The Tomb of Sir Ralph
Woodford in Ashby Folville Church
The tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford has survived in a
remarkably good condition. It is one of the finest examples of its kind in
Leicestershire and has the only shrouded figure on a Leicestershire or
Rutland monumental slab.
The slab was engraved in about 1485. It is on a
low tomb against the north wall of the chancel of the church and is an
alabaster slab measuring 87” by 40.5” bearing an effigy of a nude man.
The figure is clean shaven, in an open shroud knotted at the head, a fold
drawn across his middle by the right hand. The right arm is hanging down
with the palm extended, palm outwards, and the lower part of the shroud
falling behind the figure but partly enveloping the left foot. The feet
rest on a collared greyhound facing to sinister. Over the head of the
effigy on another folded scroll is the Latin text of Job, Ch 19 v.25/26:
CREDO Q(UO)D REDEMPTOR ME(US)
VIVIT ET NOVI(SSI) MO DIE DE
TERRA SURRECTUR(US) SU(M). ET IN
CARNE MEA VIDEBO DEUM
Beneath the figure’s feet on a fourth scroll are the
OF ERTHE I AM FORMED & NAKED
TO ERTHE I AM TURNED ALL NAKED
misses out the second sentence of the Latin text and the entire English
couplet in his description of the tomb.
The marginal inscription begins in the top right-hand
corner and reads outwards:
HIC IACENT RAD(ULPH)IUS WODFORD ARMIG(ER) CO(N) SANGUENI(US)
/ ET HERES ROB(ER)TI WODFORD MILIT(IS) VIDEL(I CE)T FILI(US) THOME FILII
ET HEREDIS P(RE)DICTI ROB(ER)TO WODFORD & ELIZABETH UNA FILIA(RUM)
WILL(IELM)I VILLIERS / ARMIG(ER)I UXOR P(RE)DIC(TI
The slab was obviously laid down during Ralph’s
lifetime as the date of his death has been added in another smaller hand.
The wording of his will rather suggests that the tomb was in existence
prior to April 1485.The back slab of the tomb, which is of a yellowish
coloured stone, is adorned at the top with a sculptured achievement,
quarterly 1st and 4th (Sa) three leopard’s
faces (or) jessant-de-lis (arg) (the arms of Woodford of Ashby Folville),
a cross moline (gu) (the arms of Folville) with a helm and mantliong and
crest, two lions gambs erased (or) (Woodford). Despite Nichol’s comments to the contrary, the
nude body is clearly male. Nichols suggests that it is an effigy of a
princess without a head! The head is now clearly engraved on the slab and
cannot be a re-cutting of the original design as there are no signs of
wear to have necessitated such a process. The treatment of the hair,
whether it is meant to be short or long, would of itself establish that it
must have been added since Ralph’s time.
Woodford House, Ashby Folville
While instances do occur of
figures entirely shrouded, there are no examples known where part of the
body is left uncovered but the entire head is shrouded. It is unthinkable
to argue that the monument could have been delivered with such a glaring
error as the omission of the head of the subject.
What may have happened is that the design was set
out on a slab in the first place in some form of black pigment. The design
was then approved by Ralph and the engraver began his work but forgot to
complete the head; but as all the lines were filled up level with pitch
after engraving, the omission escaped detection at the time. By 1800 when
Nichols was compiling his work, the original setting out of the head had
worn off and at some date between then and the present day, another
engraver completed the figure.
Excavations below the Woodford slab in 1871
revealed the remains of two skeletons.
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© Stephen Butt 2006-10 -
The life of Sir Ralph Woodford (1430-1498)
Although there is little firm
evidence of his personality and beliefs with the exception of his
will, Sir Ralph Woodford appears as an enigmatic figure in the
Woodford family saga. After suffering the death of his father at an
early age and the subsequent antagonism of his grandfather, Ralph
represented the sixth and last generation of the family to hold
significant power and wealth in Leicestershire. After his death, the
family was to disperse.
dispute over Ralph’s inheritance lasted long after the death of
his grandfather. The breach between Ralph and his uncle Walter was
so complete that Walter apparently feared for his life at his nephew’s
hands. The records indicate that Ralph was determined to seize
Walter’s portion of Woodford lands, and if necessary to hold it by
force. Walter was unable to defend his rights as he lived `far out’
of Leicestershire, so Ralph’s illegal entry onto the property
endured for over ten years.
somewhat violent attitude to his uncles can be understood in the
context of the family’s social standing in Leicestershire. Sir
Robert’s attempts to disinherit his grandson threatened Ralph’s
wealth and consequently the entire family’s status within county
society. Despite his grandfather’s protestations, Ralph
remained married to Elizabeth Villiers until her death on 9 August
1469, twenty-two years after their marriage. Elizabeth was buried in
Ralph’s vault in the church at Ashby Folville.
Ralph’s will, written in English and made on 15 April 1495
mentions two wives, Elizabeth and Margaret. William Villiers had
four children from his first marriage (to Agnes Beler). Elizabeth
was the eldest of these children. Harl.MS 7178 Fo 15 states that
Elizabeth married Ralph Woodford in 1495 but this is the date of
Ralph’s will. No document can be found to identify Ralph’s other
wife except his will, proved on 29 May 1498.
pedigrees indicate that Ralph had four sons, the eldest being
William II who died before his father. This William married Anne
Norwich of Brampton, Co. Northants. Their only child, Margaret (born
1479/80), inherited much of Ralph’s lands and property.
sons appear to be much younger than William and may therefore be the
sons of Ralph’s second marriage. Almost ten years before
writing his will, Ralph conveyed to the Augustinian Priory at Owston
for eighty years, 2s in annual rent for a messuage and croft in
Twyford in return for an annual requiem mass with placebo and dirige
for the souls of Ralph and his wife Elizabeth
will states that he desires to be buried in the chancel of the
parish church of Ashby Folville before the image of Our Lady where
his wife lies. To the making of which chancel he has paid five marks
and more. He left 4d to be paid to every priest who attended his
funeral, 2d to every surpliced clerk and 1d to all clerks `without
surplice’. To Ashby Folville church he leaves his mess booke,
his portewes (portable breviary) with a new coupe, and two pounds to
the `making of the stepill’, and there are many benefactions to
other churches, including his private Chapel in the parish church at
Sproxton. Ralph also gave (a modest) 13s 4d to the poor, but forgave
his poorest tenants a quarter year’s rent. He ordered prayers for
his cousin John Bellers, for all his ancestors in general and for
his great-grandparents in particular.
Ralph died on 4 March 1498.
Nichols notes that the East window in the South aisle bore a
portrait of Ralph, his wife and all his children. This is no longer
in place. A modern window on the North side of the nave is in
memory of Neville Woodford Smith Carrington, 1878-1933.
A two-light window with an elongated quatrefoil
was moved from a building in Ashby Folville by the architect
Thomas Nevinson to the chapel of Trinity Hospital in the Newarke
The window is
located in the vestry on the north side of the chancel. The building
is now owned by De Montfort University and is known as Trinity
Ashby Folville manor was rebuilt following a
serious fire. Only the North wing is old, dating
from 1516. The contents of the building were
auctioned, and the house sold, by Wing Commander
John Smith-Carrington in 1984. The house was
sold again 1992.
Folville Church precinct
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