Immortalising the Markenfield Family of Ripon
In life the Markenfield family mixed with dignitaries and kings; they now lie in rest in Ripon Cathedral, their tombs part of the visual and spiritual landscape of the North Transept. Abi Wood uncovers the family’s history, exploring their roles in local society, their dedication to faith, and their depictions in death.
November 30, 2023
Sacred Legacies: Unveiling the Sir Thomas Markenfield Tombs in Ripon Cathedral
In the North Transept of Ripon Cathedral sits a pair of tombs dedicated to the once influential Markenfield family. Forgotten and degraded, the deteriorated state of the monuments serves as physical reminders of the lost lives and histories of the two men entombed within. Both memorialised men are known as Sir Thomas Markenfield, who lie alongside their wives Dionisa and Eleanor. A once noble and great family, the Markenfields have been described as influencing the most important events in Medieval England. Ranging from Bishops, clerics, soldiers, and royal confidants, their presence was felt throughout the realm. Unfortunately, this splendour did not survive the brutality of Henry VIII’s Protestant Reformations. The Markenfields’ catholic faith was extremely important to them and even in the face of the reforms they remained staunchly devoted to their beliefs. As pilgrims, holy knights and defenders of the faith, each head of the Markenfield family carried this faith within them until their ultimate demise in the 16th century. Through illuminating the two stone tombs, we will uncover the lost histories of this once mighty Yorkshire family.
The Influential Markenfield Family
The Markenfield dynasty began in 1310 when John de Markenfield, Canon of York Minster, was granted a licence to a Hall. Markenfield Hall would become the family home until its seizure by the crown in 1570. John was noted to be a pious figure who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer to King Edward II. However, this image was to become tainted by his criminal behaviours. Court papers reveal his dubious character, he is known to have raped widow Sybil Metham and have kidnapped a clerk of the cloth when faced with religious differences. In 1314 Pope Clement V excommunicated John meaning that the Markenfield line follows through the lineage of his brother, Andrew Markenfield.
Sir Thomas Markenfield I
Born at Markenfield Hall in 1335, Sir Thomas Markenfield I earned the Markenfield name a considerable amount of prestige. By 1365 he had become the legal owner of the hall, living alongside his wife Dionisia and their seven children; Peter, Robert, Thoms II, John II, Joanna, Elizabeth and Isabella. Like his uncle, he held great influence in North Yorkshire obtaining the title Lord of Markenfield, Eryholme and Scruton. Within all legal documents, he was referred to as a Knight. Between 1385 and 1390 Sir Thomas travelled to the court at Newcastle Upon Tyne alongside John of Gaunt, Geoffrey Chaucer and Owain Glyndwr to provide evidence in favour of Richard Scrope. It was seen apt for Sir Thomas to testify in the case as he had been part of Scrope’s retinue of expeditions to France with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Beginning in August 1360, Thomas and his men landed in Calais where they faced the French in Picardy and Calais. During this time Thomas became Governor of Guise, serving alongside Scrope and Gaunt until 1385. Indebted to Thomas, Scrope won the legal battle with Thomas citing both Picardy and Calais as instances of which he flew the blazoned azure coat of arms. Locally, he served as High Steward of the Archbishop of York’s Liberty of Ripon and Steward of the Earl of Derby’s Lordship of Kirkby Malzeard. His involvement in local public and political movements secured the Markenfields a place within 14th century England’s high society. Upon his death in 1398, it was only seen fit that his monumental tomb was to commemorate his exceptional life.
Sir Thomas Markenfield I’s tomb stands as a monument to the splendour and glory which he amassed for the Markenfield name during his time as the family patriarch. Surprisingly, the original tomb would have held even more grandeur than the one we see today. Originally, an intricately carved canopy presided over the tomb fitting with 14th century sculptural fashions. The closest visual reference can be seen in the tomb of Sir John Marmion in West Tanfield, perhaps the two tombs were carved by the same stonemason.
