Robert and Elizabeth Rugge
- Date of Brass:
- Norwich, St John Maddermarket
January 2024 The large slab at the west end of the church of St John Maddermarket in Norwich that supports the font is the indent of the brass of Robert and Elizabeth Rugge. Most of the brass was remounted in December 1992 on a hardwood board after conservation by the leading brass conservator William Lack, and is now mural on the west wall of the north porch.
Robert Rugge died on 18 February 1558/9 as is recorded on the inscription. His brass is Norwich work (it was described by Lack as 'Norwich 6 variant'), but does not fit comfortably within this series, the latest of the seven series of Norwich-made brasses from the 1450s to the 1550s that were identified in the 1970s by Roger Greenwood.
Those belonging to the Norwich 6 style were made in the workshops of two freemasons, William Harmer, who retired from business in the late 1530s, and William Thacker, to whom Harmer left marble stones in his will. Thacker made his own will in 1551/2 but it was not proved until 1563/4. The last brass of the Norwich 6 style carries a date of death of 1551, suggesting that although Thacker did not die shortly after he made his will, he had reason to think he might.
Thacker as a brass designer stuck rigidly to Harmer's designs, making it unlikely that he produced Rugge’s brass himself. (The figures and lettering differ from his work.) There was something of a hiatus in the production of brasses in Norwich after 1551 and few brasses were produced over the following half-century, with even fewer having effigies.
Robert Rugge was a younger son of William Rugge of Northrepps in north Norfolk. A freeman of Norwich by 1524, Rugge progressed through the city's civic hierarchy as common councilman, alderman, sheriff in 1537 and mayor in 1545, the year he was elected an MP. He was one of the two ‘chiefest’ citizens used during Robert Kett’s Rebellion of 1549 as intermediaries between Kett and the Earl of Warwick, the commander of the royal forces trying to suppress the rebellion. He was mayor again in 1550-1. He died on 18 February 1558/9, less than two months after making his will, proved in June 1559.
His older brother William was the last abbot of St Benet’s Hulme, becoming bishop of Norwich in 1536. His position as abbot may have enabled him to avail himself of some of the materials of the dissolved abbey. The reverse of the Rugge brass is made up of a number of brasses which probably came from the abbey. Bits of two brasses of ecclesiastics made before the Black Death of 1349, including large portions of the figure of an abbot (perhaps Henry de Brook, d.1325) make up Robert Rugge’s figure. There is also a shield with the arms of Fastolf; Sir John Fastolf was buried in the abbey after his death in 1459.
The wait of over twenty years to re-use these brasses might look suspiciously long, but there is a parallel. John Page-Phillips found that part of an incised slab from the abbey was turned over and re-engraved with the arms of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, surrounded by the Garter that he was only awarded in 1559. This slab was dug up on the site of the Duke’s palace in Norwich, close to the church of St John Maddermarket.
Robert Rugge’s brass is an impressive, one-off production from a Norwich workshop. The Lincolnshire marble slab in which it was laid was itself re-used, with old rivets visible. Did it also come into Norwich along the river from St Benet’s Abbey?
Copyright: Jon Bayliss, text and Challe Hudson, photos
John Page-Phillips, Palimpsests: The Backs of Monumental Brasses (1980), 1, 82; 2, 17-8.
William Lack, ‘Repairs to Brasses, 1992’, TMBS 14 (1993), 191-3.
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