Reginald Spycer and wives
- Date of Brass:
The Much Married Spycer of Cirencester: the brass of Reginald Spycer (d. 1442)
The parish church of St John the Baptist, Cirencester, contains a number of remarkable monumental brasses from the fifteenth century.1 Together with St Peter and St Paul, Northleach, and St James, Chipping Camden, Cirencester forms part of the ‘triumvirate’ of wool churches in the Cotswolds. The wealth of these churches is not only reflected in the magnificent architectural features but also in the extent of the funerary commemoration of the parishioners, in the form of brasses, within them.2
1. I am grateful to Martin Stuchfield, Rupert Webber and Justin Colson for their help in providing the illustrations for this piece.
2. W.C. Fallows, The Brasses of Cirencester Parish Church (Cirencester 1985)
Of the ten surviving effigial brasses at Cirencester, dating to the fifteenth century, six are for townsmen and merchants. There are two brasses for knights and a further two representing priests. It is the brass of the merchant Reginald Spycer (d. 1442) which forms the subject of this month’s brass of the month (see illustrations 1 and 2). This is now located before the altar in the Trinity Chapel at Cirencester and has almost certainly been moved from its original location during the re-ordering of the church by George Gilbert Scott in 1865-67. It represents Spycer and his four wives whose names are included in the foot inscription:
Hic jacent Reginaldus Spycer quondam m’cator isti’ ville qui obiit ix die Julii Anno D’ni mill’mo CCCC xlii et Margareta Juliana Margareta et Joh’na uxores ei’ quor’ a’I’abus p’picetur d’s Amen
[Here lies buried Reginald Spycer, sometime merchant of this town, who died 9 July 1442 and Margaret, Juliana, Margaret and Joan, his wives, on whose soul may God have pity. Amen]
This brass is of interest for a number of reasons not least of which is the testimony of his marital interests, the brass revealing that he was indeed ‘much married’ with four wives, namely Margaret, Juliana, Margaret and Joan. Re-marriage was not an unusual phenomenon in the middle ages but surviving brasses commemorating a number of spouses are, to the best of my knowledge, unusual. At Ingrave, Essex (illustrations 3 and 4) is a similar, albeit later example, to Sir Richard FitzLewes (d. 1528) and his four wives, Alice, name unknown, Elizabeth and Joan.3 In the Mercer’s Chapel, in the city of London, was a memorial, probably a brass, to the mercer and former sheriff of London, Sir William Locke (d. 1550), and his four wives, Alice, Katherine, Eleanor and Elizabeth.4 Unfortunately this was one of the many London monuments destroyed during the Great Fire.
3. For Ingrave, see William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (ed.) The Monumental Brasses of Essex (London 2003), part 1, p. 416.
4. For the Mercer’s Chapel, London, see John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London & Westminster: containing the original, antiquity, increase, modern estate and government of these cities (London 1720), Book III, p. 38
The Spycer brass also contains another interesting feature, which again is common amongst the civilian brasses in the Cotswolds, that of the merchant mark. Located beneath the inscription is a small shield containing a cross, with a pennant flying from it, which passes through a semi-
It is not just the design and composition of the Spycer brass which makes this of interest. It is the ‘man behind the brass’ which is of equal interest and in particular Spycer’s role in the events of 1399/1400 during the deposition of King Richard II and which are referred in the play.5 The text, taken from the Arden Shakespeare, is:
Kind uncle York, the latest news we hear
Is that the rebels have consumed with fire
Our town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire
But whether they be taken or slain we hear not
On his arrival ,the Earl of Northumberland informs the assembled:
… I have to London sent
The heads of Salisbury, Spencer, Blunt and Kent.
The manner of their taking may appear
At large discoursed in this paper here
5. William Shakespeare The Tragedy of King Richard II (ed.) Charles R. Forker (London 2002), pp. 476-
Unfortunately Shakespeare did not elaborate on the particular events which took place at Cirencester.5 However, it is evident that on the arrival of Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent, and John Montague, Earl of Salisbury, the townsmen of Cirencester rose as a mob and lynched the rebels, executing the principal ring leaders in the market square. The bodies of both earls were buried at Cirencester and their heads displayed on London Bridge.6 The Calendar of Patent Rolls record King Henry IV’s reward of the possessions of the rebellious earls to the townsmen of Cirencester with the exception of their gold and silver. This seems to have been met with disappointment and subsequent unrest, with commissions to arrest a number of Cirencester men, including Spycer, appointed in 1402. Within a year a further grant had not only pardoned them but also awarded Cirencester the gold and silver of the earls from which the tower was built.7 Local folklore suggests that the two heads peering down from the tower represent the executed earls.
6. G.E. Cockayne The Complete Peerage, vol. VII pp. 156-
7. H.C. Maxwell-
The monumental brass of Reginald Spycer and of his four wives is, for me, of much interest. While it remains a rare survival of a ‘much married’ man, it also includes a variety in style and composition and retains Spycer’s mark, a feature prevalent amongst the merchant class on their funerary commemoration. Of equal importance, this brass is of a man who had been part of the mob who rose in support of King Henry IV but who also seems to have been something of a trouble maker before being pardoned and securing the funds with which to build the church tower. Quite whether the heads gazing down from the tower towards Spycer’s brass are the executed earls is another matter.
Copyright: Christian Steer
- © Monumental Brass Society (MBS) 2021
- Registered Charity No. 214336