Dame Margaret Chute
- Date of Brass:
- Southwark (Cure)
October's brass of the month commemorates Dame Margaret Chute, née Welford (d.1614), and is from St Mary the Virgin church, Marden, Herefordshire.
Conserved and remounted on an Iroko wood board by William Lack in 1988, it shows Margaret in extravagant early Jacobean costume flanked by her two young daughters, with her delicately engraved coat of arms above her and an epitaph below on two separate rectangular brass plates.
The epitaph explains that Margaret was the second wife of Sir George Chute (b.1586) and daughter and sole heir of Thomas Welford, Esq., of Wisteston. She had two daughters: Anne, who is depicted in adult costume on a small separate sheet of brass on her mother’s left, and Francis, who is shown as a swaddled ‘chrysom’ baby on her mother’s right. No information is given on Anne, who may therefore have been still alive when this brass was commissioned: her dates of birth and death are not known.
Margaret herself died the day after giving birth to Francis, on 9 June, one of many mothers who failed to survive the dangers of childbirth in this era. Margaret was apparently Sir George’s second wife; he married again after her death and had more children by his first and third wives.
Francis is said to have died on the first day of her birth: the fact that she is referred to by name suggests that she was baptised before her premature death. She is shown lying with her head on a pillow, her costume being a compromise between the swaddling clothes of a live infant and the lace trappings on her collar and bib that denote high social rank: the swaddling bands are no longer of the medieval criss-cross variety but encircle her little body as on other early modern effigies, such as the 1585 brass of Peter Best at Merstham, Surrey.
Both Margaret and Anne are shown standing on small circular bases, with their hands conventionally raised in an attitude of prayer. Margaret is dressed in a pointed bodice with wings: it is divided mi-parti with horizontal decoration on the right and vertical braided(?) bands on the right. The diagonally striped sleeves are decorated with matching bands and her cuffs are hemmed with needlepoint lace.
Margaret and her daughter also both wear a wide raised collar of expensive needlepoint lace against cambric; there is more needlepoint lace around the neckline of Margaret’s bodice. The low neckline was favoured by Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I, as seen in her portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, dated c.1610, at Woburn Abbey. In addition, Margaret wears three strings of (probably) pearls around her neck and below it what appears to be another necklace of large beads, which her daughter also sports. There is also a long earring dangling from her left ear (the right ear is invisible), but there are no rings to be seen on her fingers.
In addition, mother and daughter wear their hair pulled back by either ornamental combs or a framework of lace and wire, which gives them both a curious silhouette. Margaret is again following court fashion in this respect: Queen Anne is also portrayed with a wavy silhouette in a bust-length miniature of c.1605 by Isaac Oliver (London, NPG), although the structure supporting this hairstyle is not revealed in that portrait: an oval miniature portrait of c.1606-9 by Nicholas Hilliard of Elizabeth, later Queen of Bohemia, also shows the young princess with her hair pulled back with a pointed pearl coronet (London, V&A). Of course, the need to cut the Marden brass around the hair ornaments makes for a less subtle silhouette than could be achieved in paint.
Quite striking is also the individual, portrait-like quality of Margaret’s face with its strong nose, piercing glance and delicately shaded areas. In curious contrast to the opulent upper half of the figure are the relatively plain skirt with its double decorated border, supported by a rather modest wheel farthingale, and the sturdy laced shoes clearly visible below. Could it be possible that the engraver modelled this brass on an actual painted portrait of Margaret, perhaps even a bust-length miniature that would have obliged him to remodel the pose of the hands and design the lower half of the figure without a model? This could also explain why the small figure of Anne is merely a miniature copy of her mother’s brass, although here the designer has separated the upright hair from the actual support.
© Sophie Oosterwijk
Rubbing: © The Monumental Brasses of Herefordshire by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (2008)
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