Scholars have regularly noted the similarities between the magnesium limestone of the Markenfield Hall and the tombs. During the medieval period, the Markenfields operated a quarry on their lands, making it highly likely that the tombs were formed out of the stone which inhabited their family lands. This quarry would have been around six hundred yards from the moated manor house, making it rather touching that the Markenfields opted for a cheaper, local material connected to their family rather than an extravagant stone. The figural effigies are made of finer limestone to obtain rich decoration and delicate facial features.
Sir Thomas’ service to the Crown in the Hundred Years War has been immortalised in stone by the sculptural depiction of his armour. Elevated through artistic liberty, his armour is finely decorated with small borders of hearts around his breastplate, bascinet and spaulders. The Markenfield coat of arms is depicted on the sash worn over his alwhite amour and on the hilt of his sword. This coat is composed of argent (silver), and three bezants (gold coins). These bezants are particularly interesting as they are the ancient currency of Byzantium rather than England. When Canon John Markenfield acquired these coats of arms they were seen as the most stable currency in the Western world.
Looking upward towards Sir Thomas’ collar, an elegant lying stag can be noted. Some people have tried to work out the meaning behind the depiction of the stag, however no consensus has been reached. Initially, it was believed to reflect the Markenfield’s alignment with the House of Lancaster. The elaborate fence encircling the stag in the field suggests a simpler reading. Yet, its position within a small field encircled by an elaborate fence suggests the stag simply is a play upon the Markenfield name. In hunting, the “mark” is the prey thus reflecting how the stag is simply a play upon the Markenfield name.
Little remains of Dionisia. It is believed that during the Civil War, her figure was brutally destroyed by Lord Fairfax’s men who, as part of the New Model Army, held strong Puritan beliefs. Upon seeing Dionisia, they viewed her to be an idolatrous image of the Virgin Mary. Subsequently, they thrashed the tomb until little remained of her. Alongside the sides of the tomb are coats of arms from families such as the Miniots and Soothills. Interestingly, these coats raise an issue as to whether the tomb is in fact for Sir Thomas I and Dionisia or Sir Thomas II and his wife, Beatrice Soothill. Whilst you are welcome to come to your conclusion on this, I believe that the emphasis upon the depiction of his amour aligns this depiction with the first Thomas Markenfield whose life revolved around his military efforts.
Sir Thomas Markenfield III
Sir Thomas III lies within the second tomb, located against the north wall of the transept dated to around 1497. Alongside him lies his wife, Eleanor Conyers, daughter of Sir John Conyers, an influential North Yorkshire family believed to be related to King John. Whilst Thomas III’s great-grandfather was a staunch Lancastrian, Thomas was a devout Yorkist whose life was centred around his loyalty to King Richard III. Through undying allegiance to the crown and his friendship with Richard III, he was able to gain a high position within the kingdom. The King appointed him as Knight of the Body, bringing Thomas into intimate connection with the personal life of Richard III. He also served as Sheriff of Yorkshire and as Justice of Peace and Commissioner of Array for Somerset and North Yorkshire Ridings. His support for Richard III led him to suppressing the Buckingham rebellion where he was given more estates in Somerset. Upon the Eve of the Battle of Bosworth, Thomas III travelled to swear allegiance to his king.
Since birth he served the King faithfully, a close confidant and friend, he remained by his side until the end. By a miracle, Thomas survived the battle unlike many of his Yorkist allies. Nevertheless, to have seen his monarch and close friend brutally slain must have left a mark on Thomas. Luckily, Henry Tudor appears to have forgiven him. Thomas was allowed to finish his term as Sheriff of Yorkshire and received an official royal pardon from the king. The pardon reads “We have pardoned, remitted and released to Thomas Markenfield formerly of Markenfield Knight alias Thomas Markynfeld formerly sheriff of York all trespasses forfeit penalties debts misprisions contempts and impeachments by Thomas before November 7th in the first year of our reign”.
