- Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England
"We speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left," Pierre Nora once wrote in his seminal Realms of Memory, which ushered in a wealth of scholarship that studied how societies remember when the past no longer belongs, in quite so living a form, to them. The work of James Young, Jay Winter, and others has contributed greatly to an understanding of monuments as one form of memorialization in the twentieth century, but the centrality of memory and commemoration has also entered into the historiography of other periods, even if memory was construed in an entirely different form. Peter Sherlock's Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England represents a further contribution to this literature, as it explores the role played by monuments as "deliberate messages from the past to posterity" (1) in the remembrance —and misremembrance —of the dead.
Building on recent scholarship concerning early modern English monuments as well as the related turn in death studies, Sherlock examines the manner in which memorials "re-creat[ed] the culture and society of the people who produced them, communicating everything from social, political and religious ideals, to the nature of gender relations and the shape of creation itself" (1). English monuments to the dead were built by the upper ranks of society, and as such they reflected the elite values of an age; while not all nobility erected tombs, many did with "particular outcomes in mind," namely to represent the "illusion of a fruitful lineage," even if "it was just that, an illusion, although a highly effective one" (30).
In their presentation of a memorializing "social" body that could live on after the natural body's demise, monuments, in accordance with the influential ideas of Ernst Kanterowicz and Nigel Llewelyn, represented continuity in the "breach" caused by death. Sherlock, however, argues in the case of cadaver tombs that "monumental bodies" were "representations of the dead, not replacements for their social role," and that they must be studied, moreover, in "spiritual as well as physical or political terms" (44, 62). Monuments, finally, served to "further their memory in the immeasurable wait between the moment of death and the end of time itself when body and soul, living and dead will be reunited" (68), a belief that did not change with the theological upheavals of the age. [End Page 1369]
The voices of the dead, expressed through epitaphs and influenced by the Protestant and Catholic reformations, conveyed a variety of messages: the fragility of life and the decay of flesh (in continuity with late medieval concerns), the "superiority of the dead over the living" (83), the increasing importance of the deceased individual's heraldic status and "virtues and achievements in life," the citation of theologically-correct biblical passages, and confidence in a salvation that belonged to their status as the elect (94-95). The end of purgatory as a vibrant, prayerful connection between the living and the dead was the most overt legacy of the Reformation, and in England the dissolution of the monasteries and chantries also "profoundly altered the context of funeral monuments, which were now caught up in the debates about images" (101). In the mid-sixteenth century, if grave sites and monuments were not vandalized or removed, then there was certainly a "disregard" for them, leading to a "mid-Tudor crisis in tombs" (103). But monuments gained more visibility and assertiveness in the later sixteenth century, as the relationship between the living and the dead "was not severed but transformed," and memory itself now a assumed new form, as a "sacred duty" in its own right (125-26).
Sherlock also explores the stylistic influence of the Renaissance on English funerary monuments and commemorative sculpture, which used Greek and Roman architectural and decorative ideas to assume the place left behind in the wake of Catholic iconography. Patrons, artists, masons, and the printing press each played a significant role in the artistic shift, which included not only triumphant...