Monumental Brass Society

John and Silvester Browne

Date of Brass:
Southwark (Stevens?)


Just over eleven years ago this feature focused on the remains of the brass of John Browne, 1581, and his wife and sixteen children at Halesworth: At that time it was mentioned that Browne’s son John, d.1591, was commemorated by a brass at nearby Spexhall. This month the Browne brasses at Spexhall are the subject.

Like the brass at Halesworth, those at Spexhall have been remounted, but whereas the recovered parts of the Halesworth brass are displayed in a stone set above the original indent, those at Spexhall were set on a new mural stone with no sign of the original indent. Rather than a rectangular stone, the new matrix has a curved top more like an external headstone and a moulded edge.

The Browne brasses at Spexhall are for John Browne, d.1591, his wife Silvester, 1593, and their six sons and five daughters. (The group of five daughters is now lost.) Unusually there are two inscriptions, one for the husband and one for the wife. Also on this stone is an inscription for John Browne’s eldest daughter Mary, wife of William Downinge, who died aged 31 in 1601, ten years after her father.

The Browne brasses had disappeared from the church at some point after 1808 but travelled only as far as the rectory, from where they were recovered and remounted after 1903. The lack of the original indents presents a number of problems. John Browne was armigerous and any brass to him would almost certainly have incorporated his arms - Argent on a bend Sable three eagles displayed Argent (beaked and legged Gules) - in one or more shields. The separate inscriptions for John and his wife Silvester would also normally imply two brasses rather than one. The published church notes on Spexhall by Davy seem to confirm this latter point,  stating that there was only one brass extant in 1830, that of Mary wife of William Downinge, but that three others existed in 1808, of which John Browne’s and Silvester Browne’s were two, the other being of a woman. This raises another possibility – were the Browne brasses inscriptions or inscriptions and arms only, the figure of the woman being a different brass? Given the close correspondence of the style of the figure now assumed to be that of Silvester to the dates of death of the Brownes, that seems unlikely. The likelihood is that John and Silvester Browne each had an effigial brass.

If there were two brasses, were the sons mounted below the father and the daughters below the mother? The Spexhall parish register, dating back to 1538, has baptisms for three sons and two daughters of the younger John between 1579 and 1585, suggesting that three sons and three daughters had been born elsewhere, presumably in Halesworth. No doubt their daughter’s brass would also have had a shield displaying the arms of Downinge impaling Browne. 

Spexhall had three manors, of which the Brownes held one, Burghard’s, sold by John Browne junior’s eldest son John to Paul Bayning of London in 1596. Spexhall manor was also in the hands of Paul Bayning by 1589. A moiety of Banyards manor was held by Nicholas Garneys from 1567; he died in 1623 and has a brass at Ringsfield. The other moiety was in the possession of Sir Henry Glemham from 1571; he died in 1632. It appears likely that both moieties were acquired by Paul Bayning at some time.

Silvester Browne’s effigy belongs to the third group of Southwark figure brasses, tentatively identified as being from the workshop of Richard Stevens, who like Garat Johnson and Cornelius Cure produced sculpted alabaster effigies and tombs. There is no evidence that he also produced brasses, as did the Johnson and Cure workshops, but as he died in 1592 and the third group of brasses ceased shortly afterwards, it seems not unlikely. If Silvester Browne ordered brasses for John Browne and herself at the time of her husband’s death, someone else may have completed her inscription on her death: the main inscription styeles at the time don’t seem to be related to figure styles.


Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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