Monumental Brass Society

Sir John Clerk

Date of Brass:


April 2005

April's brass of the month is from Thame, Oxfordshire and commemorates Sir John Clerk, d.1539. John Clerk of North Weston manor was the third son of William Clerk of Willoughby, Warwickshire. As the inscription on his brass records, he ‘toke louys of Orleans duk of longueville…prisoner at ye Jorney of Bomy by Terouane’, better known as the Battle of the Spurs, on 16 August 1513. Clerk, who was knighted for this exploit, died on 5 April 1539. Shortly before his death, he rebuilt the 14th century manor house of the Quartermain family, which was sold by his descendant about 1750 and demolished c.1800, apart from the kitchen wing, of which a fragment remains embedded in the modern farmhouse.

Clerk was married three times, firstly to Jane Lee, a member of a prominent Buckinghamshire family; she died in 1516 and was buried at Quarrendon. The church is in ruins, but her gravestone was seen by Lancaster Herald in 1611; it is possibly to be identified with the indent of a lady with three shields, c.1510, known from a dabbing in the Ashmolean Museum. His second wife, Elizabeth Ashby, died on 5 February 1533/4 and was buried at Blakesley, Northants. Three shields survive from the monument erected by their son, Ambrose. Elizabeth was also the mother of Clerk’s son and heir, Nicholas. Clerk’s third wife was Agnes, widow of Nicholas Pynchon, sheriff of London, who owned property in Writtle, Essex.

Clerk’s will provided for the erection of his tomb in Thame church, ‘under an arch … with a scripture with my name upon it, not for the pompe of the world, but the rather thereby to move devout people of their charity to have me remembered in their prayers’. The Purbeck marble altar tomb, with a canopy, was erected on the south wall of the chancel. The outer two of the three square panels on the base bear brass shields with traces of enamel.

Clerk’s mural effigy is shown in armour, kneeling at a prayer desk with a book in front of him. The scroll above his head is inscribed ‘Sancta trinitas unus deus misere nobis’. Above are the indents of a Trinity and of a shield with crest and mantling. Behind the effigy is the indent of his second wife and two sons.

The chief interest of the Clerk monument lies in its heraldry. For his part in the capture of Louis of Orleans, Clerk had been granted an augmentation of honour, taken from the arms of the Duke, by Thomas Wriothesley, Garter (1504-1534) and Thomas Benolt. The arms on the brass (tabard, sleeves and two shields) are: Argent, on a bend gules between 3 pellets as many swans proper; on a sinister canton azure, a demi-ram salient of the first, and in chief 2 fleur de lys or, over all a baton dexter. These arms with the augmentation also appear on two shields at Blakesley and on the brass at Hitcham, Bucks. of Nicholas Clarke, son and heir of ‘Syr John Clerke of Weston knight that tooke the Duke of Longevyle prisoner’; Nicholas died ‘of the swett’ in July 1551. Curiously, both John Clerk and Sir William Stamford of Rowley Regis were credited with the Duke’s capture, but Stamford had to wait until 1544 for his grant of augmentation, a gauntlet grasping a broken sword.

Clerk’s great-great-grandson, Sir John Clerke (d.1667) was created a baronet in 1660 and is the ancestor of the Clerke baronets of Hitcham, some of whom have taken Longueville as a Christian name. Sir John’s brass at Thame (MS XII) is on the chancel floor next to the altar tomb of his ancestor; the achievement on a rectangular plate includes the augmentation and the ram’s head crest.

For further reading on augmentations, see J.F. Huxford, Honour and Augmentations, 1984; the arms are illustrated in colour, but no monuments are cited. Another instance on a brass is to be found at Rayne, Essex, where the augmentation granted in 1524 to Sir Thomas Manners commemorating his Plantagenet descent appears on the remains of the elaborate composition to his daughter, Lady Katherine Capell, 1572.

© Nancy Briggs

Photos: © Martin Stuchfield

Rubbing: © Martin Stuchfield

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