Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Biography - Alice Bradbridge Barnham (1523–1604), Silkwoman

1557 Alice Bradbridge Barnham 1523-1604 with Her Sons Martin & Steven. Painting attributed to  attr Hans Eworth. 

Alice Bradbridge Barnham (1523–1604), silkwoman & benefactor, was born on 7 September 1523 at Chichester, Sussex, one of the youngest of the 14 children of William Bradbridge (d. 1546), a successful & prosperous mercer, & his wife, Alice. Alice's father, who was a 3 term mayor of Chichester, raised his children in a tradition of civic prominence & public service.

Alice probably married in 1546-47, with the ceremony most likely taking place in her home parish in Chichester. Her husband was Francis Barnham (1515/16–1576), a draper & alderman. In his will (proved in 1546) Alice's father specified a marriage portion of £10. At the time of Francis Barnham's death in 1576 the couple were realizing rental incomes of £1000 annually from properties in London, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Essex, Dorset, & Wales, & they had a ‘great personal estate’ of moveable goods. The family's house on St Clement's Lane, Eastcheap, once the London residence of the abbot of Stratford Langthorne, featured a stone gate & its own garden. Francis was granted a coat of arms in 1561.

Francis Barnham was the son of Steven Barnham, who described himself as a yeoman in his will.  Francis was first placed in the royal household but, finding this ‘a slow way of preferment’soon left to begin an apprenticeship as a draper, which he completed in November 1541. He was also a merchant adventurer &, having helped finance the failed search for a north-east passage to China, which succeeded in opening new markets in Muscovy, & he became a charter member of the Russia Company in 1555.

Barnham's civic career began with a churchwardenship at St Mildred Poultry between 1554-56. By 1558 he was a common councillor (& helped build the Royal Exchange, contributing £5 in 1566). In 1559–61 & 1572–4 he was governor of the Bridewell (having supported its creation as a workhouse) as well as governor of St Thomas's Hospital (1564–70 & 1574–6, serving as treasurer in 1567–9), alderman of Farringdon Without the Walls from 1568 (switching to Tower ward in 1573), & sheriff of London in 1570–71. For the crown he collected fifteenths in 1558; in 1569 Elizabeth I advised her lieutenants-general that ‘one Barnham’ would bring £1500 to provision troops confronting the northern rebellion. These may have been his own funds. Francis Barnham also had a long career as a moneylender. He lent £50 to Philip & Mary in 1558, was owed more than £1400 by Elizabeth in late 1571, &—as was alleged in R. v. Barnham—lent £600 to Sir Walter Waller in 1573.

Alice Barnham sold fancy fringes & points to the Drapers' Company in the early 1560s, & seems to have had the status of a professional silkwoman. Silkwork was a popular career for the wives of leading citizens who, like all freemen's wives, were authorized to operate as femmes soles, in which capacity Alice was able to bind her own apprentices, keep her own shop, & was responsible for her own debts. After her husband's death 2 years later, 2 of his apprentices worked out their terms with her. By not remarrying she protected her freedom of the city & bound at least 3 more apprentices in her own name. The female monopoly on the silk trade ended about 1570, making Alice one of the last of the London silkwomen.

Alice Barnham is the principal subject of one of the earliest known English family group portraits. Inscriptions on the painting—‘Martin was born the 26 of March at 9 of the clock before noon in Anno Domini 1548’ & ‘Steven was born the 21 of July on a Sunday at night & 10 of the clock Anno Domini 1549’—identify Alice & Francis Barnham's eldest sons, who were baptized at St Mildred Poultry, London, on 27 March 1548 & 27 July 1549 respectively. A third inscription above the head of the female sitter—‘I was born the 7 of September on a Sunday 1523, turned from that I was unto that ye see Anno Domini 1557’—establishes Alice Barnham as the person responsible for commissioning the painting. 

In the portrait Alice's writing box rests on a table cover ornamented with silk ribbons. Like the blackwork lace & trimmings of her costume & those of her sons, these probably represent her own wares. On her left Martin is portrayed holding a popular protestant text, Thomas Sternhold's metrical translation, The Proverbs of Solomon (1549), which is open to the verse ‘My son receive ye these my words, the which shall be right wise’. Alice poses as if having just written in response, ‘That we all may receive the same’. Sir Francis (himself a moderate puritan) described his grandmother as ‘a constant professor of the true religion’ during ‘those times of persecution’. Between 1553-55 she is known to have taken her children to hear John Bradford preach from prison before his martyrdom. The painting has been connected on stylistic grounds with Hans Eworth, a Flemish expatriate who kept a studio in Southwark from about 1549. 

Francis Barnham died in 1576 aged 60 & was buried on 23 May at the parish church of St Clement Eastcheap. The tomb Alice Barnham commissioned for her husband, on the north side of the choir, was destroyed in the great fire of 1666. In 1592 she placed a brass plaque in Chichester Cathedral that is dedicated to her natal family & reads (in part): ‘This stone was finished at the charges of the Worshipful Mistress Alice Barnham, widow.’ Alice Barnham died in 1604 & was buried on 14 May. 

Information from Lena Cowen Orlin, ‘Barnham , Alice (1523–1604)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2010; online edn, May 2015