Philobiblon: Dame Helen Branch, a 16th-century nonagenarian

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dame Helen Branch, a 16th-century nonagenarian

Probably a long shot, but I'm on the trail of Dame Helen Branch (or possibly Helena/Helenae) who died - in her nineties - on 10 April 1594 and was buried in St Mary Abchurch in London.

A pamphlet was published containing a poem celebrating her virtues. (Infuriatingly short on detail, as such things usually are.) It is titled A Commemoration of the life and death of the Right worshipfull and vertuous Lady Dame Helen Branch, late wife to the Right Worshipfull Knight Sir John Branch, sometime Lord Maior of the famous Cittie of London, &c. and can even be found on the web here.

It is curious that the poem seems to be widely attributed; to Joshua Sylvester, and to John Phillip[s], also here.

Yet the original pamphlet, which I was holding in my hands today, has a closing signature "W. Har." - and it is hard to see how you can get either of those names from that. The ODNB says it was written by a William Herbart or Herbert, but not the most famous one of those?! Another source says it was a Sir William Harvey.

Her second husband, Sir John Branch, a draper, was mayor 1580-81.

Her first husband had been a John Mynors, who may have been (if he was a fair bit older than her) the John Mynors who in Lincolns Inn in the Trinity Term of 1494 was, with William Fyllyff and Richard Eryington, fined "for not keeping or preparing the moots for two days as they ought, when divers Benchers were prepared to hear the moots". (These were formal disputations.) He may have some connection with a composer, William Bryd.

Her father was William Nicolson, her mother Joan.

In the back of the pamphlet is what looks to me like contemporary handwriting recording what seems to have been the epitaph on her tomb, mostly in Latin, but with a bit of English. There's mentioned in that a Robin? Nicolson, also "JOHANNIS DIINORS" and "CVIBERTI BVCKLE".

I'd be eternally grateful to anyone who can shed any more light on her life; if I get time tomorrow I'll probably try to transcibe the handwritten bits in the pamphlet (although working from handwritten Latin IS a challenge.) I'd also welcome any suggestions for other directions of research; I've got a few threads, but they are pretty thin.


Blogger clanger said...

The full title of the Branch pamphlet is:

A commemoration of the life and death of the right worshipfull and vertuous ladie; Dame Helen Branch (late wife to the right worshipfull Sir Iohn Branch Knight, sometime Lord Maior of the famous Citie of London) by whose godly and virtuous life, virgines are insinuated to virtue, wiues to faithfulnes, and widdowes to Christian contemplation, and charitable deuotion, &c. Which godly ladie left this mortall life (to liue with Christ Ihesus) the 10. of April last: and lieth interred in the parish church of Saint Marie Abchurch, nigh vnto Canwicke streete, the 29. day of the same month. 1594. I.P.

The I.P. is the source of the John Phillips attribution (fl.1570-1591). STC 19863.7. ESTC S104641. Huntington copy. According to the STC, Phillips wrote a fair number of verse epitaphs.

1/26/2006 02:15:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks. I still can't see how W. Har. gets to John Phillips ...!

1/27/2006 10:34:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

You are mixing two texts. Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618), fairly important poet, wrote:

[Caption title:] Monodia. An elegie, in commemoration of the vertuous life, and godlie death of the right worshipfull & most religious lady, Dame Hellen Branch widdowe, (late wife to the right worshipfull Sir Iohn Branch knight, sometimes L. Mayor of this honorable Citty, and daughter of M. W. Nicholson sometimes of London draper) who deceased the 10. of Aprill last, and lieth interred in Saint Mary Abchurch in London, the 29. of the same, 1594.

[London]: Imprinted by Peter short, [1594]. STC 23579. BL (C.39.d.32.(1.)). Huntington(Elegy only).

1/27/2006 10:19:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

There is a third text.

Epicedium, a funerall song, vpon the vertuous life, and godly death, of the right vvorshipfull the Lady Helen Branch. London: Printed by Thomas Creede, 1594. STC 12751. BL(C.40.e.67); Folger.

STC attributes simply to 'W. Har.'. Various catalogues attribute to William Hervey, Baron Hervey of Kidbrooke (d.1642).

Anyway, there are three texts, one by W. Har., one by Sylvester, and one by Phillips.

1/27/2006 10:36:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

And a fourth text:

An epitaph of the vertuous life and death of the right worshipfull ladie, Dame Helen Branch of London: widow, late the wife of Sir Iohn Branch Knight, sometime the right honourable Lord Maior of London, and daughter to M. William Nicolson sometime of London draper: vvhich said ladie, deceased on VVednesday the 10. of April last past, and lieth interred in the parish church of S. Mary Abchurch in London, the 29. of the same moneth, 1594. London: Printed by Thomas Creede, 1594. Signed at the end: 'S. P.'

STC 19078.4. ESTC S001328.
Huntington only.

You should be able to read them all from electronic or microfilm copies in the BL.

1/27/2006 11:05:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Wow - I was just assuming that there would only be one. Four is astonishing ... I can think of quite a few 17th-century examples of similar memorial pamphlets for women, but this seems to me astonishing ...
I really would love to know how come she got such attention. Sure her husband was mayor, but ... there were a lot of mayors' wives. And she lived to 90 - unusual, but hardly unique.

1/28/2006 12:35:00 am  

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