Monumental Brass Society

Sir Richard Fitzlewes

Date of Brass:
London F debased


September 2003

This month's featured brass is from Ingrave, Essex, though it was originally in the old church of West Horndon alias Thorndon. It is one of two brasses to the Lewes or FitzLewes family moved in 1731 for their better preservation.

Only the five main figures survive. Above their heads is an indent of a plate which contained religious imagery, perhaps a depiction of the Trinity. Below their feet, but not shown in the picture opposite, are two groups of children, one with 6 or 8 children and the other with 6 sons and 3 daughters. The inscription is also lost, but those commemorated can be identified by the heraldry as Sir Richard Fitzlewes and his wives.

The brass was probably engraved soon after the death of Sir Richard on 12 July 1528. In his will he asked 'if I fortune to decease at my place in West Thorndon to be buried in the chancel of the parish church, in the midst of the chancel of the said church before the holy sacrament ... and that mine executors cause to be laid over me a marble stone with my arms to be set upon the same'. The phrase 'a marble stone' commonly means a slab of Purbeck marble, or a similar polishable limestone, with brass inlays. It is interesting that the only detail of the composition specified in the will is that the brass should bear his arms.

Though it is a relatively expensive commission from a London workshop, the quality of the drawing, particularly the facial features, is poor in comparison with the quality of the engraving. But, despite the naif appearance of the figures, the brass is impressive due to the wealth of heraldry. Sir Richard is shown in a heraldic tabard and all but one of his wives in heraldic mantles. Large sections of these heraldic garments have been cut away to receive coloured mastic inlay. The combination of these bright colours and the gilded brass would have made a most eye-catching display.

The Fitzlewes family settled in Horndon by 1438, when the head of the family was Sir Lewes John (also known as Lodowic John), son of William Fitzwilliam. He married, first, Alice, daughter of Aubrey de Vere, 10th Earl of Oxford, an alliance which raised the social position of the family very considerably. Subsequently he married Anne, widow of Sir Richard Hankford and daughter of John Montacute, 3rd Earl of Salisbury. By the time of his death in 1442 he had 5 surviving sons, all of whom bore the surname Fitzlewes, and 4 daughters. One of his daughters by his second wife, Margaret, wife of Sir William Lucy, was on her death in 1446 commemorated by a brass that also survives at Ingrave.

Sir Lewes's heir was Lewes Fitzlewes, also known by the names of Lodowick and Lewes John. He is believed to have married Margaret Stonor. As a supporter of the Lancastrian cause and a near kinsman of the de Vere family, when Edward IV seized the throne Lewes Fitzlewes was attainted and his lands in Essex forfeited. On his death between 1477 and 1480 was succeeded by his son, Sir Richard Fitzlewes, who is commemorated by the brass shown here. Richard was probably born about 1446 and on his succession initially resided at Bardwell, Suffolk, doubtless in straightened circumstances. Some of the Essex manors, including West Horndon, were, however, restored to him in 1480, but he later gained greater favour as a loyal supporter of Henry VII. He was knighted after the Battle of Stoke in 1487 and was made Banneret at the Battle of Blackheath in 1497. He is also recorded as Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1493. As the brass shows he married four times and had a good number of children. His first wife, whom he married before 1466, was Alice, daughter of John Harleston of Shimpling, Norfolk. His second wife's descent is unknown, though is has been conjectured that her name was Maud. The fact that she is shown in ordinary dress suggests that she came from a family of modest social standing. Sir Richard'shis third wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Ralph Shelton; she died in 1523 and was buried at Dagenham. Sir Richard was survived by his last wife, Joan Hornby of Lincolnshire, who subsequentky married Sir John Norton of Faversham, Kent. She is commemorated by a tomb at Faversham, but in her will, dated 1535, asked to be buried at at West Horndon, her second husband having opted to be buried at Milton with his first wife.
Sir Richard died in 1528, at the great age of about 82, having survived all his brothers and even his own sons. His heir was his grand-daughter by his eldest son John Fitzlewes, Ella, wife of John Mordaunt. Thus, despite the fecundity of Sir Richard's wives, the name of FitzLewes died with him. Perhaps this was why he chose to be commemorated by such a splendid brass celebrating in heraldry the Fitzlewes name.

The Fitzlewes brass at Ingrave is one of the many figure brasses of Essex listed and illustrated in the newly published The Monumental Brasses of Essex by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore. For further details see

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

Rubbing: © The Monumental Brasses of Essex by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (2003)

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