Monumental Brass Society

Alice Laurence

Date of Brass:
Possibly Canterbury


November 2012

Alice Laurence was the second daughter of Sir Richard Assheton and Isabel Talbot, who are commemorated by the earliest brass at Middleton. She was originally depicted with three husbands but the effigy of one is lost. Her husbands were John Laurence, Richard Radclyffe of Towre and Thomas Bothe of Hakensall [Haconsall]. All three were esquires, as indicated in Mill Stephenson's List, contrary to James Thorneley's reading of the word after Hakensall as armiger (esquire) in the singular. It is genitive plural, the abbreviation marks showing that the full word is armigerorum. Thorneley's misreading helped him conclude that Alice, the daughter of a knight, was probably of 'better family and standing than any of her husbands', whereas John Laurence was the son of a knight and brother of another.

For some reason the true sequence of Alice's marriages differs from that given on the brass. As Jonathan Ali discovered, marriage settlements for her first two marriages survive in the Greater Manchester Record Office, the first with Richard Radcliffe of Radcliffe Tower dated 9 November 1501, and the second with Sir Thomas Laurence dated 28 November 1503.

Alice's brother Sir Richard Assheton distinguished himself at Flodden Field on 9 September 1513 by taking a number of Scottish prisoners, but her husband John Laurence was killed in the battle. He was the son of Sir James Laurence of Ashton and a younger brother of Sir Thomas Laurence KB. An inquisition of 1514 transcribed by Dodsworth found that the manor of Ashton in Lonsdale and Carnepond (?Carnforth) had been assigned to the use of John and Alice by Richard Assheton during their lives. Alice was described as formerly John's wife but now the wife of Thomas Bothe. He died in or before 1529, when his inquisition post mortem revealed he held Haconsall and Presoll manors.

Mill Stephenson's List describes Alice's brass as 'local', i.e. not engraved in London. However there were no brass-engraving workshops operating in the north at this time apart from York, which was at a low ebb. Mill Stephenson also describes the brass of Alice's relative Edmund Assheton, died 1522, at Middleton as local. Edmund, who was rector of Middleton, is commemorated by a brass made at Coventry, set in the distinctive stone used by the workshops there for around sixty years. Alice's brass however is set in Unio Purbeck marble. This normally indicates a London-made brass, but the design of the three remaining figures strongly suggests otherwise. There is no sign that the slab has been reused, and the four-line inscription does appear to be London work, so it seems that a London-made inscription has been augmented by figures engraved elsewhere.

The style of the figures does not match that of any of the major provincial workshops, but Alice's figure is similar to that of an unknown lady at Messing in Essex. Malcolm Norris suggested that the brass at Messing and three other brasses near Colchester may all have been made there, but this is a very low number upon which to posit the existence of a workshop. More recently it has been suggested that the Essex group are outliers of a more extensive group probably emanating from a Canterbury workshop. All are close to the coast, and easily accessible from Kent.

It would have been relatively easy to send four effigies to be added to a slab in Lancashire, though it is not easy to see why this should have been necessary if the inscription was already in position, and from a different source. Sending plates loose was common practice when the destination was a long way off. The plates for the brass at Atherington, Devon, of Sir John Bassett, d.1539, are known to have been sent from London by packhorse and laid by a local mason.

Unfortunately the Canterbury group does not include any men in armour, so we do not have a direct comparison with the remaining male figures at Middleton, but the head of Antony Maycot, d.1535, at Hoath in Kent does look like that of the dexter figure at Middleton. Further study of the Canterbury and Essex groups is needed to establish whether the figures at Middleton really do belong with them.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss


Ducatus Lancastriae: Calendarium inquisitionum post mortem (1823), pp 16, 28

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