Monumental Brass Society

Sir Adam de Clyfton

Date of Brass:
London B


May 2007

May's brass of the month very narrowly escaped the melting pot.

Entering Methwold church and looking across to the north aisle, the impression is that Sir Adam de Clifton's figure, remounted on a wooden board against the wall, is complete. Closer inspection shows that the missing pieces have been reproduced in paint on the board.

Sir Adam was born in 1306 at Denver in Norfolk, the son of Roger de Clifton, who had married Margery, daughter of Adam de Cailly and his wife Emma, daughter and co-heir of Robert de Tateshall, whose estates were very substantial. In 1327 he petitioned Edward III to be allowed to be chief butler at the forthcoming coronation, a role which his inheritance of the castle of Buckenham brought with it, although he was still underage. In 1340 he was serving overseas with the king when armed men stole 15 horses and 20 cows and assaulted his men and servants at Buckenham castle. Sixteen years later his manor of Hilborough suffered a similar attack resulting in the loss of 200 sheep. Sir Adam outlived his eldest son Constantine, and, at his death in 1367, Constantine's 13 year old son John was his heir. His brass must have been laid down shortly after his death as the only portions of the marginal inscription surviving in the seventeenth century included the year, and the style of the brass, a London B, is consistent with the date.

Around 1680, the Sir Adam's brass was sold by the clerk of the parish to a tinker and broken into pieces ready to be melted. Somehow, the pieces were rescued and spent the next 180 years in the church chest. Blomefield, the county historian, described them as 'only insignificant pieces of his armour, part of the head of the lion that was couchant at his feet; most of them are rim pieces that ornamented the stone, and have quarter-foils on them'. However, in 1860 at the instigation of Rev. C.R. Manning, the pieces were assembled and attached to a board in the church. They proved to be much more complete, with most of the figure and much of the canopy surviving. The main losses that the figure has suffered are its right arm and side and its waist. These losses predate 1680. Blomefield quotes a description of the brass made when it was still in its stone in the chancel of the church. It was taken from a loose paper in the collection of Peter le Neve and was said to be in the handwriting of Guybon Goddard, whose brass coffin plate at Brampton gives his date of death as 1671: 'a man in complete arms, a surcoat of Warren or Clyfton, (quære)for the place where the bend might be, and the direct place for the bend is broken out, four places for escutcheons, 3 defaced, one left, a fess between two chevrons, and a file with three labels'.

Blomefield describes the indent, now lost or permanently covered, as 'a large marble grave-stone about 10 feet in length, and four in breadth, on this has been the portraiture or effigies of the person here interred; in complete armour, with a canopy of brass work over his head, and four shields, one at each corner, also two rims or plates of brass running about the whole marble'. He also noted that the tradition in Methwold was that the figure commemorated one of the Earls Warren, who were lords of the town of Methwold, but he disagreed with this. He knew that the Warren family had been buried at the Abbey of Lewes in Sussex and that the last Earl Warren had died around 1348. He continued 'the only difference and way of knowing the arms of Warren, from those of Clifton, (when engraven and not painted) is by the bend in the arms of Clifton: but this we are told, was broken out, most likely on purpose to induce persons to believe it to be the arms of Warren'. He concluded that the shield described by Goddard represented the arms of Baynard and that this further proved the brass to be to the memory of Sir Adam de Clifton. Rev. C.R. Manning examined the engraved squares on the figure's jupon and found traces of red in them, confirming that the arms were or and gules and thus Clifton.

I have been unable to find any connection between Sir Adam and Methwold and wonder whether the brass in its stone was brought from elsewhere, perhaps at the Reformation. Two possibilities are that this monument was originally either in Wymondham Priory (later Abbey), of which the Cliftons were patrons, or in Buckenham Priory, to which Sir Adam gave land. Sir John Clifton, who died in 1446, was buried at Wymondham but Sir Robert Clifton, his cousin, who died about the same time, was buried at Buckenham. If Sir Adam's figure was deliberately mutilated to make it appear that the monument was to someone else, as Blomefield believed, it must count as a palimpsest by appropriation. The failure of the inscription to survive may support that view.

© Jon Bayliss

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