- Date of Brass:
- c.1405 and 1546
- Norwich, St Stephen
- London and Norwich N. 6
Elizabeth Buttry became prioress of Campsey Ash in 1526. The priory was one of Austin nuns, founded around 1195 by Theobald de Valoignes, who gave his two sisters, Joan and Agnes, land in the parish on which to build it. They were successively the first two prioresses. Over the next few hundred year the priory benefited from further gifts of land. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 that preceded the Dissolution of the monasteries, Campsey was valued at a little over £182, short of the £200 that would have saved it from suppression in 1536 but only because a chantry within the priory church valued at over £35 was not counted.
Buttry had joined the priory by 1492 when a visitation was carried out on behalf of the Bishop of Norwich by his brother, Archdeacon Goldwell. Bishop Nykke performed the visitation in 1514 when there was a complement of twenty nuns including the prioress. Both in 1492 and in 1514, the visitation found nothing demanding reform. This pattern was repeated in 1520 and 1526, the latter taking place shortly after Buttry's elevation to prioress. However at the 1532 visitation her rule as prioress was found to be over-strict and austere. Most of the nuns made complaints. Food was another cause of dissatisfaction. The precentrix complained that a month previously they had been made to eat a bullock that would have died of disease had it not been slaughtered; the general view was that the prioress was stingy. The cook's unpunctuality also came in for criticism. The bishop recommended that the diet should be more generous and wholesome, but found no problems with the nuns' morality.
The nuns displaced by the priory's suppression in 1536 would have received a pension, with Buttry receiving more as prioress. She evidently made her way to Norwich, where she was a parishioner of St Stephen's church until her death on 24 October 1546. Blomefield recorded that she willed to be buried on the north side of the chapel of Our Lady and that she gave the church four cushions of Verdours, a cross cloth, a diapered altar cloth and a frontlet for the Sepulchre.
By the time that her brass was made, the colleges and chantries had been suppressed, leading to more old brasses becoming available for re-use. In the case of Buttry's brass, the figure of a lady made in London some 140 years earlier was pressed into service to represent her. It shows a lady dressed in a houppeland with a high collar with the top three buttons undone. A brass at Dartford, Kent, for Robert Martyn, died 1402, shows his wife in very similar dress.
An inscription in English was provided for Buttry's brass, engraved in the N.6 Norwich workshop run by William Thakker. It reads:
Pray for the soule of Eel Buttry sumtyme
pryores of Campesse on whose soule Jesu
have mercy the xxiiii day of October mo vc xlvjo
The words 'pray' and 'soule' in the first line have been obliterated by iconoclasts, presumably in the 1640s although they don't seem to have read the whole inscription otherwise further words would have been treated in the same way.
Between the figure and the inscription is a plate bearing the seated figures of two bedesmen with rosaries, one with a staff and the other with a stilt. Although the engraving is carried onto the figure plate, the plate is likely to be an insertion of the same date as the inscription, as such figures are found on contemporary alabaster tombs. The plants in the background are not those that might have been expected on an early fifteenth century London brass. Shading may have been added to drapery lines on the figure plate in addition to the tops of the heads of the bedesmen.
The brass was uncovered in 1859 and disappeared under pews again soon after, but is now unencumbered since a reordering of the church a few years ago.
'Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Campsey', in A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1975), pp. 112-115. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/suff/vol2/pp112-115 [accessed 1 August 2020].
Francis Blomefield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, 2nd ed, volume 4 (1806), 155.
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
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