Monumental Brass Society

Sir John Russell

Date of Brass:
London A / C


February 2021


The workshops producing monumental brasses established in the years after the devastation of Black Death usually produced brasses that fit neatly into stylistic sequences. This was first demonstrated by JPC Kent in his analysis of military brasses and has been confirmed by later scholars like Robin Emmerson. When London style A ended it was replaced by London style D, as B was later by F. The demand for brasses as memorials meant that other workshops like C and E were able to come in and compete with the established ones. During the period that these workshops operated, when a brass was not very easy to classify, it generally means that it was an early product of a workshop, produced before its style had settled down but it could also happen at the end of a workshop when a commission could not be completed as originally planned by its master.

A case in point may be the brass of Sir John Russell, who died on the last day of January 1405/6 at Letheringham in Suffolk, far from his home in Strensham, Worcestershire. Malcolm Norris and FA Greenhill examined the brass together and Norris thought it consistent with the date of death and identified the script of the marginal inscription as that used by London A around 1400. concluding that the brass as a whole could be a composite. There is indeed a clear example of a London A brass at Strensham that commemorates Sir John's father Robert Russell but its sparse marginal inscription gives no date. Robert's figure is however closely comparable to that at Letheringham for Sir John Wingfield who died in 1389. When William Lack repaired the brasses of Robert and Sir John Russell in the early 1990s, he found the latter's effigy to be palimpsest, cut from the figure of a lady dressed in a cote-hardie that was a workshop waster. The six pieces of metal that made up the figure were very thin in some places, where the surface of the female figure had been cut away. The reverse was deemed to be London A, with Sally Badham noting in her article 'The London C Workshop' that although the row of 'bulls-eye' buttons was a feature that paralleled a number of London C brasses, it was not unknown in those by the London A workshop.

In my opinion, the figure of Sir John does not belong to London A but to London C. It departs too far from the London A style of armed effigies that was current at 1405 but there are similarities with London C figures, such as the slightly uneven level of the knees and the way that the sword was occasionally placed behind the hip. The most telling similarity is in the face of the lion which has the eyebrows turned up at the inner edges. It also has the same sort of curves engraved between the eyebrows as do the lions of Sir Nicholas Dagworth at Blickling, Norfolk, and Sir William Bagot at Baginton, Warwickshire. Sir John's feet do not look like others of any style, but his gauntleted hands look most like London C ones. The exact shape of his couter wings, protecting him at his elbow joint is unusual but not exceptional and there is nothing about his mail aventail or his helmet that raises concern. His facial features are not that different from St Nicholas Dagworth's.

How might a brass with a figures produced in the London C workshop have acquired a London A inscription? I think the answer lies with how the C workshop ended. Its head was most likely John Mapilton, a marbler who made his will on 9 February 1406/7. The will was proved 2 August 1407. Mapilton could have been commissioned to produce a brass for Sir John Russell in the year before he made his will but might then not have had sufficient time to complete it. As his mother was still alive, he is unlikely to have been of any great age. His will specified that all his marble stones were to be sold. Presumably if he had been paid in part for monuments already in preparation in the workshop, someone would have the finish them first, whether in his workshop by anyone capable of doing so, or by persuading another workshop to take over in return for whatever payment still remained for the commissioner to pay.

Sir John Russell's biography by LS Woodger as given in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421 is fairly substantial. He was MP for Worcestershire, returned in the late 1370s and again in 1397. he was in high favour with Richard II, but was treated leniently after Henry IV seized power. He married three times as the inscription on his brass notes. He had family by his first wife, Agnes, and remarried after 1389 to Margaret, daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings and widow of Sir John Wingfield of Letheringham. She died in 1397 and Sir John married, as her fourth husband, Elizabeth, widow lastly of John, Lord Clinton. As a result of his second marriage, he had wardship of Wingfield's heir, to whom he married his daughter Elizabeth, which accounts for his death taking place at Letheringham. He made his will on 4 April 1404, requesting burial in the chancel at Strensham, which he left £20 to be enlarged. Had his executors followed the request in his will, his brass would also have had figures of his three wives.




Copyright: Jon Bayliss

  • © Monumental Brass Society (MBS) 2024
  • Registered Charity No. 214336