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  • Image: The Hands Haven’t It July 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

    wroughton hands lopped off

    What is wrong with this picture?

    We have here two Elizabethan nobles: Sir Thomas Wroughton (d. 1597) and Lady Anne Wroughton of Broad Hinton in Wiltshire: their manor house would in later centuries host and house such notables as John Evelyn and the Iron Duke of Wellington. Thomas was a member of the upper ranks of the English squirearchy, and his cursus honorum, from Justice of the Peace, to sherrif, to Parliament (briefly), to captain of the levies (he died a colonel) shows that he was rated both in Marches where he lived and in London where he sometimes politicked.

    Here though we find Thomas a long way from the glory days, shipping militias to the Isle of Wight and trying poachers while stroking his beard. The mid sixteenth century sculptor has caught Thomas and his wife in pious attitudes as befits those who have passed from this world. And yet… And yet… something is off. Thomas’ hands have been removed giving him the inconsequential appearance of a crouching rabbit. His wife, on the other hand, is tranquilly reading a Bible behind him.

    What did Thomas do to deserve this?According to Jacqueline Simpson and Stephen Roud in the Dictionary of English Folklore Thomas’ hands withered away. He had returned home to find his wife reading the gospels and had been so shocked (the Wroughton’s may have had Catholic sympathies) that he threw the Bible in the fire. God’s punishment followed sharply on.

    There is truth and lies in this story. Wroughton’s stone hands did not wither: they had been removed. They were taken off because they offended late sixteenth or much more likely seventeenth century religious sensibilities: this particularly bit of vandalism may have taken place in the Civil War when the Roundheads cankered their way westwards and Wroughton manor (then no longer owned by the family) was burnt.

    Thomas lost his hands because he was praying, that on a tombstone might imply a belief in purgatory: Anglican protestants still got very anxious about gravestones where the dead asked for prayers well into the nineteenth century. Interestingly though Anne was left alone. Why? Because she is doing the Protestant, not the Catholic thing: she is reading holy scripture. No self-respecting evangelical hooligan could cut off the gospels, even a stone version.


    The children in the panel beneath have followed their father and have also lost their hands.

    There is something horrifying about the present turning on century-old traditions with such violence: memories of the Republicans shooting Christ in the Spanish civil war, a picture that always chills. Other iconoclastic images: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    24 July 2014: Louis writes ‘All statues and other figures in most of the churches in Holland, Zeeland, and northern Vlaanderen, were damaged during this “spontaneous” outbreak of religious fury. Unfortunately there are very few surviving examples of the mutilated statues. During the Revolution in France a lot of this was also going on. And there is this tale that the fresco of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci was damaged by French revolutionary soldiers, that threw stones against it….