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Sometimes Foundational Documents are Just a Concrete Slab

Monday, February 28, 2022 - 07:00

When you see a particular article referenced over and over again in very intriguing later publications, it's natural to hope that the "foundational article" includes essential and extensive information on the topic. But sometimes that foundational article is simply the point at which someone in the field licensed the topic as worthy of notice. Others later dug into the details and expanded the scope of the examples.

So...not exactly disappointed here. After all, acknowledging and recognizing trailblazing publications is important in academia. And knowing what an article doesn't include is just as informative as discovering a new trove of data. I'm probably dismissing the value of this article a bit too breezily, because it does go deeply into the symbolic language of tomb architecture and ornament and estalblishes an equivalence that probably required strong arguments to be accepted at the time.

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Wilson, Jean. 1995. “Two names of friendship, but one Starre: Memorials to Single-Sex Couples in the Early Modern Period” in Church Monuments: Journal of the Church Monuments Society 10:70-83

Most of the articles on burial monuments commemorating same-sex pairs reference this article, so I had high hopes that it might include further leads and details. Alas, not so, at least with respect to women’s memorials. The article focuses primarily on the symbolism of structural and artistic details of a couple of major monuments commemorating pairs of men. (This focus is not entirely surprising given that the article appears in a journal about English church monuments.)

The article opens with an analysis of the early 17th c monument to Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, and records detailing a planned joint tomb for him and Sir Philip Sidney (which ended up not being built). However the detailed descriptions that Greville recorded make it clear that it was meant to memorialize the two friends with symbolism paralleling that used for married couples. (Sidney had pre-deceased him and had no other memorial.) The article notes, “It is commonly agreed that Greville was homosexual. Whether or not his love for Sidney was reciprocated, it is clear that it was an emotion which cannot be simply dismissed as friendship…” The analysis provides detailed support for the proposed monument’s design evoking marriage.

The second tomb discussed in detail is the late 17th century monument to Sir Thomas Baines and Sir John Finch. The monument was erected by Finch’s nephew and, again, uses the visual symbolism typically associated with marriage. The two did not marry (that is, neither married a woman) and spent their lives together from the time the met at college. Like many close friendships of the era, they used the language of “a marriage of souls” to describe their bond. (Again, the details of the symbolism are discussed in great detail.)

The entirety of the article’s coverage of women’s joint tombs consists of the following:

“Homosexual relationships and passionate friendships between women have never been perceived as presenting the same threat to society as such relationships between men. The monuments to participants in female connections are therefore able to be far more open than those to males. Westminster Abbey has two such memorials form the early years of the eighteenth century, to Mary Kendall (d. 1710) and Katharina Bovey (d. 1727), which use the virtue of the person commemorated to validate her relationship with her friend. The emotional lives of both women are open to commemoration in a way that was not possible for Fulke Greville.”

The text of the article doesn’t mention the name of the second woman in either of these cases, although that information is provided in a footnote which includes transcriptions of the text of the memorials. Other elements of the symbolism of the women’s tombs are not mentioned, in contrast to the detailed analysis of the men’s tombs.

[Note: Me? Bitter? Good thing I came to this article after having read far more detailed coverage of the women’s tombs. See my podcast on the topic of marriage-like memorials for women.]

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historical