The Walter Tomb
An interesting remnant of the old church is the Tomb of Sir John Walter (d.1630) in the north-east corner of the church, though what can now be seen is but a shadow of the original magnificent and ornate monument. Above the recumbent figures there was once a great canopy supported by marble pillars, but that is now long gone. The tomb was badly defaced during the Civil War when Oxford was besieged. Subsequently, one of Sir John’s sons, David Walter, bequeathed £300 for restoration work which was carried out in 1681.
Sir John Walter, who lived at Godstow, was born at Ludlow, Shropshire, and was a famous lawyer in the early part of the seventeenth century, holding many important legal posts under the Crown. During the first year of the reign of Charles I, Walter was largely responsible for a measure which prohibited ‘Bull fighting, bear baiting, interludes and sports meetings on Sundays’. In 1628 Walter disagreed with the King over the famous case of the Nine Members. Walter stood by his legal opinion and in 1630, in consequence of this, was forbidden by the King to preside in court as a judge. This appears to have affected Walter considerably for, only a month after the prohibition, he died in London and his body was brought to Wolvercote for burial.
Sir John Walter was twice married, first to Margaret, daughter of William Offley Esquire of London, and then to Anne, daughter of William Wytham Esquire of Ledston, Yorkshire, and widow of Sir Thomas Bigge of Lenchwick, Worcestershire. From his first marriage, Sir John had four sons and four daughters.
On the Tomb is the figure of Sir John, robed as a judge, with his wives on either side of him. At the head are three daughters and at the foot three sons, all kneeling. It is worth noting that, though Sir John was the father of eight children, only six are represented on the Tomb as we now know it. A fourth son, David, who was in many ways as eminent as his father, has his own monument in the North aisle. However, a note dated 30th April 1657 records that the figures of all eight children were included on the Tomb.
The translation of the Latin epitaph on the Tomb is as follows:
“Sacred to the memory of Sir John Walter, second son of Edmund Walter, formerly one of the two Welsh Judges; he was born at Ludlow in Shropshire; when young he was brought up at Brasenose College, Oxford, when older at the Inner Temple, London, where treading in his father’s footsteps, he was so distinguished by his study of the Municipal Law of this Kingdom, that in a short time he was everywhere spoken of as its honour and delight. He was Attorney General to King Charles the First, afterwards Sergeant at Law, and at last he was made by the same King Chief Baron of the Exchequer, all of which duties he performed with Integrity and Knowledge, and exercised with Judgement and Ability.
He left £1,000 to Jesus College, Oxford, and £100 to the Churches of Sarsden and Churchill in the County of Oxford which were annually to be divided between them. He also left sums of money to seven parishes for the use of the Poor which were to remain for ever; he was truly a singularly rare Example, because he made his own Family partaker of his substance and the Church his Co-heir. Thus was he a Man devoted to his College for the sake of the Church, and to the Church for the sake of God; at last full of days and honours he yielded himself at the same time to the will of God and the law of nature.
He married Margaret daughter of William Offley Esquire of London, by whom he had eight children, of each Sex an equal number, that is his Sons, William, Edward, David and John; Daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Catharine and Margaret; she was at her death deeply lamented being a most tender Mother towards her children and most affectionate love towards her Husband; Sir John Walter, for his Second Wife married Lady Anne Bigge Widow of Sir Thomas Bigge of Lenchwick Worcestershire Knight and Baronet who was daughter of William Wytham Esqire of Ledston in the County of York; to say no more she was a Wife truly pious, and devoted to her Husband. Whilst that Husband was alive he took care that this Memorial should be provided for himself, but after his death, his Wife in deepest sorrow took care that this Tomb should be erected and after he was buried, Jesus College, Oxford, felt it its duty to inscribe this Epitaph. He died November 18th, 1630,aged 67.”