A Life Cut Short

The Hobys returned from Italy in mid-1555 when the mood in England became more conciliatory. Philip died in 1558. Since he lacked an heir, he left most of his possessions, including Bisham Abbey, to Thomas.

The experience which Thomas had gained abroad in languages, travel, and courtly behaviour meant that he was well placed to follow his late half-brother into a high-ranking position at court. His breakthrough came in March 1566 when he was made ambassador to France. However, having travelled to Paris to take up his new appointment, he became seriously ill and he died on 13 July 1566.

Since Sir Philip still lacked a tomb, Thomas’ widow, Elizabeth, commissioned a single monument to commemorate both her husband (front) and her brother-in-law (back). The monument is striking in its Italian influences. Whereas English tombs conventionally portrayed their subjects in a recumbent posture, the Hobys were presented reclining with one hand akimbo. This gesture was almost certainly borrowed from Italian sculpture or portraiture, and has been linked to the courtly concept of sprezzatura (‘studied carelessness’), a highly influential concept which has its origins in Baldassare Castiglione’s Libro del cortegiano.

Funerary monument for Sir Philip Hoby and Sir Thomas Hoby, attrib. Cornelius Cure, in or after 1566, alabaster, Church of All Saints, Bisham, Berkshire. Photo: Angelo Hornak; Alamy Stock Photo.

Extended captions