Monumental Brass Society

Henry Notingham

Date of Brass:
London A


February 2004

February's brass of the month is from Holme-next-the-Sea, a small and somewhat remote village just inland from the north west coast of Norfolk. The brass commemorates Henry Nottingham and his wife, Agnes. Both are shown on the brass, but oddly her name is not given in the inscription. The brass originally covered their tomb in the Lady Chapel at the east end of the south aisle. When this aisle was demolished in 1778, the brass was saved and moved to the nave wall.

Henry Notingham was a country administrator and a retainer of the Duke of Lancaster. He was a Assize Judge in the reign of Henry IV. Each assize bench was made up of two professional lawyers sitting with two laymen of the county; it is uncertain which of these Notingham was, though the latter may be more likely He was also a member of the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster and acted as Town Clerk of King's Lynn for 8 years.. He moved to Holme in 1391, living in a house on the Thornham Road. It is not known when he died. The lack of a date of death on the brass, engraved c. 1405, suggests that it was made before Henry died. Thus we can be fairly sure that he determined the design of this brass.

Henry was evidently a man of wealth and local consequence, but though his brass is a London product, it is a surprisingly modest affair. Henry chose to be shown in civilian attire. He wears a long, loose gown, with a buttoned collar, high at the neck and full, baggy sleeves caught tight at the wrists. Beneath the gown is an under-tunic, but only the tight sleeves and mittens can be seen. . The gown is caught at the waist by a knotted, decorated girdle with a cross hanging from the loose end. An anelace (dagger) hangs from the girdle.

Only one feature of Henry's figure betrays that he was a man of consequence. Round his neck, he wears a livery collar, a token of allegiance and service to the king or a private lord. They were a very a personal mark of favour from the donor and it is not uncommon for them to be shown on tombs. Though this brass is of such small scale that the design of the collar is unclear, it may well have been a collar of esses, the royal livery of the House of Lancaster.

Agnes wears a nebule headdress and, over a kirtle or under-tunic, a simple high-necked gown with buttons from neck to waist and caught at the waist by a buckled girdle. The only hint of richness is the fur at neck and wrists.
The most unusual feature of the brass is the inscription, for two reasons. First, it is far larger in proportion to the figures than inscriptions on other brasses. Secondly, it tells us nothing about Notingham's worldly status and achievements. It is a rhyming inscription in English, reading:
    Henry Notingham and hys wyffe live here
    That maden this chirche stepull and quere
    Two vestments and belles they made also
    Crist hem save therfore fro wo
    Ande to bringe her saules to blis of heuen
    Fayth pater and ave with mylde steuen.

Medieval monuments have the dual functions of celebrating the worldly status of the deceased, while also soliciting prayers for their souls. Late medieval men and women spent lavishly on church building and furnishings, as well as tombs to buy or otherwise attract prayers to ease the passage of the soul through Purgatory, where it was cleansed by suffering in readiness for heaven. Henry Notingham did exactly this. The unusually large inscription makes it evident that he wanted all who saw his brass to know of his good works. His unusual modesty regarding his worldly status is balanced and explained by this evidence of his notable piety.

Henry provided a new nave, with north and south aisles, and the tower. The chancel was not completely rebuilt and much of the old walls and windows was left intact. Sadly, only parts of his evidently splendid building survive. By the late 18th century, the church had fallen into disrepair: hence, in 1778 both aisles and the western end of the nave were demolished and the remainder of the nave rebuilt. The five bells at Holme are dated 1677-1740, but some may possibly have been re-cast from the metal of the bells given by Henry Notingham.

Henry's impressive semi-detached, south west tower with porch remains intact and it is here that two reminders of Henry's legacy survive. In the lobby of the church is a carved stone head of a man in judge's cap, representing Henry Notingham. This was originally positioned above the two-light window over the entrance. In the porch, on the central boss in the beautifully groined roof are Henry Nottingham's initials, and his armorial bearings are on the small shields surrounding it.

Rubbing: © The Monumental Brasses of Norfolk by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (forthcoming)

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