The Horsey Monument at Sherborne Abbey circa 1565

As I drive around the county of Somerset my journey is frequently punctuated by travel news from BBC Somerset. Often queuing traffic is backed up at the Horsey roundabout at the crossing of the A3088 and the A30 in Yeovil. Today that is possibly the only reference that people would know of the name ‘Horsey’. Back in the 16th C it would have been a well-known name in Dorset and Somerset. Sir John Horsey II & III of Clifton Maybank, just outside of Yeovil, were positioned well in the gentry hierarchy with links to the royal court.

Their tomb, commissioned as a memorial by Sir John Horsey (d. 1564) III for himself and his father (d. 1546), demonstrates a desire to assert the classical and Renaissance taste of mid-16th C ambitious and sophisticated members of the gentry. The coat of arms, shields and emblematic horse heads spell out a family who has their badges of social position established. The armour speaks of ancestry, chivalric ideals and knighthood.

Figure 2: Horsey Monument in the Wykeham Chapel

The tomb nowadays is resigned to a small side chapel of Sherborne Abbey. It was moved there in the 19th C. Originally it was positioned in a place of prominence in the north transept. Worshippers for generations would have walked past its splendour and not forget the name of Horsey.

Whilst the sculptor of this tomb monument is unknown, they have produced some fine ornamental work. It suggests someone well-educated in the latest designs and above the skill level of an ordinary mason. Notice the arabesque detail on the pillars. This design had come from the Islamic world. Possibly arriving in England via Venice or travelling up from Moorish Spain. It became fashionable in Henry VIII’s reign.

Figure 3: Chest Tomb with Shields

Figure 4: Shields on Tomb Explained – Abbey Information Board

Figure 5: Horsey Horse Head on top of tomb

It is a monument of worldly wealth and class rather than spiritual humility. The knights are in repose, like the tomb effigies of their medieval ancestors (although the Horseys rest on pillows rather than tournament helms). Their Roman noses perhaps denote another sign of perceived nobility. However, this is also craftsmanship. It is a time of the English Renaissance and a work of art in its own right. Whilst we do not know the sculptor, we can appreciate their talent. On close inspection the noses have at some point been broken off (possibly at the time of the Reformation or Civil War) and reapplied. The joins are visible. These new noses were perhaps fashioned as ‘Roman’.

Figure 6: Sir John II and Sir John III Horsey.

Figure 7: Lozenge Coat of Arms – it is possible that the mason(s) working on Clifton Maybank were deployed to build the monument.

Figure 8: Clifton Maybank Lozenge Coat of Arms c. 1535 – now on the west front of Montacute House, Somerset – fine carving in Ham Hill Stone.


Bettey, J. H., ‘Horsey family (per. c.1500–c.1640)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, <> [accessed 6 July 2019]

‘Clifton Maybank’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 1, West (London, 1952), pp. 98-99. British History Online [accessed 12 July 2019].

Hutchins, John, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1873), IV

Newman, John and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Dorset (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 376

Ridgeway, Huw, Sherborne Abbey, (London: Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, 2014)