Monumental Brass Society

Catherine Verney

Date of Brass:
Compton Verney
Edward Marshall


July 2011

The period of the Commonwealth saw the end of any coherent production of figure brasses in England until the Victorian revival. The production of brasses during the latter half of the seventeenth century was very patchy. Inscription brasses continued to be produced in some numbers in the north and west of the country by engravers such as the Mann brothers, Thomas and Joshua, in York, and there were occasionally quite ambitious compositions, such as the inscription and achievement to Martha Bright, 1663, set under a large arch, in Sheffield Cathedral. However, in the east and south-east, the black 'marble' ledger slab generally replaced brasses. During the early part of the century, these black slabs had replaced the lighter shelly Bethersden 'marble' slabs as the first choice stone for London workshops into which to fix brasses but as time went by it became increasingly clear that these hard-wearing slabs could take lettering and achievements of arms engraved directly into them as a cheaper substitute for brass. A newspaper advertisement of the early eighteenth century advertised such slabs as coming from Namur rather than Tournai. Mill Stephenson's A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles sometimes notes 'inscription cut in stone' during the period in the early to mid seventeenth century when brass was still being used as part of the composition, although such inscriptions were sometimes cut on white marble inserts set into black slabs. The List does not reveal engraved decoration on the slabs, as in the instance of this month's brass, so it is not clear just how rare or not such decoration was.

In a note made in 1653 in his diary, Sir William Dugdale stated: Sr. Ric. Verney's at Compton and the E. of Totnes at Stratford sup' Avon, by Mr. Marshall in Fetter-lane. He was referring to The monuments of Sir Richard Verney at Compton Verney and the Earl of Totnes at Stratford upon Avon as being the work of Edward Marshall of Fetter lane in the City of London. In respect of the monument at Compton Verney, Dugdale's informant was mistaken, as Sir Richard's tomb is a documented work of Nicholas Stone. He was probably thinking instead of the three black marble slabs with brasses and incised decoration commemorating Sir Greville Verney, who died on 12 May 1642 at the age of fifty-six, and his sons Greville, died November 1648/9, and George, died 1649, which had recently been laid in the chapel. They are laid together at the east end but there is a fourth slab of the very much the same design in the chapel that postdates Dugdale's note. It varies from the others in having a lozenge of arms in brass rather than an achievement. It is to Catherine, Sir Greville's widow, who died on 13 April 1657 at the age of sixty-six. She was the daughter of Sir Robert Southwell and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham. The other three slabs were illustrated by engravings done by Hollar in Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire. As the first edition of the book was published in 1656, the year before Catherine's death, hers does not appear there. In the fifteen years she survived her husband, she saw not only the deaths of two of her four sons, but the birth of a posthumous grandson, Greville, to Elizabeth Wenman, the widow of her eldest son of the same name. Elizabeth died in January 1648/9 as a result of this birth. She is commemorated by the same brass as her husband but her baby survived just to adulthood, dying in July 1668, leaving a son, William, as heir, who died unmarried and was succeeded by his great uncle, Sir Richard, another of Catherine's sons.

Apart from the four at Compton Verney, I can only think of two other examples of black 'marble' slabs combining a substantial amount of incised decoration with brass inlays. They are at Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk, where the brass figure of Dorothy Mannock stands under an incised canopy, and Hunstanton in Norfolk, where Sir Hamon l'Estrange's brass achievement and a plate with verses are both enclosed within ornate incised frames. The Mannock brass is an earlier example by Edward Marshall – she died in 1632 – but the l'Estrange slab is from another workshop, although more contemporary with the Verney ones – he died in 1654.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss


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