28 May 2023

How the identity of the Stanley
effigy in Lichfield Cathedral has
long confused many historians

The Stanley effigy in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral has been identified in recent decades as George Stanley of West Bromwich and Wednesbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Stanley effigy is in a niche in the south choir aisle of Lichfield Cathedral, close to the entrance to Saint Chad’s Chapel and the vestry, and opposite the monument to Bishop John Hackett.

The Stanley effigy has been described as ‘the most curious monument in the cathedral.’ Historians have acknowledged that identifying this tomb presents ‘many difficulties,’ and several historians believed they had managed to clear up any questions about its identity.

When I was in Lichfield Cathedral a few weeks ago, visiting the ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition in the Chapter House, I also photographed the stained glass windows in the Chapter House.

The image of the Stanley family arms in one of those windows reminded me to return to the Stanley effigy and to explore the conflicting claims to identifying the person represented on this 16th century, pre-Reformation tomb.

My search also reminded me of some interesting genealogical connections between the Stanley family and the Comberford family.

The Latin inscription in a plaque in the niche identified the effigy as John Stanley, son of Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Stanley effigy in the south choir aisle depicts a knight naked to the waist. The lower part of the figure was clothed with a deep skirt painted with the arms of the Stanley family, the legs were in armour, while under the head was a buck’s horn, with a similar horn beneath the feet.

However, the effigy was severely mutilated by Cromwell’s Puritan Parliamentarians during the sieges of Lichfield in the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, making it difficult for historians in later generations to identify this member of the Stanley family with certainty.

A brass plate in the niche above the effigy identifies this as the tomb of John Stanley, son of Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe. But this appears to be a Victorian addition, and so is not conclusive evidence of the effigy’s subject.

More recently, however, despite the Victorian inscription, historians have identified this as George Stanley (ca1440-1509) of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, High Sheriff of Staffordshire (1473) and a younger son of Thomas Stanley of Elford.

Yet, antiquarians in the 18th century identified the effigy with Sir Humphrey Stanley (ca 1455-1504) of Pipe, and, since the mid-19th century, the monument has been ascribed to Sir Humphrey Stanley’s son, John Stanley of Pipe, who died in 1515.

However, prior to any of these claims, the monument was long identified simply as ‘Captain Stanley,’ who for some unknown offence had been excommunicated, and who, after penitence, had been buried in the cathedral on condition that the evidence of his punishment should appear on the effigy on his burial place.

During the Siege of Lichfield and the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, the Roundheads defaced and mutilated the Stanley monument to such an degree that many later doubted the story of a Stanley who was buried depicted in such a humiliating state of punishment.

A drawing of the effigy published by the Revd Stebbing Shaw in his History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (Image © Staffordshire Past Track)

Shortly before the Civil War, Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686) made a coloured drawing of the effigy for Sir Christopher Hatton (1605-1670). Dugdale had many links with south Staffordshire and was also the father-in-law of the Lichfield-born antiquarian Elias Ashmole (1617-1692).

According to Dugdale, Hatton foresaw the Civil War and the destruction of churches, and commissioned Dugdale in 1641 to make exact drawings the monuments in Westminster Abbey and the principal churches in England. Dugdale’s drawing of the effigy in Lichfield Cathedral shows the stone figure of Stanley bareheaded and bare-chested, flanked by two bucks’ horns, wearing a skirt decorated with heraldic arms and armour on his legs.

But Dugdale’s depiction of the monument was long-lost, nor did he not offer a definitive identification of a Stanley family member.

The Revd William Stukeley (1687-1765) was an important antiquarian in the early 18th century, pioneering the scholarly investigation of the prehistoric sites at Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire. He published over 20 books on archaeology and other scholarly topics.

Stukeley included the Stanley tomb among the ‘remarkable subjects’ things he had seen in Lichfield Cathedral during a visit in 1715. He recalled: ‘ As you walk down the south isle the first figure in the walk at a the wall of the choir lieth one Capt. Stanley, said to be of the house of Derby, he was a stout and valiant man and is said to have challenged any may to fight with him, not excepting the king, for which insolency the king commanded him to be stripp’d naked from the waist upwards, and to go so till he should repent of that rash challenge; but tho’ the king took pity on him to see him go naked and order’d him to wear cloaths again, yet he refused and went so as long as he lived, and so is he figured on the tomb naked from the waist upwards.’

However, once again, Stukeley does not definitively identify this Captain Stanley, and he places him in the Derby branch rather than the Elford or Pipe branches of the Stanley family.

At the end of the 18th century, the Welsh antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798), in his Journey from Chester to London (1792), identified this tomb with Sir Humphrey Stanley (ca 1455-1504) of Pipe.

