“On this South side of the Chancel lies the Body of Robert Burhill, D.D., Rector of the Church and Residentiary of Hereford, who by his learned works writt in Latin Against the greatest Champions of ye Romish Church did great Service in general, As well as to ye Church of England in particular. He was most intimate with the famous Sir Walter Raleigh and assisted him in ye Critical part of his History of ye World. Was also a good Antiquary and Poet as well as a great Divine, which appears from several Valuable Manuscripts of his now in Oxford. In this Place he took Sanctuary at ye breaking out of ye troubles in October 1641. “To revive the memory of so worthy and learned a man, Samuel Knight D.D. erected this table Anno Dom 1727.”
Rectors were Daniel Wigmore, who succeeded the younger Thomas Scott in 1616, Robert Burhill (1622), and John Novell (1641-1661).
Robert Burhill DD has his memorial in a wooden tablet erected in 1727. It hangs on the west wall of the nave. The author of the memorial tribute praises Dr. Burhill’s learned works in defence of the Protestant faith against the greatest champions of the “Romish church.” He also credits Dr. Burhill with helping Sir Walter Raleigh to write the “critical part of his history of the world.” He adds that “at the breaking out of the troubles in October 1641” Dr. Burhill took sanctuary in Northwold. In fact, he died there in that year.
It may seem strange that the Rector came to Northwold to die. Was he not there all the time? Not necessarily. It was common enough for an incumbent to have more than one living and to pay curates to look after the ones he could not attend to himself. Dr.Burhill was much too busy elsewhere. He made a profession of being “a voluminous contributor to controversial divinity.” His help to Raleigh appears to have been as an advisor on Greek and Hebrew sources. Indeed, John Aubrey in his Brief Lives quotes Burhill’s widow as saying that her husband had been a great favourite of Sir Walter Raleigh’s and that “all the greatest part of the drudgery (of Raleigh’s History of the World) for criticisms, chronology and reading of Greek and Hebrew authors was performed by him…” The Burhill tablet is not the only reference to the “troubles.” Just in front of the altar is the tomb of the Rector John Novell and his wife. The Latin inscription bears witness to unspecified sufferings under the “tyranny of Cromwell (pseudo-Protector)”. This may also be the time when someone slashed at the Easter Sepulchre with a sword or stave, seriously damaging its upper left side.
An enigmatic inscription above the porch – “Churchwardenes 1607” – is believed to indicate that repairs were carried out in that year.
The Stuarts returned in 1660 in the shape of Charles II and his kin. John Novell lived long enough to see the Restoration and the nation’s revenge on the regicides. His immediate successors were Thomas Wrenn (1661) and William Holder (1662). Other Rectors were Francis Roper (1686) and Thomas Armstrong (1691), who died in the same year as Queen Anne – 1714. Benefactions recorded inside the tower include that of Henry Partridge, whose father was Lord of the Manor and who left provision for bread for the poor by his will dated 1703.
The text of the Novell tomb at the foot of the altar is reproduced in the facsimile, right. It may be rendered as follows:
raised in the county of Surrey,
nourished in scholarship at
Cambridge, was, by the rites of
D. D. Wren (Bishop of Ely),
sometime Rector of this Church.
Under the tyranny of Cromwell
(pseudo-Protector) he suffered many
ills but at length, though permitted
to enjoy a more benign air, on the
1st day of May in 1661 AD
he died and was laid here.
survived for nineteen years
from the death of her husband.
She gave birth to eleven children,
most of whom succumbed and
are buried nearby.
She was faithful to her husband,
a friend to her neighbours, a truly
chaste widow, worthy of her family,
a model of motherhood, but alas!
she reached her last day in
the year of man’s salvation
and happiness 1679.