Monumental Brass Society

Nicholas Parker

Date of Brass:
Norwich 3


June 2019

'Nicholas Parker' has recently been identified as the owner of an illustrated missal in Cambridge University Library. Research into his life is currently being undertaken by Professor Carole Rawcliffe and Dr John Alban.

Living in 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 a notary public of the diocese of Norwich and was buried in the Greyfriars in London in 1484. He was 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 inscription in English to a Nicholas Parker in the church of St James, Pockthorpe, just within the walls of Norwich. This is undated but perhaps of the early sixteenth century (Pray for the Sowle of Nicholas Parker, on whose Sowle Jesus have Mercy. Amen). A third Nicholas Parker, a gentleman of Norwich and Honing, 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, and 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.

As an MP he was presumably 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 members' biographies covering 1461-1509.

Genealogical research has established that Nicholas Parker of Honing, esquire, was previously married to Margaret (d. before 1482), 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.

The Nicholas who was a gentleman of Honing and Norwich is named in actions of 1492 and 1495 in the Common Pleas, and in a Chancery case of around the same time. He may have been a son not mentioned in the pedigree in the 1569 visitation.

Documents in the Norfolk Record Office relating to land transactions around Honing may enable the different Nicholas Parkers to be distinguished more clearly.

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). It was 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. Unfortunately lead shields do not generally age as well as brass. The Latin inscription asks us to pray for the soul of Nicholas Parker esquire who died on 19th March 1496/7.

The brass effigy at Great Cressingham of Richard Rysle, esquire, who died a year later than Parker is strikingly similar despite coming from a different Norwich workshop (N7). Perhaps Parker's brass was taken as the model to be followed. 

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

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