Designing a Memorial for a Historic Figure (and his Wife)

This quest really began when I wondered what it would be like to visit the grave of the author of the ancient book I’d recently purchased at a Denver antique book store. At first, I doubted there would be any discoverable record of him at all.  And initially, there wasn’t. My searches returned a sea of flotsam references to this or that person named “Richard Lane” over the centuries, or someone simply named “Richard”  who lived on a “lane” somewhere!  But when I began combining his name with words from the title of his 1657 book, I finally encountered articles that introduced me to the man. What I could read of him was intriguing, though.  I found myself repeatedly choosing to look into  “one more thing”  before setting it aside and going on with my life…

I marveled at the connection to history I would feel if I could someday stand at the grave of the author of the ancient book I owned!  Starting from clues in the initial articles I found, I began looking into historic churches in Jersey and soon made my way to the Town Church of St Helier (among others). But I struck out. There was no record of his burial in the records of the Town Church of St Helier, even though their records extend back well into the 1500’s. When I couldn’t find any references to him in any other church records, I began inquiring, and was soon pointed to the Societe Jersiase–a vibrant cultural, scientific and historical society dedicated to the heritage of Jersey.

It was through email exchanges with Anna at the Societe Jersiase, we finally pulled at that “one tenuous thread” that led us to the critical discovery:  an account of the funeral of “Milord Keeper” within the locally held diary of a Jerseyman from the middle 1600’s–a diary that is little known of beyond the shores of Jersey. Once we established that “Milord Keeper” was the same Richard Lane I was seeking, it was quickly apparent that he had indeed been buried at the Town Church of St Helier.  And it wasn’t long before we also came to the clear (and disappointing) realization that his grave was “lost,”with no direct way to confirm a more exact location.

The Search Begins

Still, the inquiry had turned up some tantalizing clues. I had stumbled onto a fresh mystery, with its paths of inquiry yet untrodden. Whether I was only a few steps from discovery or starting into a grueling slog of frustration there was no way to tell.  But I couldn’t let it go.  And that was the tipping point. My inquiry had just become a quest!

At the time, I had always imagined Richard Lane’s grave in a grassy, age-settled churchyard behind a crumbling church on some forgotten outskirt of town. But the Town Church of St Helier was at the center of its town, and the town grew up around it. The original cemetery (which had been part of the church grounds) has long ago been ceded to development.  What remains of it is a pleasant but minor bastion of grass and sparse tombstones standing defiant behind a modest wrought iron fence against the encroaching sidewalks and bustling streets on three sides of the church.


For awhile, I believed Richard Lane was buried under what is now a small parking lot along the north wall of the church. But Anna and I soon worked out that he had actually been buried within the church (not outside). Although we couldn’t be much more specific we had managed to establish that he was there, under the floor of the St Helier Town Church. Somewhere.  It was now possible to discuss finally completing the long-forgotten task of placing a monument to Sir Richard Lane.

A Concept for the Long Forgotten Monument

If we were to place a monument, how should it be done?  I was asked to propose a concept.  If we knew where his exact grave was located, a subtle position marker could probably be arranged (and someday we may do exactly that).  But I suspect placing it near the memorial stone of Maximillian Norrey’s tomb (long removed from the floor and hanging on the wall of the North chapel) would be entirely appropriate, since Jean Chevalier describes Richard Lane’s grave site as “facing the tomb of Maximillian Norreys” (“facing” generally means adjacent, with the feet towards).

The tomb marker of Maximillian Norreys on the wall of the North Chapel of the Town Church of St. Helier. Richard Lane’s grave was placed “facing the tomb of Maximilian Norreys.”  Originally laid in the floor, this 1591 memorial has been moved at least twice, and its original placement is unknown.

If it were possible, I would have the memorials made from a single “authentic” stone (from that period, meaning not quarried in modern times), and ideally from one of the two churches.  An example would be an original floor stone, or some original stone freed up during an expansion or renovation. I have thought about a brass plaque, which might work as well, but somehow seems less appropriate…

Passage from the 1904 historical work on the historic churches of Northampton which includes the inscription on the floor of the church marking Lady Margaret Lane’s tomb (now covered by carpeting).

I have studied the wording of the epitaph on the floor stones over Lady Margaret Lane’s tomb within the Kingsthorpe church. In an attempt to provide a memorial concept that is informative, respectful and appropriate for placement within a church, I have drafted an initial proposal for the memorial that combines what I have learned in my research with wording borrowed from Lady Lane’s tomb.


The two armorial plaques included were created from photographs I took of Richard Lane’s arms as they appear on the walls and windows of Middle Temple Hall.  The first are the original arms of his family, and the second are the updated arms created for him by Charles II (while he was the Prince of Wales).  The latter are the arms that decorated the pall cloth over his casket and also hung on the pulpit at his funeral in the Town Church.

