The earliest confirmed likeness of a Rochford

There is not much to see in the north chapel of the church of St Peter in Walpole today, but in the 1700s it was full of stained glass and a few monuments in memory of the Rochfords who were lords of one of the manors in that town in the 1300s and 1400s. Fortunately, details of these were captured by the Norfolk historians Francis Blomefield and Charles Parkin.[1]

The first of the Rochfords to be based permanently at Walpole was Sir Ralph Rochford of Walpole, the second son of Sir Sayer de Rochford of Fenne. He seems to have been based there from about 1350, and it was during his time that much of the church was rebuilt after a catastrophic flood in 1337. It is very likely that Ralph was one of the principal benefactors to the reconstruction project.

Effigies of Sir Ralph de Rochford of Walpole and his wife Matilda
Effigies of Sir Ralph de Rochford of Walpole, who died about 1391, and his wife Matilda, who died in 1369.

Fittingly, one of most notable monuments in the north chapel in the 1700s was a large brass effigy of this Sir Ralph and his wife, Matilda. Nothing survives of it today, but in 1796 Richard Gough printed an engraving of the monument in his Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain.[2] In so doing, he preserved what is now the earliest known likeness of a member of the family. Ralph is known to have died around 1391, and was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Henry de Rochford of Walpole, who presumably arranged for the monument to be created.[3]

In it, Sir Ralph is kitted out in the full armour of a knight of the period, with long, curly hair and an equally long, curly beard. His lady wears flowing robes and jewellery. Above his head are the unmistakable arms of the Rochfords. Frustratingly, the arms above her head are missing – they would have helped to identify her family, which is yet unknown. It seems likely that she was from Walpole.

Piecing together fragments from Blomefield and Parkin’s History of Norfolk and John Weever’s 1631 Ancient Funerall Monuments, parts of the inscription for this monument probably read:[4]

“Ralph Rochford, knight … lady Matilda, his wife, who died … AD 1369 …”

Read more about this Sir Ralph, his wife and descendants here.


Footnotes

[1] Blomefield, Norfolk, v9, Walpole, pp99-121, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol9/pp99-121

[2] Richard Gough, Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain, v2 part 2, pp8-9, https://archive.org/stream/gri_33125010871032#page/n35/mode/2up

[3] CCR, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=107808

[4] John Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Um0DAAAAYAAJ&q=Rochford

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