Monumental Brass Society

John and Frances Castle

Date of Brass:


March 2022

John and Frances Castle's brass at Raveningham, Norfolk, comprises a rectangular plate with their arms and an inscription. The shield seems to indicate its heraldic tinctures without the use of paint. This is done in a manner akin to the Petra Sancta system of the 1630s, which used parallel lines engraved horizontally, vertically and diagonally to represent three heraldic colours, with dots and cross-hatching to distinguish two more and one left blank for another. The first half of the seventeenth century saw a number of competing systems using the same methods but differing in detail, and the Petra Sancta system was preceded in 1600 by a very similar system devised by Jean Baptiste Zangre, also known as Zangrius. The question here is, Was such a system in use at this time in England by one of the workshops producing brasses?

At the time the brass was made, the Cure workshop was run by William Cure, grandson of William Cure who had been sent for from Holland by Henry VIII when his palace of Nonsuch was being built in the early 1540s. Cure senior stayed, married an Englishwoman and raised a family, settling in Southwark, beyond the control of the City of London authorities. Under his son Cornelius, the workshop flourished and produced funeral monuments in a Northern Renaissance style. Late in the reign of Elizabeth I, Cornelius was made Master Mason in the Office af Works, in which post he was joined by his son William in 1605.

Cornelius had been a freeman of the Marblers' Company and thus trained to produce monumental brasses. In the mid-1580s, the workshop introduced a new style of figure brass, no doubt often engraved by other sub-contracted marblers, that set new standards for their competitors.

Chief among those competitors was the Southwark workshop run by Garat Johnson. This took the best part of ten years to match the quality of the Cure workshop, producing similar but distinguishable figures by 1595. But while the two styles of figures can be recognised as separate, their brass inscriptions in Roman capital letters are much the same. However when an inscription is accompanied by heraldry, the Cure product can sometimes be distinguished through its use of a system to denote tinctures. Quite why the Cures, further removed from their Dutch origins than the Johnsons, picked a system similar to that used in the Netherlands by Zangrius, and the Johnsons did not, remains a puzzle; but by 1612 some Cure brasses were using it. 

The Castle brass has the arms of Castle and Playters. Both arms have a field of Argent, represented on the brass as horizontal lines. The three towers of the Castle arms have nothing to indicate their colour (Gules) but the Azure bends wavy of Playters are covered with dots. Looking at other brasses with similar attempts at representing colours, the distinct impression is that there was a lack of control over how such colours were engraved. 

On an important brass like that of Dean Tyndall in Ely Cathedral, there is more consistency, and the variations from Zangrius/Petra Sancta suggest that William Cure was using his own, slightly different, system, reversing not only Argent (silver) and Or (gold), as was sensible for engraving on gold-coloured metal, but also Gules (red) and Azure (blue). William Cure is known to have had difficulty keeping pace with sculpture work for important patrons, so it is unsurprising that he failed to enforce standardisation of the representation of heraldry on sub-contracted brasses.

The Castle brass is a case in point. It uses horizontal lines for Argent and dots for Azure, completely at variance with the system used by Ely. This was not just an attempt to differentiate one tincture from another, since the surface could have been left plain, or painted. The Cure workshop had previously done just this.

The Castell family (as spelt on all their other monuments at Raveningham) held land in the parish from 1225 until 1735 (when a later John Castell died leaving a daughter as heir). The John of this brass married Frances, daughter of Thomas Playters of Sotterley, Suffolk, less than ten miles away. Their inscription reads

   Here lie the bodies of John Castle Esqr.

   who beinge aged 44 yeares was buried ye 16

   day of Aprill Ao.DI. 1593 & of Francis his

   wife, daughter of Thomas Plater of Soterley

   in the county of Suffolke Esqr (by whom he

   had issve 4 sonnes viz Nicholas, Roger, Iohn &

   Thomas, and 3 daughters viz Elizabeth, Dorothie &

   Beatrice) who was buried ye 24th day of February:

   1614 beinge of 63 yeares of age

   Simul resurgent


Their daughter Dorothy, who died in 1618, married George Mordant. Their arms are impaled on her brass at Heydon, Norfolk, presumably designed in the Cure workshop. The Argent field of the Castell arms is represented by diagonal parallel lines in contrast to the horizontal lines on her parents' brass.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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