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~ The Harris Monument ~


The Harris family are remembered in Cornworthy Church where there is their very important ‘tester’ type monument. So far as is known this is the only monument of its type in the South Hams.

The Harrises were not an ancient family; their origins, said to be Welsh are obscure. They acquired Cornworthy Priory after the Dissolution through Edward Harris’ father-in-law Thomas Fowell. The monument was erected in 1611 by Lady Elizabeth Harris to commemorate her husband, Sir Thomas Harris, who died in 1610. The Lady Elizabeth included herself on the monument although she was to outlive her husband by twenty-four years.

Thomas was a very successful Tudor Lawyer who was given his knighthood at the Coronation of James I. He lies on the monument dressed as a Sergeant-at-Law to which the nearest modern equivalent is a Queen’s Counsel.

Elizabeth Harris was a Pomeroy from nearby Berry Pomeroy. Her family was both ancient and important and the heraldry on the monument seems to be an attempt to demonstrate a much more prestigious ancestry than that to which Sir Thomas could lay claim. Look for the red lion of the Pomeroys that at least is genuine. Curiously although the family had four children there are only two ‘weepers’ at the base of the tomb chest and there never seem to have been any more. The inscription on the rear wall of the monument is interesting and very touching.

In 1788 the Harris Monument was said to be an obstruction on the north side of the chancel and it was moved to its present site. A considerable amount of money and a great deal of skill was expended in 2011 on repairing the damage caused in 1788 and in placing Sir Thomas and his lady as they once lay with her at his left hand.

The effigies on this monument are carved from Beer stone and are provincial work although at the time of writing there is no evidence of a local workshop. Parts of it were once most beautifully gilded and some evidence of this can be seen in places even on the jewels on Elizabeth Harris’ dress.