Sir Thomas entered quiet retirement at Markenfield Hall with his family, passing in the spring of 1497. Following his wishes to be buried before the altar, “emonge the beriall of myn ancestors”, Thomas III was united with Thomas I at the north of the altar. Although the pair were politically opposed, they were united in death by their faith and loyalty. His tomb is much less extravagant than his great grandfather’s, consisting of coarser limestone with much less delicate carving. The roughness and emptiness of the east end of the tomb suggest that it was once in the cathedral’s graveyard. A Latin inscription has been carved into three sides of the tomb, which reads “Here lies Thomas Markenfield Knight and Eleanor his wife. He died 1st May 1497 and was seneschal of this place and of Kirkby Malzeard, and Eleanor his wife who died 5th of May 1498”. Heraldry decorates the head and sides of the tomb, some are generic such as the saltire (a diagonal cross) and a chevron (a V shape). Others reflect the Markenfields dynastic partnerships such as a maunch representing the Conyers family, a cross fleury for the Ward of Givendale in the East Riding, three bouquets for the Ward of Roos in the East Riding and the Markenfields crest. Unfortunately, similar to Dionisia, Eleanor Conyers’ figure has been largely destroyed with little left other than her lower half. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas lies directly against the wall making it difficult to decipher this tomb compared to his great grandfathers.
After Sir Thomas’ passing the family continued to be buried beneath the Chapel of St Andrew in Ripon Cathedral, however no other tombs were erected. Sir Thomas III had four children, the line following through Ninian Markenfield, named after King Richard III’s favourite saint. Sir Ninian Markenfield was knighted on the field at the Battle of Flodden against the Scottish. His prowess and courage followed the family tradition. It is known he is buried within the St Andrew chapel but his grave is no longer marked.
It is with Ninian children that meet the downfall of the Markenfields. His second daughter, Eleanor was wed to the nephew of Robert Aske, confusingly also named Robert Aske. Ninian’s widow, Eleanor Clifford, also married in the Catholic Constable dynasty. Alongside their own deeply Catholic faith the Markenfields were now intrinsically tied to the Northern Catholic uprisings, which culminated with the Pilgrimage of Grace. Undertaken in 1536, it was the largest English Rebellion since the Peasants Revolt. Unrest had spread throughout the kingdom after Henry VIII’s tyrannical treatment of his wives. Rumours spread of tax raises for religious ceremonies and valuable goods began to be taken out of parish churches by the crown. The primary leader was to be Robert Aske, Eleanor’s uncle-in-law; on the 16th of October in York he set out the Pilgrims thesis. They were to concern themselves with the faith of Christ but also to overthrow Thomas Cromwell, who had brutally restricted the catholic faith. Ninian’s son, Thomas Markenfield IV participated in the pilgrimage where they achieved some progress but persecution against the Catholic community still was strife.
It is with his son, Thomas Markenfield V the dynastic line has its final flutters before falling into obscurity. The last Thomas was a deeply devout Catholic, he saw his father participate in the Pilgrimage of Grace and continued this undying faith into his own life. As a young man, he undertook a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, becoming a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1566. Upon his return to England, he became a central figure in the Rising of the North. Alongside other Catholic nobles, he sought to gain freedom to worship, a large contingent gathered in Markenfield Hall on the 20th of November 1569. The men heard mass at Markenfield chapel where they travelled onwards to Ripon to burn the Protestant Prayer Book. The rebels, Thomas included, were exiled by Queen Elizabeth I and were forbidden from ever returning to England. Found alone on a wooden floor of a shack somewhere in rural France Thomas Markenfield V dies, and so does the family name. His wife, Isabel Ingleby raised their son Ninian on the edge of the Markenfield lands, living in a cluster of hovels. There is no grave for Thomas V in Ripon Cathedral nor on the Markenfield Hall lands. Nevertheless, his memory alongside the memories of the whole dynasty remains alive within these tombs. Not only do these tombs serve as testaments for the men entombed within, but they also commemorate the undying devotion and loyalty that each Markenfield heir carried throughout their individual lives.
Article written by Abi Wood, Digital Volunteer