Monumental Brass Society

Nicholas Frauncois

Date of Brass:
Combe Florey


October 2004

October's brass of the month is from Combe Florey, Somerset and commemorates Nicholas Frauncois, esquire, d.1526. In his will, dated 13 June 1526, he asked to be buried 'within the Ile of the chauntry of our lady at Comeflory'. As is common for esquires at this date, he is shown in armour to emphasise his status. He married Cicely, daughter of Sir William Courtney of Powderham. She is not shown on the monument, perhaps because after Nicholas's death she re-married and perhaps chose to be buried with her second husband.

This is one of a series of brasses and incised slabs in the church to three generations of this family. Alongside Nicholas's brass is another lias slab with an inscised inscription, commemorating his sister, Agnes Moleyns, d. 1518, but this monument is unadorned by any brass inlay. The oldest brass, commemorates their grandparents, another Nicholas Franceys, d. 1480, and his wife Ellen Wynyard. It was originally a most elaborate brass, with two figures with prayer scrolls above their heads leading to plates with images of saints, groups of children beneath their feet and shields at the corners, but only part of the inscription plate now survives. He was the son of Henry Francis and his wife, Elizabeth Bampfield. Nicholas and Ellen's son, John, d. 1485, and his wife, Florence Ayshford, also chose to be commemorated by a brass; his figure is gone but her kneeling effigy and the inscription show it to have been a fine example. In contrast, is son's figure, shown here, is poorly drawn and gives a clumsy appearance, despite having been made in a London workshop.

Most brasses made in London were set in Purbeck marble slabs and the whole monument was sent out to the church. This often involved a long sea or river journey, followed by transport by cart to the church. This would have been expensive, particularly given the great weight of the slab.

However, Nicholas's brass was sent out loose and set in a slab locally. The stone chosen in this case was lias, the fine grain of which lends itself to high-quality carving. The craftsmen took advantage of this qualitiy by incising some of composition into the stone.

The inscription was incised round the edges of the slab instead of being engraved on brass. The inscription is of exceptionally high quality, with the use of elaborate textura quadrata letter forms.

Originally it is likely that the lettering was filled with coloured mastic-like material, probably black or another dark colour to contrast with the pale lias slab. No trace survives, the brownish substance remaining probably just being dirt!

The shields were more deeply cut and would also originally have held colouring. The arms are Silver, a chevron between 3 mullets pierced gules. White would have been used to represent the silver colouring and red for gules. It would have been a colourful and eye-catching composition.

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