The oldest relic in St Lawrence Parish Church is a freestone military effigy, reclining on a low modern base in the north aisle.
The effigy is defaced and mutilated (at least partly as a result of lying in the open-air for 300 years!), and the lower legs and right arm are missing. The figure is crossed-legged, and the head rests on two cushions (the upper in a diagonal position). The right hand grasps the edge of the shield (an unusual gesture), and the long surcoat is worn open in the common v-fashion.
This is the only surviving pre-Reformation effigy from the previous Early English church, which was demolished in 1814.
There are no accompanying heraldic devices, inscriptions or documentary evidence surviving from the pre-1814 church to support definitive attribution, but the effigy has traditionally been identified as that of "Sir Robert de Hungerford, (d. 1352)".
However, expert opinions published in 2010 cast some doubt on this, and suggest that it may be the effigy of an earlier member of the Hungerford family - possibly Robert's father Walter.
Sir Robert Hungerford gave land in memory of his first wife, Joan, to the Church of Hungerford - where he founded the Chantry of Holy Trinity in 1325 - and to other religious foundations. The indulgence tablet from the Chantry Chapel is displayed in St Lawrence Church, adjacent to the Hungerford effigy.
Sir Robert Hungerford died on 30th June in 1352 in Hungerford, and he was buried in Sir Robert's Chantry of the Holy Trinity in the south aisle of Hungerford Parish Church.
- Stone effigy normally ascribed to Sir Robert de Hungerford (died 1352)
More about the effigy:
Despite the long-standing attribution of this monument to Sir Robert de Hungerford, some doubt was raised by Mark Downing (in Military Effigies of England and Wales: Bedfordshire to Derbyshire, Vol 1, Shrewsbury, 2010).
The key element of doubt relates to the style of the monument itself, which has features more commonly associated with earlier effigies, dating to c.1300.
The usual mid-fourteenth century effigies (such as might be expected if it was of Sir Robert, dying 1352) comprised armour from what has been described as the age of superimposition. This might include layers of garments/defences on the body from inside outwards comprising: shirt, aketon (gambeson), haubergeon, coat-of-plates, coat armour.
Although the Hungerford figure is worn and the greater part of his limbs has been lost, it is clear that the figure wears the long surcoat of an earlier period and there is no evidence of plate defences, which were commonplace by the mid 14th century.
It is postulated that the effigy might instead commemorate Sir Robert's father, Sir Walter(who appears to have died after 1308). Robert may himself have had another monument, only the inscription of which survives. It was not unusual for tombs to get muddled up during church rebuildings.
Cross-legged effigies of men in armour like that at Hungerford have commonly, but wrongly, been thought to commemorate crusaders. Most such figures date from the period between the second half of the thirteenth and the mid-fourteenth century, but the participation in crusades by the English military classes was waning by this time. Many knights commemorated by cross-legged effigies have been shown to have no connection whatsoever with crusading; the same is likely to be true of the man commemorated at Hungerford, whoever he was."
With thanks to Dr Ellie Pridgeon
(University of Leicester / Wiltshire Heritage Museum)
Sir Robert or Sir Walter?
Geoffrey (Roy) Morgan contacted the Virtual Museum (Aug 2012) saying: "I have recently been researching the mystery of the "Aldworth Giants" - a group of nine effigies in the Church of St Mary's at Aldworth and have produced a booklet on the subject.
The effigies are said to represent the De La Beche a fourteenth century family who were patrons of the church. I had noticed that some of the effigies of Knights were in cross-legged postures which were recognized as being 'identical' to the stone effigies set out in the Round to Temple Church London ... Knight Templar.
The Templar (around 1100) had uncovered treasure from beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem and secreted it away in various locations known only to those Knights. The Templar mapped the locations by using the chessboard (which became their banner) and gave each location a chess piece to identify it. Those effigies of Knights with crossed legs (chess piece) are to be found on black squares.
At St Mary's as well as the nine effigies within the church there was one (a copy of Sir Robert De La Beche - the White King) set in an external arched niche in the south wall. At some point during renovation work at St Mary's that tenth effigy vanished.
I imagine the external effigy was placed as a form of 'posted note' which would have been understood by passing Templar (of the day), but that when the renovation work was done and the niche filled in there was no place for two "Sir Roberts".
In your "Virtual Museum" notes re Sir Robert de Hungerford, you state "There are no accompanying heraldic devices, inscriptions or documentary evidence surviving from the pre-1814 church to support definitive attribution, but the effigy has traditionally been identified as that of Sir Robert de Hungerford (d.1352)".
Attached are photographs of the "Hungerford" and the "Aldworth" effigies (the latter has recently been cleaned). All the Aldworth effigies show the same mutilated characteristics, and are the same style and size as, the Hungerford effigy. The Aldworth effigies date from around 1340 and are all Templar, something which is recognised in the 'Hungerford'.
It is my opinion that Sir Robert de Hungerford is actually Sir Robert De La Beche - although how and when he made the transition I have no idea."
Fred Bailey added (Jan 2015): "Sir Robert de Hungerford: In the previous issue of "Chain Mail" (issue 125 Winter 2014), there was an article by Roy Morgan questioning whether the effigy which resides in the North West Corner of St Lawrence's Church, is in fact the effigy of Sir Robert de Hungerford.
Roy believes that this may be the effigy of Sir Robert de la Beche, which disappeared from St Mary's Church at Aldworth many years ago when the Church was renovated, and was one of the Aldworth Giants, who were over seven feet tall.
When in 2007 it was decided to clean all of the monuments in St Lawrence's, the effigy was examined by the Conservator and also by Professor Brian Kemp of Reading University to establish the correct age of both the effigy and the Indulgence Tablet, which now resides on the North Wall above the effigy.
The Indulgence Tablet was dated as being carved in the mid 1320s because the form of Latin used in the inscription, was not used after about this date. This was 25 years before the death of Sir Robert in 1352.
The dating of the effigy was questioned by Dr Ellie Pridgeon in her article which appears on the Hungerford Virtual Museum Web site. This was due to the apparel which is still visible on the effigy and would date the statue considerably earlier than that worn at the time of his death in 1352. The reason for this could possibly be that the effigy was carved at the same time as the Tablet in the mid 1320s, when Sir Robert founded his Chantry Chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which was located in the South aisle of the Church.
Roy Morgan believes that the Aldworth effigies were carved around the 1340s.
In spite of extensive research I cannot find when the stated renovation of St Mary's took place, which means there is no date available to place the possible loss of Sir Robert de la Beche. As Roy Morgan states we can never be certain as to who the effigy is of, but my feeling is that Hungerford has the correct "Sir Robert."