Memorial Brass of Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 29, 2021 | Categories: History, Lesbians & Gays

Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge were born in 1420s England. They may have met one another as girls or as teenagers. We cannot know for certainty the nature of their relationship, but the evidence in the brass memorial points to an intense, enduring, affectionate bond.

Elizabeth Etchingham was in her mid-twenties when she died on December 3, 1452. Agnes Oxenbridge died almost three decades later on August 4, 1480. She was in her mid-fifties.

Elizabeth and Agnes have a joint memorial brass on the floor of the side aisle of the Assumption of Blessed Mary and St. Nicholas Church at Etchingham. The brass is in front of the monument to Etchingham’s ancestors.

Their memorial brass was designed in the style of married couples with one interesting detail: the women are shown facing each other and looking into each other’s eyes. Elizabeth’s head is lifted up slightly to gaze at the taller figure of Agnes, whose head is bowed slightly. Generally, married couples in that era were shown looking straight ahead. Agnes and Elizabeth appear to be in motion towards each other, with their skirts spread backwards and their bodies angled forward. The two women were dressed identically.

The difference in size and hair styles of the two women most likely reflects their age difference at death. Loose, flowing hair was associated with young women; Agnes’ pinned up hair is seen on mature women. The lack of a head covering on either woman indicates that they were unmarried.

The women must have expressed a desire to be buried together which the families honored. Agnes may have directed the design of the memorial brass. The intimate gaze of the two women evident as they move toward one another. The space between them was ended by death.