Brass of the Month

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February 2014 -  Robert Bumpsted, 1479, Sotterley, Suffolk


Trevor Cooper, ed, The Journal of William Dowsing (London 2001), 292

John Weever, Antient Funerall Monuments (London 1631), 762, 784

Diarmid MacCulloch, The Chorography of Suffolk (Ipswich 1976), 82

T M Felgate, Knights on Suffolk Brasses (Ipswich 1976), 59


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In June 2014 the MBS and the Suffolk Institute of History and Archaeology are holding a joint symposium at St Margaret's church, Sotterley, which will concentrate on the collection of brasses there. Among the speakers is Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, whose work in reassembling The Chorography of Suffolk from many scattered fragments has enabled the identity of this month's brass to be firmly established.

    The identity of a man in armour, represented in brass in the church of St Margaret's church at Sotterley, had long been uncertain. Sotterley had been visited by more than one antiquary before the church was subject to the attentions of the puritan iconoclast William Dowsing. Dowsing visited on 6th April 1644 but did not mention the brasses in his journal. The inscription of the brass to Thomas Playters, 1479, has lost the beginning and end of its inscription , which were recorded as containing Orate pro animabus and propictietur deus amen respectively. It is possible that 'superstitious'  wording was removed from the brasses before Dowsing's visit; Sir William Playters of Sotterley Hall was on the committee of the Eastern Association and Francis Verdon, one of Dowsing's deputies, was Playters's sergeant.

    In the second half of the sixteenth-century, Hervey recorded an inscription at Sotterley to Robt Bomsted, Gent. wch died 7 of Apryll ano

M iiijc lxxix, which was confirmed in the early seventeenth-century by the anonymous chorographer, who wrote:

In the middest of the chauncell almost iust by the roodloft on a stone the poutrayture in brasse of a man armed under him this epitaphe

 Orate p' a'i'a Roberti Bumpsted generosi qui obiit 7 die mensis Aprilis a'o D'ni 1479 propiciet'r Deus amen.

    The armes underneath reaved.

He also recorded arms in the north window of the chancel: p' pale argent on a bend betwene 3 croscroslets gules 3 mullets of the first & sable a chevron arg. betwene 3 cinquefoyles or & on the same window these two former quartered & empaled with sable guttye a catherine wheele argent. Above these

 Orate p' a'i'a p' a'i'abus Roberti Bumpsted . . . .et Ade consortis sue qui obijt 7 died mensis Aprilis A'o D'ni 1479.  

    John Weever, in his Antient Funerall Monuments of 1631 complicated the picture. Confusingly, he has two separate entries for Sotterley, repeating much the same information for the brasses, the first giving the inscription for Robert Bumpsted with a different date of death, 15 April 1482, the second, taken from Hervey, repeating the date given by the latter and the chorographer but substituting the name John Bomsted.  Others combined the entries from Weever, giving the impression that there were brasses for both Robert and John Bumpsted. In 1976 T M Felgate made a case for the brass to be that of 'Sir' Thomas Soterley. In the same year the Suffolk Records Society published The Chorography of Suffolk.

    Robert Bumpstead's approximate date of death is easily established. On 15th June 1479, a writ of diem clausit extremum was issued to the escheator of Suffolk in respect of Robert Bumpsted. The echeator's job was to hold an inquistion post mortem to establish which lands had been held by a person who had recently died. Bumpsted had made his will on 30th March 1479. It was proved in the Norwich Consistory Court in 1480. He left the manor of Willingham St Mary to his wife, Marion and made his eldest son John and another son Robert executors. He asked to be buried in the chancel at Sotterley at the entrance to the choir. Willingham St Mary is a parish adjoining Sotterley. It had its own church standing at the time but it seems to have been abandoned early in the next century. The younger Robert was its rector between 1482 and 1484, also rector of neighbouring Ellough from 1482 and dead by 1501. Bumpsted's will, like other documents, terms him gentleman of Willingham St Mary but he also held land in and around Norwich, where the family had been firmly established for many years. He is found as early as 1452 and John is referred to as his son by 1466, the same year that Robert witnessed the document that transferred the manor of Sotterley from Thomas Soterley esquire to Thomas Playters esquire. Felgate noted that John was buried at Oulton but was probably repeating Augustine Page's misreading of Weever's second entry for Sotterley, where the Sotterley text immediately followed that for 'Olton'. There was a John Bumpsted, gentleman of Willingham St Mary, active in 1490 but by 1516 a William Bumpsted, gentleman of Willingham St Mary, had appeared and was still active in 1533. Weever records an inscription to Ales Bomsted late wyef of William Bomsted at Sotterley It was not noticed by the chorographer, perhaps because there were no arms, but may be the derelict brass of about 1530 recorded as once belonging to Rev C R Manning in Diss.  

    Robert Bumpsted's brass was engraved in Norwich. It would have been one of the last brasses made in the workshop of Thomas Sheef. It is very similar to that at Frenze to Ralph Benerhaysett, 1475 (March 20011). Most of the other brasses at Sotterley however are London work. Unfortunately there seems to be no evidence that there were ever any brasses to the Soterley family although it seems likely that the inscriptions recorded for Monsieur Quier de Welyngton et dame Hawes sa femme and Sir Robert de Tye, died 1415, represent lost brasses.

Cotman, Brasses (Plate 15)

Copyright: Jon Bayliss