Reframing History: Brass Memorial of Agnes Oxenbridge and Elizabeth Etchingham

On the floor of the side aisle of The Assumption of Blessing Mary and St. Nicholas church in Etchingham, England, a brass from the 1480s commemorating two women buried together may be a reminder of an important and close connection between the two and a rare example of a same-sex relationship in the Early Modern period.

Elizabeth Etchingham, on the left with her hair down, is depicted smaller as a representation of her being both unwed and young when she died in 1452 in her mid-twenties. Next to her, Agnes is more mature (although equally unwed) as she died in her fifties in 1480. In her article on the brass, Judith Bennett describes how the brass was designed in the style of other 15th century memorial brasses for married couples, but unlike the traditional ones which show the couple looking straight ahead, these women are looking at each other (Bennett, 134). The inscriptions beneath them identifies them and asks for God’s mercy upon them.

Elizabeth Etchingham was the daughter of Thomas Etchingham II and Margaret West, the daughter of the 6th Baron de La Warr. Agnes Oxenbridge was the daughter of Robert Oxenbridge and his wife, Ann Livelode. The two families were closely connected: Elizabeth’s sister (also named Elizabeth, born 8 years after the OG Elizabeth passed away) married Agnes’ brother, Goddard Oxenbridge, in 1500.

When Agnes died in 1480, it was unheard of that she be buried with Elizabeth in the Etchingham’s church rather than with her own family in the Oxenbridge mausoleum, but both families must have agreed for it to happen and commissioned the memorial for the two women. Bennett believes the request to be buried with Elizabeth likely came from the lost will of Agnes herself. The agreement of the family to allow the two to be buried together suggests the families were familiar and accepting of the close relationship between the two women, even after so much time had passed between Elizabeth and Agnes’s deaths.

Whether their relationship was sexual or not, the presence of a public memorial in the Etchingham family church which places the two women together is a valuable source on female same-sex relationships during the Middle Ages.

Read more:

Queer Art History, “Brass of Agnes Oxenbridge and Elizabeth Etchingham”, Catherine Tideswell, “How Far Did Medieval Society Recognize Lesbianism in this Period?”

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