ELEPHANTS & ROYAL ARMS
At the east end of the south wall of the chancel is a most unusual memorial. It is made of slate, and commemorates a member of the Fountaine family, who lived in the house known as Brookmans. This was destroyed by fire, leaving only the stable block which is now the clubhouse at Brookmans Park Golf Club. Slate is a fairly uncommon material to be used for memorials.
One can see three ‘elephants’, or at least what the designer thought they looked like! The idea of an elephant as a Christian symbol may not be immediately recognised, and why it should be featured in a 17th century English parish church is puzzling. The elephant is found in heraldry, symbolising strength and wisdom. Some animals are thought to have significance in the Christian Church. Obviously, the snake is seen as sinful, and the fox as wily and deceitful. It is often shown as preaching, in bench-ends and misericords. The lion is usually thought to be noble, but can also be wicked.
The rather sad epitaph to Theophila Fountaine, ‘dyed March 19th Anno 167½ aged six months’, reminds us how short the lives of many children were in the past. The recorded date may puzzle you, as it appears to be uncertain. This is because it is an example of the ‘old style’ of dating. Until 1752 the legal New Year in England began on March 25th, Lady Day, although New Year’s Day was reckoned as January 1st. Therefore it was customary to show both years for dates between January 1st and March 24th. Oddly, only the infant Theophila is commemorated here, as there is no mention as to where the rest of the family is buried.
The motto of the Fountaine family, VIX EA NOSTRA is, strangely enough, the same as that of Fulke Greville, who died in 1952, and whose memorial may be seen on the north wall of the nave.
The Royal Arms began to be displayed after the Reformation, showing allegiance to the Crown and not to the Pope. This became compulsory after the restoration of Charles II, as a pledge of loyalty to the king after the Commonwealth, during which many Royal Arms were defaced or hidden.
Most are painted on wooden boards, but some are carved wood or even metal. Often the initials of the monarch, and occasionally the date, are included in the design, and, particularly in the Stewart period, they also may carry loyal texts.
The coat-of-arms at St Mary’s is that of George III, who reigned from 1760 - 1820. Until recently it was displayed on the front of the gallery, but moved to the east end of the north aisle at the time of the recent re-ordering.
The arms displayed show those of the Hanoverian period, with the shield of Hanover together with that of Great Britain. This dates it to between 17141801. The fleur-de-lis of France is still displayed in one quarter, with the Hanoverian arms in another.
It is interesting to note that the French fleur-de-lis occupies a whole quarter, as does the harp of Ireland, leaving only the fourth quarter in which to squash the three lions of England, and the lion rampant of Scotland.
After 1801 the fleur-de-lis at last disappeared, and the Hanoverian arms were superimposed in the centre. The English Arms now occupied the first and third quarters, the Scottish the second, and the Irish harp the third.
On the accession of Queen Victoria the Hanoverian arms were dropped, as the Salic Law forbade the accession of a woman to the throne of Hanover. Supporters at the sides are the Lion and the Unicorn, representing England and Scotland. In the Tudor period, before the Union of the Crowns, the supporters were the Lion and the Welsh Dragon.