Monumental Brass Society

John Alnwik

Date of Brass:
London D


February 2009

February’s brass shows a figure in academic dress.

Surlingham is on the south bank of the River Yare, a few miles east of Norwich. It formerly had two churches. That dedicated to St Saviour was treated as a chapel even though it should have enjoyed full parish status. It was abandoned in the early eighteenth in favour of St Mary’s.

John Alnwik was nominated as vicar of St Mary’s by his kinsman, William Alnwik, bishop of Norwich from 1426 to 1436. John was a fellow of New College, Oxford, by 1426 and bursar of the college in 1427-8. He was presumably the Magister John Alnewyck Oxoniensis, who wrote a ‘liber elegantiarum’, recorded by Bishop Bale in his catalogue of British writers (Index Britanniae Scriptorum). His admission as vicar took place on 5 January 1432/3. According to Blomefield, he resigned in 1449. As the inscription of the brass itself states, he died in 1460. The brass is a London-made one and lies in the chancel, set in a brown slab, which must be a replacement for the original, which would almost certainly have been of Purbeck marble. Norfolk has no indigenous stone suitable for laying brasses in and Surlingham’s position on the river up which much of Norwich’s trade was conducted would have meant that a brass in its Purbeck slab would have been relatively cheap to transport from London, especially if it had been landed close to the church rather than going to Norwich and back.

Outside Oxford and Cambridge, figures wearing academic dress are quite unusual. The representation of Alnwik as a Master of Arts follows conventions that do not show the dress as well as might be wished. Where the folds in the cloth make it look as if the lower half of his body is covered by a single garment that descends to just above his feet, the line that appears to indicate a wide hem is actually showing the division between two separate garments, as is much more obvious on some other brasses. Confusion is rife when one realises that the half effigy, of John Kyllyngworth, MA, died 1445, at Merton College, Oxford, has been described as wearing a cappa nigra, a sleeveless robe with slits for the arms to pass through, but the full length effigy of Geoffrey Hargreve, STS, died 1447, at New College, Oxford, is said to wear a sleeved tabard, although their dress appears identical. John Alnwik’s figure is from the same workshop and he is also dressed the in the same manner, although he differs from Hargreve in that his feet are not covered.

The inscription, as expected for an ecclesiastic at this date is in Latin and reads:

Magister John iacet hic, dictus prenobilis Alnwik,
Qui dedit ecclesie plurima dona sue,
Et Mundum cenuit, celica regina petit,
Anno Milleno C quater L quoque deno

It refers to the many gifts he gave the church, which, according to Blomefield, included that of the town lands from which to finance repairs to the church.

A B Emden , A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, 1957, page 27
F Blomefield, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, vol 5, pages 462-5
M Norris, Monumental Brasses, the Memorials, pages 88-90
H Druitt, A Manual of Costume as Illustrated by Monumental Brasses, plates opposite pages 136 & 138

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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