If you find yourself in the charming Cotswold town of Burford in Oxfordshire do try and make time to visit the church of St John the Baptist. As you enter the church look across the north aisle wall where you will observe an imposing piece of masonry, described as "not so much a funeral monument as a thanksgiving for a successful life set up in 1569 by one Edmund Harman."
Born in Ipswich in approximately 1509, Edmund's first appearance in history occurred in 1530 when he was admitted to the Barbers' Company. Then in February 1536 he is described as being a King's barber and a member of the Privy Chamber. His paternal grandfather was a "gentleman" and his maternal one may also have been entitled to bear arms. But it is unlikely that a young man from the provinces would have got so far so fast without a patron. Yet it is not clear whose Edmund was. Wolsey of course came from Ipswich but after his fall in 1529 a connection with him would have been more of a handicap than an advantage. A more likely figure was Sir William Sabyn, an Ipswich merchant who owned the house called the Steelyard: he was not only a ship owner and "vice-admiral" but also a sergeant-at-arms responsible for the King's safety. His duties included care to see that the men who brought razors close to the royal throat could be trusted not to cut it! What better way of ensuring this than to choose for the job people whose background one was familiar with? Moreover there is evidence that Sabyn shared the progressive religious views for which Edmund was to be conspicuous. It may be relevant that Butts, the King's physician, also came from Ipswich. In 1537 Edmund had been elected as a member of the Court of Assistants in the Barbers' Company, appearing eleventh in the list of seniority. In 1539, described as a "Groom of the Privy Chamber", he became Senior Warden and in 1540, at the presumed age of 31, Master.
In 1543 Edmund is for the first time described as "The King's Servant., a title of which he was not the only holder. Whereas previous grants to him had only been of positions bringing in money, he now received one involving tenure of land, namely the Hospital of St John Evangelist Burford, with certain lands belonging to it in Burford itself and in neighbouring Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire villages. Although this is the first mention of Bur ford in connection with Edmund, he must have been there already since his wife Agnes was a daughter of Edmund Silvester, a prominent merchant of the town. 1539 has been suggested as the date of their marriage and their daughter Agnes was born in 1542 followed by fifteen further children (9 boys and 6 girls) all of whom are depicted on Edmund's monument in the church.
In 1546 the King's rapidly failing health increased the jockeying for position at court, so as to decide who should be in control when Henry was replaced by the boy Edward. But no matter who won the struggle, Edmund was likely to lose. There would be a reduced demand for royal barbers when a boy of nine became King. Edmund must have viewed the future with dismay. On 26 October, in one of the King's last lucid intervals, Edmund Harman, the King's Servant, was granted for his services the Lordship and Manor, the rectory and the advowson of the vicarage of Taynton, which had formerly belonged to Tewkesbury Abbey.
On 26 December Henry's illness took a turn for the worse and he sent for his will. It was found to require revision and was brought back again when it was signed "with our own hand" in the presence often witnesses among whom Edmund stood second. He also received a legacy of 200 marks (£133) "in token of our special love and favour". After the death of King Henry the barbers on 1y went on being paid for two quarters and it is a reasonable hypothesis that Edmund came fairly soon to live as a country gentleman on his estates in the middle Windrush valley. His wife was buried at Taynton on 30 March 1576 and Edmund himself died at Burford on 19 March 1577 and was buried at Taynton on 10 April 1577.
The 1574 heraldic visitation of Oxfordshire by Harvey and Lee recorded a Harman genealogy which was almost certainly supplied to them by Edmund himself. The family name seems to have been spelt indifferently "Harman" and "Herman", which points to them having been of Germanic origin. It describes his father Robert and his grandfather Paul as being of lpswich, Paul being a "gentleman". But Edmund's great-grandfather Peter was said to have been "of the Steelyard". The best known Steelyard was the depot of the Hansa merchants in Lower Thames Street, London, where imports were weighed on the King's Beam to assess their liability for duty. But the Hansa also appear to have had a minor depot at Ipswich during the fifteenth century, although its exact location and dates are obscure. In the following century Sir William Sabyn's house. situated near the quay, was known as the Steelyard. In 1460 an Ipswich merchant, John Caldewell, in making his will, had expressed the hope that his son might have "the place at the cay where Herman dwelleth".
In East Anglia other Hansa depots, also known as Kontors, were located at King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth. The Hanseatic warehouse in King's Lynn is the only surviving Hanseatic League building in England and was constructed in 1475. There is a suggestion that certain German cities of the League had a bias towards a Kontor; thus Bremen with King's Lynn, Hamburg with Great Yarmouth and Cologne with Ipswich. Sources: Tolsey Paper No 6, The Tolsey Museum, Burford, 1988. Internet, Hanseatic League