Birth, death and faith
Sir Thomas Aston at the deathbed of his wife
in Religion and life cycles in early modern England
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This chapter draws attention to the important but often overlooked role of portraits as sources for the early modern historian of both the family and religion. It offers a new close reading of the portrait known as Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife (1635) by the artist John Souch. Portraits such as this one, commissioned in the generations after the English Reformation, lie at the intersection of the family, its life cycles and its social and confessional identity. It is argued that this portrait was simultaneously an expression of personal and private grief at multiple family deaths and a public affirmation of familial faith. It was intended both to bring comfort to the living while also inviting its audiences to engage in spiritual reflection and contemplation on their own mortality. While the focus of the chapter is on the portrait itself as a primary source, it is placed in the wider context of Sir Thomas Aston’s life, particularly his national role as a defender of traditional aspects of the Church of England and the part he played as an ardent royalist in the English civil war.


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