Pennant, in his description of the tomb, wrote: ‘I find a Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe, who died in the reign of Henry VII, who had a squabble with the chapter about conveying water through his lands to the close … so probably this might be the gentleman who incurred the censure of the church for his impiety.’

Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe was a grandson of Sir Thomas Stanley (died 1463) of Elford. Sir Humphrey was knighted by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and was three times sheriff and several times MP for Staffordshire. However, when he died in 1504, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, and not in Lichfield Cathedral.

His son and heir John Stanley, who also lived at Pipe, married Margaret Gerard and died in 1514, leaving two infant daughters and coheirs, Elizabeth and Isabel. From there, the genealogy of the Stanley family is confusing, and there are confusing and conflicting accounts of intermarriage with the Heveningham family, who eventually inherited Pipe Manor.

The Revd Stebbing Shaw, in his History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798), said the arms on the base of the tomb show ‘the arms of Stanley impaling or, three chevronels gules (Clare).’ This would mean that the person in the effigy married a woman from the Clare family. However, Sir Humphrey Stanley married Ellen Lee from Stone and was buried in Westminster Abbey, not in Lichfield Cathedral. In addition, the sketch of Stanley’s body in Shaw (vol 1, plate XXIV, after p 246), does not match Dugdale’s drawing.

Hewitt’s reproduction of Dugdale’s sketch of the Stanley effigy in Lichfield Cathedral

Dugdale’s drawing was found in the 19th century among papers belonging to the Earl of Winchelsea. It showed the figure’s skin was bare, and that the skirt had the Stanley coat-of-arms. However, this discovery did not clear up the difficulty about identifying the subject of this effigy.

J Hewitt wrote in the Archaeological Journal (volume 24, 1867, pp 222-225) that further investigation showed that the arms of Clare are also the arms of Gerard, and he linked the effigy instead with Sir Humphrey Stanley’s son, Sir John Stanley (died 1514) of Pipe, who married Margaret Gerard, daughter of Sir Thomas Gerard.

Hewitt noted that the monument had long been identified as ‘Captain Stanley,’ who for some unrecorded offence had been excommunicated, and who, ‘after atonement, had been buried in holy ground on condition that the evidence of his punishment should appear on the effigy on his burial place.’

In reality, John Stanley of Pipe, elder son of Sir Humphrey Stanley, died in July 1515 and had never been knighted. However, in the same edition of the Archaeological Journal, a Dr Rock wrote that ‘this Stanley, of knightly rank, had drawn upon himself the greater excommunication through the spilling of blood in Lichfield Cathedral on some occasion … He lies bareheaded and naked as far down as the girdle. His upraised hands, according to the representation given by Pennant, and copied in Shaw’s History of Staffordshire, held a scroll which must have been the document … signifying under the bishop’s hand that, having undergone the canonical penance, the offender was again admitted to all Christian privileges.’

This John Stanley of Pipe, who died in 1515, was an elder brother of William Stanley of Elford, who married Margaret Comberford, a daughter of Thomas Comberford (1472-1532), of Comberford, Tamworth and Lichfield. Margaret’s brother, Humphrey Comberford (ca 1496/1498-1555), married the heiress of Wednesbury, Dorothy Beaumont, whose father was a half-brother of John Stanley (1470-1534), son of George Stanley who now seems, definitively, to be the person represented in the effigy in Lichfield Cathedral.

This George Stanley (ca 1440-1509), who has been identified convincingly in recent decades with the monument, was a younger son of Thomas Stanley of Elford and an uncle of Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe.

Dr Nigel J Tringham of Keele University, the Victoria County History of Staffordshire, and other sources, as well as sites such as ‘Find a Grave’, now identify this effigy with George Stanley. Dr Tringham presented his conclusions in ‘An early eighteenth-century description of Lichfield Cathedral’ (Transactions of the South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society, 1986-1987, vol 28, 1988, pp 55-63).

This more recent identification is also the conclusion of P Montague-Smith in his paper ‘The mystery of the Stanley Memorial, Lichfield Cathedral, and its heraldic solution’ (The Coat of Arms, Heraldry Society, Vol V (new series), no. 128, Winter 1983/1984).

This George Stanley was High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1473, and Escheator of Staffordshire. He married Eleanor Sutton, a daughter of Sir John Sutton of Dudley and widow of Sir Henry Beaumont of Wednesbury, who died in 1471. Eleanor and her first husband, Sir Henry Beaumont of Wednesbury, were the parents of Sir John Beaumont, whose daughter and co-heiress, Dorothy Beaumont, married Humphrey Comberford of Comberford and Tamworth.

Indeed, this Humphrey Comberford was a brother of Dorothy Comberford, who married William Stanley, a brother of John Stanley, identified by many with the Stanley effigy in Lichfield Cathedral. He was also a brother of Canon Henry Comberford, Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, and Richard Comberford, often (albeit mistakenly) identified as the ancestor of the Comerfords of Co Kilkenny and Co Wexford.

