- Date of Brass:
- 1547 (C17 engraving)
- Edward Marshall
In the seventeenth century in various places around England, brasses were laid down that purported to represent people who had died in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In some cases this was done to repair and replace earlier brasses; in other instances it was to help establish spurious pedigrees. The best-known instance of the latter is the series of brasses at Pluckley in Kent, supposedly representing the ancestors of Sir Edward Dering. Another example is at Rugeley in Staffordshire.
The most extensive example of repair and replacement is at Stopham in Sussex, but two brasses at Sotterley in Suffolk are also in this category.
It has been suggested that the brasses at Rugeley and Stopham are the work of Edward Marshall and, in the case of Pluckley, there are entries for 1627 in Sir Edward Dering’s account book that confirm Marshall as the author. As Marshall’s signature occurs on the monument at Sotterley to Sir Thomas Playters, Baronet, who died in 1638, it is more than likely that Marshall was responsible for the brasses here too.
A tomb chest with an early sixteenth-century cover slab (it has a characteristic marbler’s mark in one corner) has a replacement marginal inscription for William Playters, died 1512, and his wife Jane, parents of Christopher Playters. Jane’s effigy on the front of the chest is clearly seventeenth-century, showing her with a ruff. (William’s effigy was stolen in about 1843.)
Christopher Playters died in 1547. His brass has an inscription with the same style of lettering as on his parents’ tomb, and an effigy that is a confused 17th-century interpretation of an earlier figure. While most of his armour could be of the period of his death, he has a bascinet on his head and a coif of mail around his neck, which are much more reminiscent of the fourteenth and very early fifteenth centuries. His feet are placed on an oval base much like those employed by one of the Southwark workshops early in the seventeenth century. The shield beneath the inscription is probably original; it is a different colour from the other two plates.
Weever’s Ancient Funerall Monuments, published in 1631, transcribes the inscriptions at Sotterley. Two words of the inscription on the tomb to William and Jane Playters had evidently been lost, but are now present. The inscription to Christopher Playters was longer than it is now. Weever’s version is given below, with the parts omitted by the current inscription in bold. The number of sons in the penultimate line is now five, not seven, and the year is now in Arabic numerals.
Here under lieth buried the body of Christopher Playters esquire
true patron of this church, sonne and heire to William and Jane his wife,
who had two wives: viz. Dorothy, one of the daughters and heires of
William Aselak, of Carrow in the county of Norfolk esquire by whom he
had issue, Thomas; and by Anne, daughter to William Read of Becles
esquire ; he had issue, seven sonnes and foure daughters, and he died in the year of
our Lord God MD.xlvii.
As Weever’s transcription of at least one other surviving Playters brass at Sotterley is correct, we can probably trust what he gives for William and Christopher.
Christopher Playters was a fifth son, yet succeeded his father in 1512. He was succeeded by Thomas, the son named in his inscription, who died in 1572 and is depicted in armour on his own brass. The latter’s son William, d.1584, also has a brass and his son Thomas, the first baronet, has not only a brass but also the mural alabaster monument signed by Edward Marshall. His eldest son and heir, William, was a Parliamentarian until excluded by Pride’s Purge, and also sat on the committee of the Eastern Association. He was the employer of one of Dowsing’s deputies, Francis Verdon. He died in 1668 and his son Thomas died without issue, so that the Reverend Sir Lionel Playters, a son of Sir Thomas by his second wife, succeeded, within the lifetime of Edward Marshall, who died in 1675.
It seems clear that the brasses to William and Christopher Playters were replaced sometime after Weever recorded them, and it is likely that the replacements were cut in the workshop of Edward Marshall, but it is not clear when this happened. Sir Lionel, who had seen brasses ripped up by iconoclasts in his church at nearby Uggeshall and had been ejected from his living there in the summer of 1644, seems a likely candidate to have undertaken such a restoration, but only if it was done c.1670 rather than in the 1630s. Joshua Marshall, Edward’s son, may also be a candidate for the maker of the replacement brasses at Sotterley.
Ancient Funerall Monuments, J Weever (1631), 762-
The Journal of William Dowsing, ed T Cooper (2001), 76, 79 & 292
Postscript: Weever took the texts of the inscriptions on the brasses to Christopher Playters and his parents from William Hervey’s visitation of some seventy years earlier. The anonymous Chorographer visited Sotterley very early in the seventeenth century. He did not mention Christopher’s brass at all, suggesting it had gone by then, and notes his parents’ tomb as having lost its circumscription and three of its six shields. He was told that the tomb was for William Playters. Perhaps these two brasses were replaced when Edward Marshall was erecting the monument to Sir Thomas Playters after the latter’s death in 1638.
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
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