Monumental Brass Society

John de Hakebourne

Date of Brass:
Merton College Chapel, Oxford


May 2020

The brass of Richard de Hakebourne has often been illustrated as it is an important and early brass. The chapel of Merton College had a number of floriated cross brasses of the fourteenth-century but some of them have disappeared, so the survival of the figurative element of the Hakebourne memorial is very welcome, especially as it appears to be the earliest monument in the chapel.

Hakebourne was a fellow of the college by 1296 and later served several times as sub-warden. He was the owner of a book that is now in the college library and donated two others. The inscription around the verge of the brass recorded that he was rector of Wolford in Warwickshire, which was a college living. All that is left of the brass now is Hakebourne's figure superimposed on the central part of a cross of which little is visible. The floriated ends of the arms of the cross have gone as have the individual brass letters that made up the marginal inscription.

The brass is now in the north transept, which was probably constructed in 1419-25, but the brass was recorded before 1671 in the choir. A plan of the chapel was made by Anthony a Wood, on which it is assumed that the unmarked monuments correspond with those that were recorded topographically by him. It was then the northernmost of a row of slabs immediately west of the four steps leading to the high altar. Also in the choir then were the cross brasses of Richard de Campsale, who died between 1350 and 1360, and of Robert de Tring, died in 1351. Both of the latter brasses had small figures of the commemorated inside octofoil cross heads (Tring's figure survives) in contrast with Hakebourne's brass, on which the most of the cross head is covered by his half effigy. The Hakebourne brass appears to be unique in this respect as other cross brasses of the period that had effigial elements representing the commemorated had them inside the cross head, either as small full-length figures or, as at Chinnor, Oxfordshire, as a head. The cross head at Chinnor is a single plate that incorporates the head of the priest, so other examples where the cross head is solid and sufficiently large may also have had heads in them. As is clear from the Hakebourne indent, the four missing ends of the cross arms would have made it entirely clear that the half effigy was set on the cross head, as would the shaft of the cross. Where other cross brasses had half effigies, the figure was set above a shortened cross, as on the indents for the brasses of John de Lewes at Buxted in Sussex and that at Cranbook, Kent, thought to commemorate William de Meopham, died 1332. At this remove it is impossible to say if the design of the cross head of the Hakebourne brass was ever repeated. However, the half effigy itself is strongly related to an incised slab from Barking Abbey (now the parish church there) that commemorates Martin, vicar, as the incised inscription tells us, and the life-size full length effigy of Adam de Bacon, stolen from Oulton in Suffolk in 1857. Details like the large protruding ears, the bushy hair and the distinctive treatment of the folds of the fabric under the armpit proclaim that all three were designed by the same marbler. Although Adam de Bacon died in 1310, it is likely that his figures was executed in the 1320s, as Martin was vicar of Barking until 1328. All three were products of the Camoys workshop.

Text copyright: Jon Bayliss


Alan Bott, The Monuments in Merton College Chapel (1964)

John Coales (ed), The Earliest English Brasses (1987)

Sally Badham & Malcolm Norris, Early Incised Slabs and Brasses from the London Marblers (1999)


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