George Stanley and Eleanor Sutton (Beaumont) were the parents of one son and one daughter, John Stanley and Anne, the wife of Sir John Wolseley.

George Stanley died in 1509 and was buried in this tomb in Lichfield Cathedral. However, why he is apparently depicted in a state of penitence and his sin both remain unknown, and the plaque above the effigy continues to identify this effigy as John Stanley, son of Sir Humphrey Stanley.

The Stanley coat-of-arms (left) in a stained glass window in the Chapter House, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (50) 28 May 2023

Titian’s painting of ‘Pentecost’ or ‘the Descent of the Holy Spirit’ in the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Easter season enters its final day today, the Day of Pentecost (28 May 2023), or Whit Sunday.

A note on the Easter Season in the service booklets in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, and Saint George’s Church, Wolverton, reminds us:

‘The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide is where the joy created on Easter Day is sustained through the following seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ.

‘The Paschal Candle we lit on Easter Day stands prominently in our church for all the Eastertide services. The Alleluia appears frequently in the liturgy, speech and song, and white or gold vestments and decorations emphasise the joy and brightness of the season.

‘On the fortieth day of Easter, there is a particular celebration of Christ's ascension. He commissions his disciples to continue his work, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then he is no longer among them in the flesh. The ascension is therefore closely connected with the theme of mission.

‘The arrival of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost completes and crowns the Easter Festival.’

As the booklet for the midday Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral reminds me: ‘The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide form a single festival period in which the tone of joy created at the Easter Vigil is sustained through the following seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ’.

Later this morning I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist celebrating Pentecost in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. Later this afternoon, as part of the celebrations for Pentecost, the church is sharing a Taizé service, a reflective service of music, silences, scripture and prayer, including prayers for healing.

Ordinary Time resumes tomorrow.

But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. I am reflecting each morning during Easter and Ascensiontide in these ways:

1, Looking at images or stained glass windows in a church or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Church of Santa Maria della Salute seen from the Grand Canal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Pentecost’ by Titian, the Church Santa Maria della Salute, Venice:

This morning, on the Day of Pentecost, I am looking back on a recent visit to the Church Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, where the treasures include Titian’s painting of ‘Pentecost’ or ‘the Descent of the Holy Spirit.’

In A Passage to India (1924), EM Forster describes Salute, one of the most painted and depicted churches in Venice, as ‘holding the entrance of a canal which, but for it, would not be the Grand Canal.’

Santa Maria della Salute is at the southern-most entrance to the Grand Canal. The dome of the Salute is an emblem of the skyline of Venice and the church and its silhouette have inspired artists from Canaletto to Turner and Sargent.

This baroque church stands between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, at the Bacino di San Marco, on the narrow finger of Punta della Dogana. It can be seen clearly from the waterfront at the Piazza San Marco.

Although Salute is best-known for the dome that makes it an architectural landmark, its spacious, light-filled interior – like so many churches in Venice – is filled with artistic treasures.

So often, people raise their glasses in Italy with the toast Salute!. It might be too easy to translate this as ‘Cheers!’ or ‘Your health!’ But the name of this church is associated with prayers for the health of Venice and deliverance from the plague almost 400 years ago.

The Salute is one of the so-called ‘plague churches’ in Venice and its full name is Santa Maria della Salute: Saint Mary of Health, or Saint Mary of Deliverance.

After Venice was devastated in an outbreak of the plague in 1630, the Serene Republic agreed to build a church dedicated to Our Lady of Health or of Deliverance as a thank-offering for the city’s deliverance. The church was designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, who studied under Vincenzo Scamozzi.

Venice was devastated by a the plague in a wave that began in the summer of 1630 and continued into 1631, killing almost one-third of the population of the city. In all, 46,000 people died in the city, and 94,000 more died in the lagoon and the surrounding islands.

As they prayed for an end to the plague, the people of Venice held processions and public displays of the Blessed Sacrament, with processions to the churches of San Rocco and San Lorenzo Giustiniani. Over half a century earlier, during another plague attack in 1575-1576, the city had responded by commissioning Andrea Palladio to design the Church of Il Redentore (the Redeemer) on Giudecca.

On 22 October 1630, Church and State responded as the Venetian Senate decreed that a new church should be built, dedicated not to a another ‘plague’ saint or patron but to the Virgin Mary, who was revered as a protector of the Republic.

But the Senators also wanted a monumental church in a place that could be reached easily from Saint Mark’s Square. The location was chosen from among eight potential locations, partially because it was possible to link it with San Giorgio, San Marco and Il Redentore, and the four churches form an arc in Venice. The Salute also stands close by the custom house or Dogana da Mar, the symbol of the maritime commerce of Venice, and near the civic centre of the city.

