Monumental Brass Society

Nicholas Parker

Date of Brass:
Norwich 3


June 2019

The subject of this month's brass has recently attracted attention because he has been identified as the owner of a surviving illustrated missal in Cambridge University Library. Research into his life is currently being undertaken by Professor Carole Rawcliffe and Dr John Alban.

With homes in Norwich and Honing, close to Bromholm Priory, where the elder Sir John Paston was buried in 1466, Nicholas Parker might be expected to feature in the contemporary letters of the Paston family, yet the man of the same name who does was the notary public of the diocese of Norwich and was buried in the Greyfriars in London in 1484. He was classed as a gentleman and held a number of important positions He was the ancestor of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose family came from Norwich but bore different arms, Gules, a chevron between three keys, Argent, from the family at Honing, who bore Argent, a chevron between three mascles, Sable. The picture is complicated further by the former existence of a brass, undated but with an English inscription perhaps of the first part of the sixteenth-century to a Nicholas Parker (Pray for the Sowle of Nicholas Parker, on whose Sowle Jesus have Mercy. Amen) in the church of St James, Pockthorpe, just within the walls of Norwich and by another Nicholas Parker, a gentleman of Norwich and Honing. The latter had a wife named Agnes, widow of John Ebbys, a Norwich merchant. The Nicholas Parker whose brass lies in the nave at Honing was an esquire who married Margery, a daughter of Sir John Jermy. The 1569 heraldic visitation of Norfolk gives a family tree beginning with Nicholas and descending through his son John, dead by 1545.

A poster in the church gives some details of Nicholas Parker's life. Thought to have been born around 1420, he might have served in France as a soldier when young. He is said to have been in Parliament, changed sides during the Wars of the Roses and to have accumulated land around Honing in the 1460s and 70s. He served as Deputy Sheriff of Norfolk in 1462. Presumably as an MP he was representing the county or one of the parliamentary boroughs within the county. The problem here is that Nicholas Parker the notary public has also been recorded as an MP. Neither of them occurs on the comprehensive lists of Norwich MPs that Blomefield gives in his account of the city, and the 'History of Parliament' project has yet to publish the members' biographies covering 1422-1504, although the part covering those to 1461 is imminent. Genealogical research has established that Nicholas Parker of Honing, esquire, had previously been married to Margaret, died before 1482, who was a daughter of Edmund Thurston of Brundish, Suffolk, by whom he had three daughters. This seems to identify him as Nicholas Parker of Brundish, gentleman, who was the defendant in an action for debt in the Court of Common Pleas in 1453 and again, this time called senior, in 1472 in another action for debt brought by the executor of the 1453 plaintiff. Presumably the Nicholas who was a gentleman of Honing and Norwich, named in actions of 1492 and 1495 in the Common Pleas and in a Chancery Court action of around the same time. was a son not mentioned in the pedigree in the 1569 visitation. Perhaps it was the marriage of Nicholas senior to the daughter of a knight that changed his status from gentleman to esquire. This can be placed between 1468 and 1474 by reference to papers in the Norfolk Record Office dealing with land in and around Honing, transactions involving him. One relating to land at Pockthorpe in 1494 probably refers to the man commemorated by the brass in the church of St James Pockthorpe mentioned earlier.

The brass at Honing, set in a slab of Lincolnshire marble, was made in Norwich by the workshop associated with the glazier Nicholas Heyward (N3) but presumably executed by a marbler, perhaps the Robert Marbler named in Norwich tax records in 1489. The shield below the inscription is made of lead, which would be appropriate for arms with argent as the field but lead shields do not generally age as well as brass. It is striking that the brass effigy at Great Cressingham of Richard Rysle, esquire, who died a year later than Parker should be so similar despite coming from a different Norwich workshop, N7. Perhaps Rysle's executor requested that a brass like Parker's should be the model to be followed. Parker Latin inscription asks us to pray for the soul of Nicholas Parker, esquire who died on the 19th of March 1496/7.

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

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