The Underhill Society of America
The Underhill Society of America
Plaque at St Alfege Church, Greenwich, UK

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Plaque at St Alfege Church, Greenwich, UK
Posted: 09/05/2019 - 3:50 pm
File Attachment: 1567714167_Underhill_Arms.jpg
From: Elizabeth Pearcey <e.pearcey@gmail.com>
Sent: Monday, August 26, 2019 12:37 PM
To: Underhill Society of America
Subject: Plaque at St Alfege Church, Greenwich
 
I have the honour to be the co-ordinator of the Family History logbook at St Alfege Church, Greenwich, UK.  A recent visitor to the church was puzzled by the plaque erected by Myron C Taylor in the church in 1932.  The text reads: "In memory of those members of the armigerous family of Underhill who lived and died in this parish in times past from whom descended through the Kenilworth branch Capt. John Underhill who founded the family anew in New England in 1630.  This tablet was erected by a descendant Myron C Taylor of New York City 1932."  We understand that Captain John Underhill (born 1609) was the great grandson of Sir Hugh Underhill, who held high office in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and who died at Greenwich in 1593. 
 
Our puzzlement is over the tinctures of the arms on the plaque, which do not appear to be correct.  I was wondering if you had any information about the design and manufacture of the plaque (s.  I imagine there may be others in other churches, most probably in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK).  It would be very interesting to know the design was arrived at, and what evidence was used in the depiction of the shields. 
 
With best wishes, and always happy to welcome visitors to our church, 
Elizabeth Pearcey

 

Dear Ms. Pearcey,

We are aware that Mr. Taylor placed several bronze tablets in England, including one at the church in Greenwich. In case you don't know, Taylor was a prominent US businessman and later a diplomat. His mother was an Underhill and he devoted much time and money to researching and honoring her ancestry. As you might suspect, he was a very rich man and spared no expense in the pursuit of his family history.

In 1932 he sponsored the publication of a beautiful volume on the early English Underhills, titled The Underhills of Warwickshire, by English scholar John Morrison, published for Taylor by the Cambridge University Press. Plate XXV in that book, facing page 174, is a photograph of a bronze tablet with the notation that he had similar tablets placed at several locations, including the parish church of Greenwich.

Not many copies of that book were printed and it is rare to find one for sale, but worldcat.org shows that there are copies at quite a few libraries in the UK.

Taylor had commissioned Morrison to determine Captain John Underhill's English lineage and his right to the arms that were engraved on a seal that he used on some of his letters. The goal was to get the College of Arms in London to accept the lineage and the right to the arms. As he explains in the introduction to his book, Morrison had a difficult time persuading the College to accept the results of his research, but the College finally gave its approval in 1932.

You mentioned a disagreement regarding the tincture of the arms on your tablet. I assume that means that colors have been added. The original tablets were plain bronze, and we have not been aware of any that were colored. The shield of the arms approved by the College is "argent a chevron sable between three trefoils slipped vert," as shown in the attached copy.

That shield was recorded in the 1563 Heralds' Visitation of Warwickshire. The arms on the Captain's seal differed from the Visitation version in two ways. First, the chevron was omitted. Second, the crest was a stag trippant (standing), whereas the crest of the Visitation arms was a hind lodged (female deer reclining). We notice that the picture of the tablet in Morrison's book shows both crests.

Morrison examined sources other than the Visitation and visited many churches in Warwickshire and Staffordshire where Underhills worshipped, and all renderings of the arms that he could find had the hind lodged crest. Then in 1932, Morrison discovered a window in the church at Cherington, Warwickshire, which showed the buck trippant crest. That finally persuaded the College to approve the arms for Captain John Underhill.

Morrison's book includes drawings (black and white) of the Cherington window. He also has a detailed section on Hugh Underhill which I'm sure you would find interesting. Some have questioned the parentage that Morrison assigned to Hugh, but the Captain's descent from Hugh is very well documented.

You referred to Hugh as Sir, but Morrison does not mention any evidence that he was knighted. If you have any information on Hugh that is not in Morrison's book we would very much like to know about it. As the Captain descended from Hugh's first wife, whose name is unknown, it would be wonderful if she could be identified.

I hope this is of some help and if you have further questions please don't hesitate to write to me.

Harry Macy

Genealogist, Underhill Society of America