A principle I tried to adhere to in this proposal is that everything attributed be reasonably supported by evidence in the historical record.  Was he an honorable husband and father?  Of course, we can’t know such things for certain about people we see every day, so we can’t absolutely prove it about a man who was raising his young family 400 years ago.  But a man’s reputation has a way of seeping into the words spoken of him, and there are many words holding such clues about Sir Richard Lane.

Among a general sense of admiration and respect, there are also references which are quite clear.  In a will, one of his brothers specifically refers to Richard Lane with affection as an “honorable husband”.  His mentorship of his son in Middle Temple and his apparent deathbed request for King Charles II to make his son one of the royal grooms was an important act on his son’s behalf.  Of equal importance is the King’s acceptance of Richard the younger in that role, which implies much about the King’s estimation of both men. Finally, there are several affectionate and playful dedications of works to Richard Lane and his wife by their nephew, the famous poet and playwright, Thomas Randolph. That these dedications exist says something about the poet’s feelings about the couple.  The respect and affection in those dedications says much more.

The most prominent of these dedications is that of a play first performed at Cambridge for the King and Queen in 1632,  called “The Jealous Lovers”.  This play was prefaced with  the following playful dedication asking for his uncle (attorney Richard Lane) to represent him should he be found to have violated the laws–of comedy!

Colendissimo viro, & juris municipalis peritissimo, Magistro Richardo Lane.

SIr, if the Term be done, and you can finde
Leisure to heare my suit, pray be so kinde
To give this toy such courteous acceptation,
As to be made your client ith’ vacation.
Then if they say I break the Comick laws,
I have an advocate can plead my cause.
T. R.

I contend that such respectful, affectionate and carefree blooms rarely adorn the branches of meanly planted trees.

At the bottom of the memorial concept appears a reference that is quite sentimental, as I am.  I am hoping to consider placing two, “linked” memorials to the couple who were separated by Richard Lane’s exile at the start of the Commonwealth–and who never saw one another again. To the reader, this reference offers a moral lesson and tangible reminder of the sacrifices which must sometimes be endured by those who aspire to noble actions and choices. And it implicitly offers an important example of the hoped for vindication of those noble choices (as the Restoration of the monarchy did when it finally brought vindication of Sir Richard Lane’s loyalty, and returned their confiscated home to his widow).

Below is my corresponding proposal for the memorial for the St John the Baptist church in Kingsthorpe, within which Lady Lane is buried. I am still working to finalize my research into her birth family, and I am hoping that somewhere in that inquiry I might learn more about her.


In Lady Margaret’s memorial, I added mention of Richard Lane’s role as recorder of Northampton, which would be of local interest.  The mention of her as beloved aunt acknowledges various clues regarding relationships in the family, but most notably the obvious and playful affection of their nephew Thomas Randolph, who once wrote a long and humorous poem titled: “An Apologie for his false Prediction that his Aunt Lane would be deliver’d of a Sonne.”  This poem included the tagline “The best prophets are but good Guessers”, and laughably goes on to provide grand explanations of how the mischievous gods foiled him by intervening to change the gender of the child in utero.

The words of that extensive and humorous poem are easy to hear as the words of a much loved nephew trying every ploy he can muster to parry the barbs of playful dinnertime banter regarding some loudly proclaimed prediction that didn’t turn out as the young bard had planned.  Such publically shared playfulness is a hallmark of someone who is safe and comfortable in that family. This is made somewhat more telling when you consider that Thomas Randolph was actually Dorothy Lane Randolph’s step-son (not her natural child).  And to me, the prediction itself is also potentially telling.  Recall that the Lanes were a large family in which only one son survived childhood.  In that sense, the prediction may well have been a bold and loving expression of hope that the family would be blessed with another.

My research has also opened the possibility that Margaret Lane, who outlived her sister-in-law (Sir Richard Lane’s sister) Dorothy Lane-Randolph, may have raised Dorothy’s grandson, William (who was 9 years old at the time Dorothy passed away).  Young William was 19 when Lady Margaret Lane died, and he followed his Uncle Henry to America soon after, where he became the patriarch of an important political family in the colony of Virginia.  Generations later, that family would welcome the arrival of young Thomas Jefferson.  As an adult, Thomas Jefferson was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, became our third President, and was the architect of the Louisiana Purchase (which dramatically expanded the young United States across the continent to the Pacific Ocean).


Your comments and corrections are gladly welcomed.  I admire great writing, but have little choice but to approach this task as one of grinding a workable edge onto a rough blade – with my thanks for your generosity of spirit and firm critique in the meantime! 

-Greg Sherwood

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