Sunday, 13 May 2012

Old Scarlett - Died 1594

The Parish Clerk (1907)
Peter Hampson Ditchfield
Courtesy : Project Gutenburg
"The duties of sexton and parish clerk were usually performed by one person, as we have already frequently noticed, and therefore it is fitting that we should record the epitaph of Old Scarlett, most famous of grave-diggers, who buried two queens, both the victims of stern persecution, ill-usage, and Tudor tyranny--Catherine, the divorced wife of Henry VIII, and poor sinning Mary Queen of Scots. His famous picture in Peterborough Cathedral, on the wall of the western transept, usually attracts the chief attention of the tourist, and has preserved his name and fame. He is represented with a spade, pickaxe, keys, and a whip in his leathern girdle, and at his feet lies a skull. In [the upper left-hand corner appear the arms of the see of Peterborough, save that the cross-keys are converted into cross-swords. The whip at his girdle appears to show that Old Scarlett occupied the position of dog-whipper as well as sexton. There is a description of this portrait in the Book of Days, wherein the writer says:

"What a lively effigy--short, stout, hardy, self-complacent, perfectly satisfied, and perhaps even proud of his profession, and content to be exhibited with all its insignia about him! Two queens had passed through his hands into that bed which gives a lasting rest to queens and to peasants alike. An officer of death, who had so long defied his principal, could not but have made some impression on the minds of bishop, dean, prebends, and other magnates of the cathedral, and hence, as we may suppose, the erection of this lively portraiture of the old man, which is believed to have been only once renewed since it was first put up. Dr. Dibdin, who last copied it, tells us that 'old Scarlett's jacket and trunkhose are of a brownish red, his stockings blue, his shoes black, tied with blue ribbons, and the soles of his feet red. The cap upon his head is red, and so also is the ground of the coat armour.'" Beneath the portrait are these lines:
     YOU SEE OLD SCARLETTS PICTURE STAND ON HIE
     BUT AT YOUR FEETE THERE DOTH HIS BODY LYE
     HIS GRAVESTONE DOTH HIS AGE AND DEATH TIME SHOW
     HIS OFFICE BY THEIS TOKENS YOU MAY KNOW
     SECOND TO NONE FOR STRENGTH AND STURDYE LIMM
     A SCARBABE MIGHTY VOICE WITH VISAGE GRIM
     HEE HAD INTER'D TWO QUEENES WITHIN THIS PLACE
     AND THIS TOWNES HOUSEHOLDERS IN HIS LIVES SPACE
     TWICE OVER: BUT AT LENGTH HIS OWN TURNE CAME
     WHAT HE FOR OTHERS DID FOR HIM THE SAME
     WAS DONE: NO DOUBT HIS SOUL DOTH LIVE FOR AYE
     IN HEAVEN: THOUGH HERE HIS BODY CLAD IN CLAY.

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