Monumental Brass Society

Joan, Lady Cromwell

Date of Brass:
Norwich 3


October 2003

October's brass of the month commemorates Joan, Lady Cromwell, who died in 1479. It is one of three major canopied figures now in the north transept of the church of Holy Trinity, Tattershall, Lincolnshire.

Lady Cromwell is depicted in the ceremonial robes of a peeress: an ermine-trimmed sideless cote and a mantle held together by a jewelled clasp. She wears her hair loose, with a jewelled circlet, and wears an elaborate necklace. Her appearance can be compared with that of the ladies in waiting on Catherine de Valois in the scene of her marriage to Henry V in the Beauchamp Pageants.

Although the canopy is mutilated at the top, it still retains its full complement of saints in niches, identified by inscriptions on their pedestals. On the left are the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowned, holding the Christ Child, St. Christopher, carrying the Christ Child across a river, and St. Dorothy, holding a rose spray and a basket of flowers. On the right are St. Anne, dressed as a widow, teaching the Virgin to read, St. George, trampling on the dragon which he spears, and St. Edmund, holding the arrow of his martyrdom. The uppermost four are general favourites, but St. Edmund points to a link with East Anglia, and St. Dorothy, whose cult was more established in Germany and the Netherlands, had begun to appear on East Anglian rood screens by the late fifteenth century.

The foot inscription reads: Orate p[ro] a[n]i[m]a Johanne d[omi]ne Cromwell que obiit decimo die marcii Anno d[omi]ni mill[esi]mo CCCCo lxxix cui[us] a[n]i[m]e p[ro]piciet[ur] deus amen. [Pray for the soul of Joan, Lady Cromwell, who died on the 10th day of March in the year of our Lord 1479. On whose soul may God have mercy, Amen.]

At the four corners were shields, now all lost. The arms are however recorded in antiquarian sources. The one at the upper left bore quarterly 1. France and England with a bordure 2. Bourchier 3. Louvain 4. Cromwell impaling Tattershall. This represents Joan's alliance with her first husband. The upper right shield bore Ratcliffe impaling Cromwell quartering Tattershall. This represents Joan's second marriage. The lower left bore Stanhope impaling Cromwell quartering Tattershall and the lower right bore quarterly 1&4. Stanhope 2&3 Cromwell quartering Tattershall. These arms represent her parents' marriage.

The brasses of Ralph, Lord Cromwell and his wife Margaret (now sadly mutilated) and Maud, Lady Willoughby, also at Tattershall, are products of the London D workshop, datable to the 1470s, and possibly laid down about the time of the completion of the chancel of Tattershall in 1475-6. Several related brasses commemorate members of the Bourchier family: Joan’s mother and father-in-law, the Earl and Countess of Essex, at Little Easton, Essex, her husband Humphrey, in Westminster Abbey (now mostly lost), and Sir John Say at Broxbourne, Herts., who was linked to the Bourchiers by service and his son’s marriage.

However, the brass of Joan, Lady Cromwell was executed not in a London workshop, but was made c. 1490 in the Norwich workshop that produced Norwich Series 3 brasses. The treatment of the eyes, the refined, tapering fingers and the lettering of the inscription are all distinctive. Though on a much larger scale than most Norwich brasses, it has design features in common with brasses at Felbrigg, Aldborough and Warham All Saints, dating from the late 1480s. The Norwich 3 workshop was run by the glazier William Heyward (fl. 1485-d. 1506). There are stylistic links with the glass at East Harling, Norfolk, which is by Heyward. Comparison can be made between St. Anne on the brass and St. Elizabeth in the Visitation at East Harling. Malcolm Norris also noted a link with certain Norfolk panel paintings, comparing St. George on the brass with the depiction of the same saint on the rood-screen at Filby. The explanation for this desertion of the Series D workshop is to be found in Joan’s second marriage. After Humphrey Bourchier’s death she married Sir Robert Radclyffe, of Hunstanton, Norfolk, who at some point before his death, which occurred between 24 November 1496 and 19 May 1498, ensured that she was no less nobly entombed than her sister.

© Nicholas Rogers

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