At first, the Patriarch of Venice opposed the location of the church. He owned a church and seminary that stood on the site until the dispute was resolved. Eventually, building work began in 1631.

The architect Baldassare Longhena was only 26 when he was chosen by the Senate in a 66-29 vote to design the new church.

The Salute was novel in many ways, showing the influence of Palladian classicism and the domes of Venice. But this octagonal church is also influenced by Byzantine designs, including the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna.

Salute is a vast, octagonal building with two domes and a pair of bell-towers, designed by Longhena as a crown-like church. However, the decorative circular building also looks like a reliquary, a ciborium, or an embroidered, inverted chalice that shelters the piety of Venice. It is full of Marian symbolism: the great dome represents her crown, the cavernous interior her womb, and the eight sides the eight points on her symbolic star.

Salute stands on a platform made of a million wooden piles, and is built of Istrian stone and marmorino or brick covered with marble dust. At the top of the pediment, a statue of the Virgin Mary presides over the church. The façade is decorated with figures of Saint George, Saint Theodore, the Four Evangelists, the Prophets, and Judith with the head of Holofernes. Recently, the statues of the four evangelists have been identified as the work of Tommaso Rues.

Inside, the church is octagonal with eight radiating chapels on the outer row. The three altars to the right of the main entrance are decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary by Luca Giordano: the Presentation, the Assumption and the Nativity, and there is a painting by Titian of Pentecost or the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

Longhena himself designed the Baroque high altar, which displays a 12th or 13th century icon from Crete of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, known in Greek as Panagia Mesopantitisa, the ‘Virgin Mediator’ or the ‘Virgin Negotiator.’ The icon was brought to Venice from Iraklion in 1669 when the capital of Crete was captured by the Ottoman Turks.

The group of statues above the high altar shows the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven driving the Plague out of Venice. This theatrical Baroque masterpiece was executed in 1670 by the Flemish sculptor Josse de Corte.

Tintoretto painted the ‘Marriage at Cana’ in the great sacristy, which includes a self-portrait. Titian painted Saint Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Sebastian and Roch, seen in the altarpiece in the sacristy, as well as ceiling paintings of David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac and Cain and Abel, and eight tondi of the eight Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists, all in the great sacristy, and the Pentecost in the nave.

The church was not completed until 1681, shortly before Longhena died. He wrote:

‘I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the … shape of a crown.’

Later he wrote: ‘It is a virgin work, never before seen, curious, worthy and beautiful, made in the form of a round monument that has never been seen, nor ever before invented, neither altogether, nor in part, in other churches in this most serene city.’

Longhena’s last great work in Venice before he died is the Ca’Pesaro, a colossal baroque palace on the Grand Canal.

The Senate agreed to visit the church each year. On 21 November, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, or the Festa della Madonna della Salute, the city officials paraded from San Marco to the Salute for a service in gratitude for deliverance from the plague. This involved crossing the Grand Canal on a specially-built pontoon, and this parade is still a major event in Venice each year.

As time passed, the dome of the Salute became an important landmark on the Venetian skyline and it soon became an emblem of the city, inspiring painters from Canaletto (1697-1768) to JMW Turner (1775-1851) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

Inside the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 2: 1-21 (NRSVA):

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”’

The High Altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 19-23 (NRSVA):

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Inside the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Pentecost.’ USPG’s Chaplain, the Revd Jessie Anand, introduces this theme this morning, reflecting on Pentecost and languages:

‘On the first day of Pentecost, hearing people speak in different languages and understanding the mighty works of God was a first-hand experience. Today in the world church, Pentecost reminds us of the importance of gathering multilingual worshippers to witness Christian unity.

‘In the Philippines, Filipino Christians from 7,640 islands, and speaking many different mother tongues, worship in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) and the Episcopal Church. There are 183 languages in the country. Among them, Tagalog and English are the official languages. The presence of multilingual worshippers in Philippine’s churches, and their witness in their communities, certainly promotes the Pentecostal experience in the life journey of Filipino Christians.

‘In Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral at Quezon City in Manila, the worshippers had a vision to include deaf people and people who do not speak. Many worshippers have undertaken sign language training which helps to unite all worshippers in a meaningful Pentecostal experience. No one is excluded on grounds of language.

‘Pentecost enables us to rise above the limitations of our own languages. It is transformative and demonstrates the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom.’

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Sunday 28 May 2023):

O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your Church with life and power;
O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your Church to meet this hour.
– Elizabeth Ann Head (1850-1936).


God, who as at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation
the way of life eternal:
open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute seen from the waterfront at Saint Mark’s Square in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org