The Pole Monuments at Colyton Church, Devon Part 1: 16th C William & Katherine Pole

I have a particular interest tomb monuments as they represent micro architecture, sculpture, ornament, and social history. In the church of St. Andrew at Colyton there are some interesting examples. The tombs of William and Katherine Pole dates likely from the late 16th C. William died in 1587 and Katherine died in 1588. Their son Sir William Pole (1561 – 1635) was the patron of the tombs in the south chancel chapel.[i]

Church of St. Andrew, Colyton, Devon

TOMB MONUMENTS OF WILLIAM AND KATHERINE POLE (erected by Sir William Pole, their son)

Sir William Pole (1561 – 1635) was an antiquarian. His father, William Pole (1515 – 1587), had bought the manor of Shute in Devon from William Petre, who had been granted it after the forfeiture for reasons of treason by Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk (Lady Jane Grey’s father).

Sir William Pole (the antiquarian) worked hard, it appears, in ensuring gentry status in an area his family did not have a long association with. The monuments to his father and mother demonstrate his education and status, with various coats of arms. The brass inscriptions on his parent’s tombs seek to assert the validation of their lineage.

The monument for William Pole (father) includes a table-top tomb, which stands in the centre of the Pole chapel.

Pole Chapel to the right of the chancel

Pole Chapel

The memorial brass (just above the top of the tomb) reads:

Here lieth the body of William Pole late of Shute, Esq, deceased who maried Kateryn daught of Alexander Popham of Huntworth Esq. Ye said Wm was sonne of Wm & of Agnes daught of John Drake of Ashe wch Wm was sonne of John & of Edith daught of Rychard Tytherleigh of Tytherleigh; wch John was sonne of John of Jone his wfe da Of Robert Code of Cornwall; which John was sonne of Arture & of Johan da and heire of John Pole; which Arture was second sonne of Sr Wm Pole of Pole in Wirral in the county of Chester, knight, & of his wife da of Sr William Manwaring of Pyver. He hath left behind only on sonne name William & on daught names Dorothie maried to Thomas Erle of Charbrough, Esquier. He dyed the XVth of August A 1587 beinge of the age of lxxii yeares and vi dayes

The tomb is likely constructed of the local good quality limestone from Beer, Devon. The side pilasters on the tomb are ionic. The arms of Pole impale that of Popham on the front base of the tomb. The arms of Pole are azure seme of Fleurs-de-lys and lion rampant. The Popham coat of arms are two buck’s heads.

Arms of Pole & Popham

The elaborate shield with various armorial bearings relates to the lineage that Sir William Pole asserts. The shield is headed with a helmet that may link back to older fashions (i.e., suggesting lineage to nobles or knights in the medieval period). The rather stiff foliage that tries to flow forms a background of ornamentation rather than representative.

Katherine Pole

Tomb Monument of Katherine Pole (d. 1588)

Katherine Popham’s monument is next to her husband’s monument in the chapel. She died just over a year after him in 1588. She was the daughter of Alexander Popham, lord chief justice of England. Katherine is depicted kneeling on a cushion with her seven children, also kneeling. Five of the children are in front of her and two of the children are behind her. The memorial brass tells us that five of her children died young. Katherine’s son William and daughter Dorothe survived her and are kneeling behind her. The ones that predeceased her are in front of her. The mortality rate of children was high in this family (71%), but they are not forgotten. There is an intimacy in the monument with the figures depicted showing piety, with their hands in prayer. It is interesting that William and Dorothe, who are adults at the time of Katherine’s death, are integrated into the monument as weepers, completing their mother’s family unit.

Sir William Pole, her son, makes it clear that he erected the monument and that both he and Dorothe did well for themselves – he was knighted, and she was married to a knight. It also seems that Dorothe got married to her second husband after her father had died but before her mother’s monument was erected (see brass inscriptions for both tombs).

Heer lieth the body of Katherin daughter of Alexander Popham of Huntworthi in the counti of Somerset Esquir, the sister of Sir John Popham, knight, Lo. Chief Justice of England, lately the wife of William Pole Esquier the Elder unto whom shee brought foorth William Pole, knight, and Dorothe the wife first of Thomas Erle Esquier, secondly of Walter Vaughan, knight, which were living and Alexander, Hugh, Richard, Arthur and Amy which died younge. She died the 28 of October 1588 unto the memori of whome Sr Wm Pole Knig her son hath set this monument

Inscription on Katherine Pole’s monument

The colours seem to have faded on the monument. The clothing of the people depicted is plain, all with ruffs, and the only colour seems to be on the mother’s garments. There does not seem to be jewellery or other earthly items such as books, etc. The Corinthian columns have been painted to look like marble. The carving of the figures and the folds of the clothes seem rather crude compared with the finer architectural ornament of the classical details.

There is elaborate classical decoration on the monument, depicting the education and taste of Sir William Pole. The columns on the base are Ionic and on the main monument, Corinthian. On the frieze supported by the two pairs of Corinthian columns are four shields with armorials. On top of the monument, encased in strap work are three armorials with coats of arms – the middle being the Pole coat of arms impaling that of Popham and the two either side that of the two buck’s heads of Popham. It is the only the arms of Pole (azure seme of Fleurs-de-lys and lion rampant) set within white strapwork that are at the base of the monument.

Pole is asserting his position of his family’s worthiness and status as members of the Devon gentry class. The strap work decoration reflects that which was incorporated in many plaster ceilings and fire surrounds in the 1580s in Devon and Somerset

We can interpret something of the female moral duty in the family from the monument. With the rise of printed matter and sermons in the 17th C, moral offences were presented, along with the positive and negative female stereotypes. A woman should be chaste and modest and under the control of their husband, father, or master.[ii] Part of a married women’s duty was to bear children for her husband. The reality of this family situation was facing the high mortality rate of infants, as around one in four children did not survive to the age of ten. Some historians have argued that such rates of child mortality meant that parents did not emotionally attach themselves to their children for fear of loss.[iii] However, tomb monuments demonstrate that in some cases the deceased children are included and remembered as part of the family unit.

Many of the material and visual sources that are left from the Elizabethan age reflect the preoccupation of hierarchy, status, and social order. The gentry class sought to maintain the power of social order in the counties that was assigned to them from central government. They took this as their right by the established hierarchy of human society and an ordered link in the Chain of Being. They needed to assert their position through wealth, image, architecture, moral leadership, coats of arms and classical learning. However, there are glimpses into the human suffering they faced and the care for those close to them.


Cherry, Bridget and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Devon, 2nd edn (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004)

Maxted, Ian, ‘Pole, Sir William (bap. 1561, d. 1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004: online edn, Sep 2004,  [accessed 30 October 2023].

Shepard, Alexandra, ‘Family and Household’, in The Elizabethan World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014)

Stretton, Tim, ‘Women’, in The Elizabethan World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014)


[i] Bridget Cherry, and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Devon, 2nd edn (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 280.

[ii] Tim Stretton, ‘Women’, in The Elizabethan World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), pp. 339-40.

[iii] [iii] Alexandra Shepard, ‘Family and Household’, in The Elizabethan World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), p. 360.