Brass of the Month
November’s brass of the month combines a shrouded effigy with a long verse epitaph.
The practice of engraving the deceased in a burial shroud draws attention to the frailty of man. This sombre message is reinforced in the closing words of the inscription on this poignant brass commemorating Ann Tyrell (1638) at Stowmarket, Suffolk:
“And (by her early gravity, appearing
full ripe for God, by serving and by fearing)
to teach the old, to fixe on him their trust,
before their bodies shall returne to dust.”
We only catch a glimpse of the face of Ann who died at the tender age of 8½ years and is wrapped in a shroud which is tied above the head and below the feet. The figure is finely engraved, with much use of shading. Although the brass is now mounted on wood on the east wall of the north aisle, the original stone slab with the indent for the brass remains nearby but is covered by raised wooden flooring and carpeting.
The figure of Ann seems overwhelmed by the rather sentimental inscription which praises her virtues to an extent that seems too good to have been entirely true. Such eulogising of the deceased became increasingly popular from the 17th century. We learn from the 20 lines of rhyming English verse that Ann was “as grave as mild” and “the perfect patterne of obedience” who by “reason and religion … prepar‘d her selfe and found her way to heaven”.
Ann was the daughter of Thomas Tyrell of Gipping and Anne, daughter of William Keble of Stowupland. The Tyrells were Lords of the Manor of Gipping, a tiny hamlet about three miles from Stowmarket. The Chapel of St Nicholas at Gipping was built in the 1470s by Sir James Tyrell as a private family chapel. The monuments of the Tyrell family are to be found instead at the east end of the the north aisle of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Mary at Stowmarket. The vault beneath the floor houses four centuries of Tyrells, and remained in use until 1891.
The Tyrell family have been associated, rightly or wrongly, with some of the significant events in English history, such as the death of William Rufus in 1100 while hunting in the New Forest.
Sir James Tyrell who founded the Gipping chapel, was possibly involved in the murder of the two young princes in the Tower of London. He was subsequently implicated in the plots of Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, against Henry VII and was beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1502.
The memorial to Ann Tyrell (1638) is the only surviving Tyrell brass in Stowmarket church. However, an indent on the slab of a canopied altar tomb (now lowered) in the north aisle shows a woman in fifteenth century costume surrounded by sons and daughters. This is likely to commemorate Margaret, wife of William Tyrell, the first of the family to live at Gipping. William, the father of Sir James, was beheaded in 1462 after being convicted of high treason for conspiring against the Yorkist Edward IV by corresponding with Margaret of Anjou, wife of the Lancastrian Henry VI.
Such dramatic events seem a far cry from the pious sentimentality of this seventeenth century memorial.
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Copyright © 2007 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)
Page last updated 02 November 2008
Photograph: Jon Bayliss