Monumental Brass Society

John and Frances Castle

Date of Brass:


March 2022

When John and Frances Castell were commemorated at Raveningham, Norfolk, the brass laid down was a rectangular plate with their arms and an inscription. The brass seems to have its arms delineated in such a way as to distinguish the heraldic tinctures from each other without the use of paint. This was done in a manner akin to the Petra Sancta system of the 1630s, which uses 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 Petra Sancta system was preceded in 1600 by a very similar system devised by Jean Baptiste Zangre, also known as Zangrius. The first half of the seventeenth-century saw a number of competing systems using the same methods but differing in detail. The question as it pertains to this period in England is whether such a system was in use by one of the workshops designing and producing brasses.

The Cure workshop was run at the time the brass was made by William Cure, grandson of William Cure who had been sent for from Holland by Henry VIII when his palce of Nonsuch was being built in the early 1540s. Cure 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 Cure 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, often engraved no doubt by other sub-contracted marblers, that set new standards to be emulated by their competitors. Chief among those competitors was the Southwark workshop run by Garat Johnson, which took the best part of ten years to match the quality of the Cure workshop, producing similar but distinguishable figures by 1595. While the two styles of figures can be recognised as separate, their other brass products, inscriptions, present problems in telling one workshop from the other as their Roman capital letter scripts are much the same. However, when an inscription was accompanied by a heraldic achievement or shields, in some cases the Cure product can be distinguished as they may make use of a system to denote tinctures, the colour of heraldry. Quite why the Cure workshop, further removed from its Dutch origins than the Johnsons, picked a system similar to that used in the Netherlands by Zangrius in 1600 to depict the arms of the towns of Brabant and the Johnsons did not remains a puzzle. All the can be said is that by 1612, some Cure brasses were using it. The brass of Thomas and Elizabeth Soame at Little Bradley, Suffolk, was set up in that year, six years after Thomas's death.

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 a number of other brasses with similar attempts at reprenting colours, the distinct impression is that there was a lack of control over how such arms were engraved that defeats the whole object of the exercise. 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). Given William Cure's documented inability to keep pace with work for important patrons in his work on sculpted monument, it is unsurprising that he failed to enforce any standardisation of the representation of arms on sub-contracted brasses and the Castle brass is a case in point. It use horizontal lines for Argent and dots for Azure, completely at variance with the system used by Ely. It might be asked whether what we are seeing is just an attempt to differentiate one tincture from another but it that case why engrave all those parallel lines when the surface could have been left plain? The heraldry on most brasses leaves surfaces plain: paint could be, and often was, applied to these plain surfaces on shields to provide the correct heraldic tinctures. The Cure workshop had previously done just this.

The Castell (as it is spelt on all their other monuments at Raveningham) family held land in the parish from 1225 until 1735 (when a later John Castell died leaving a daughter as heir). John, as his will of 1592 reveals, had been busy buying more land. He 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 being 63 yeares of age

Simul resurgent


John and Frances Castell's daughter Dorothy, who died in 1618., had 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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