prisoners and to the ministers of the worde of God, allwaies most charitable. By her last will and testament she instituted a divinitie lectur to be redd in this Collegiate Church and by the same her testament gave also fyve thowsande powndes towards the buildinge of a newe colledge in the Universitie of Cambridge, with sufficient yerelie revenew for the continuall maintenaunce of one Maister, X Fellowes, and XX Schollers, eyther in ye same Colledge or ells in another house in ye said Universitie already builded, comenlie [commonly] called Clare Hall. She lyved 58 yeres and dyed ye IX of Marche, and was buried ye XV of Aprile 1589”
On the four panels under the effigy are Latin lines which can be translated:
Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly [also shown in English]. With piety and prudence. With conjugal loyalty.
The mottos above and below the coats of arms can be translated:
With pity and charity. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. All things abound in ills: God alone brings succour.
Frances was born about 1531, the fourth daughter of Sir William Sidney (d.1554) and his wife Anne (Pagenham). The family were important members of the court of Elizabeth I. Her brother Sir Henry married the sister of the Earl of Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney was her nephew. She married, as his second wife, Thomas Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter in 1555 but they had no children. He was Lord Deputy of Ireland and in 1557 was created 3rd Earl of Sussex. Frances became a lady of the bedchamber to the Queen and inherited a large sum of money on her husband’s death. She was buried in St Paul’s chapel on 15 April 1589.
A photograph of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 (under Radcliffe).
Penshurst Place in Kent is open to the public.
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