The stone effigies: in the second half of the 13th century, Sir Simon de Meriet of Hestercombe and Merriott and his wife Lucy came to live in the Manor House. Sir Simon was succeeded by his eldest son Sir John de Meriet and the stone effigies in the north aisle are considered to represent Sir John and his two wives. Sir John died in 1327.
The figure of Sir John shows him cross-legged but he was not a Crusader and, although mutilated, it has one feature of real interest. It is a very late example of the chain mail period and on each shoulder are ‘ailettes’ or little shields to protect the neck from sword cuts. There are only four instances of these ‘ailettes’ on such effigies in England. The knight retains the 13th century surcoat and wears greaves (to protect the shins), knee cops, elbow cops and vambrances (to protect the fore-arms).
Sir John’s first wife Mary, is represented by the effigy nearest the wall. Mary was the daughter of William de Mohun of Ottery Mohun, and she died in 1300, aged 18. Sir John’s second wife Elizabeth, widow of Philip Paynel, died in 1344 and is represented by the effigy in the centre. These effigies were probably brought from Bristol to Taunton by water, and thence by wagon to Combe Florey. There is no doubt that the effigies were originally painted, as traces of paint can still be seen on some parts.
Initially the effigies were in three recessed shrines in the north wall, possibly either side of the heart shrine. About the beginning of the 18th century, when the windows of the north aisle were altered and the wall panelled for ‘horse box’ pews, they were removed to the west end of the aisle. In 1901 when the aisle was restored and re-seated, they were moved to their present position.
The little heart shrine in the wall just about the effigies is considered to be earlier than the effigies themselves, and to belong to the second half of the 13th century. The Lombardic inscription above the shrine reads ‘Le quer dame Maud de Merriete, nun of Cannington’. Although the family name, de Merriete, is the same there is no connection between this heart shrine and Mary the first wife of Sir John. The lady whose heart was buried here was Maud, and not Mary and, as she was a nun, she was probably buried in Cannington Priory. In addition, the practice of heart burial was not uncommon in medieval times amongst noble and knightly families, the object being to obtain additional prayers for the deceased by burying the body in one church and the heart in another. The practice was forbidden by Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1301), but was later sanctioned again.
The altar of the Lady chapel, near which heart shrines were usually placed, was originally where the modern screen now is, in the north aisle. The east end of the north aisle and the two easterly windows in the north wall were added in the 15th century.
The de Meriet family were succeeded by the Fraunceis family, who lived in Combe Florey for nearly 400 years, from about 1400 to 1800. The earliest tombestone in the church, which lies behind the organ, is the tomb of Nicholas Fraunceis who died on 5th June 1480. His sister, Agnes Molins, widowed daughter of Henry Fraunceis, is buried near the font. She died on 21st June 1518.
The second tombstone behind the organ is of Nicholas’ son, John Fraunceis and his wife Florence. Most of the brass has disappeared, but the figures of Florence and her two daughters and the brass inscription – dated November 1485, – still remain. The butterfly head dress of the ladies’ heads fix the date of the brass at no later than 1490.
A second Nicholas Fraunceis, who died about 1526, has his tombstone in the north aisle near the font. It is beautifully carved in blue lias, and is surmounted by his brass.
At the east end of the north aisle, on the north side, is the priest’s doorway and a perpendicular window, now filled in. On the south side is a credence, and a niche for a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The daughter of Mrs Philippa Fraunceis, also named Philippa, died in 1745, leaving £40.00 for the white marble mural monument fixed to the wall at the west end of the north aisle, attributed to John Michael Rysbrack (1693-1771). . This monument, for some reason unknown, was never inscribed.
The four tablets to members of the Malet family were moved to their present position on the south wall of the nave in 1864, and the pulpit was moved from the north to the south side of the chancel arch. Leading from the pulpit is a small door and steps, now blocked, which at one time gave access to the rood loft above the screen which unfortunately disappeared during the earlier – already mentioned – restoration.
The north aisle belonged to the Lord of the Manor for 650 years, before finally being handed over to the church authorities in 1966.