Thomas and Alice Flete
- Date of Brass:
- Norwich 1
The floor of St Botolph’s church in Boston, Lincolnshire, preserves to an exceptional extent, the incised slabs and the monumental brasses (or in most cases their indents). All were written up and illustrated in an excellent publication by Sally Badham and Paul Cockerham in 2012 but recent research has uncovered more details of Thomas Flete, who died in 1450.
The exact social status of Thomas Flete was not clear in 2012, the best estimate then being that he was possibly an attorney. Evidence from the Court of Common Pleas suggests that he was a merchant: in 1430 he and Thomas Bowyer, another Boston merchant, took action against a burgess of Bishop’s Lynn. In May 1430 Richard Benyngton, Thomas Flete and others unnamed were tasked to collect £160. Their names appear in a list in the Patent Rolls of men charged with collecting other sums from various places in south-east Lincolnshire (either the original clerk or the later transcriber managed to omit the name of Boston as the location). By October 1431 he had come to the attention of those close to the king, for Thomas Chaucer, the Chief Butler, appointed Flete to be his deputy in Boston. By 1435 Flete had joined Benyngton as a collector of Customs and Subsidies for the port of Boston, a post he kept until 1447, John Tamworth replacing Benyngton from the late 1430s. Collectors of subsidies were in a position to become wealthy men as they were set an amount to collect and could keep any excess but would have to make up any shortfall themselves. For Flete to undertake this task for so many years suggests that he had no great difficulty in carrying it out.
The Flete family originated from Fleet Hargate, close to Holbeach on the southern edge of the Wash. They were particularly influential both locally and nationally at this period. Sir William Flete, who died in 1425, was a local landowner, while Simon Flete esquire, died 1430, was keeper of the privy wardrobe to Henry IV and MASTER OF THE ARMOURIES under Henry V, whom he accompanied to France during the Agincourt campaign, and was there made controller of Harfleur. At this time, Simon made a gift of his lands to William Flete, a rich Lincolnshire merchant, who was by that time a citizen of London and was given a contract to supply Harfleur. William was MP for Hertfordshire in the 1410s and 20s. Both Simon and William had property in the region of the Wash. Another William Flete was a member of the Mercers Company and left money to the Guild of St Laurence at Fleet and for work on the church there when he did in 1444. Everard Flete was Warden of the Mercers Company four times during this period. Unfortunately there is no evidence of the exact family relationship of any of these men had to Thomas.
Thomas Flete was Mayor of the Staple of Boston on at least two occasions. He was also involved with the religious guilds of Boston, especially that of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He died in 1450 and hs brass had the following inscription:
Ecce fub hoc lapide Thomas Flete sistit humatus,
Vi mortis rapidæ generosus semp. vocitatus ;
Hic quisquis fleteris ipsum precibus memoreris,
Sponsam defunctam simul Aliciam sibi junctam ;
M. C quater quadringeno quoque deno,
Martia quarta dics exitat ei requies.
It translates as:
Behold under this stone rests Thomas Flete buried
after the swift stroke of death; he was always called a gentleman,
Whoever you be that stand here, remember him in your prayers,
together with his decaeased wife Alice who was joined to him.
A thousand, four times a hundred, forty and ten,
the fourth day of March, may rest exist for him.
Humphrey Castell, the son and heir of Nicholas Castell of Raveningham and Horningtoft, Norfolk, inherited a messuage in Boston and a share of other lands in Lincolnshire from his mother Margaret, daughter of William Spaigne. Despite having to petition the Lord Chancellor to receive his inheritance, by the early 1440s he was resident in Lincolnshire. It was presumably in Boston that he met and married Margaret, daughter of Thomas Flete. Like her father’s, Margaret’s own brass at Raveningham comes from the Norwich 1 workshop run by Thomas Sheef, her father’s made in the early years of the workshop, hers right at the end. After Castell’s death in 1461, she married Ralph Willoughby. The brass of Thomas Flete and Alice was a large composition with their figures under a double canopy with a helmet and shield on the central pinnacle of the canopy. The indent survives as does a rubbing of the female effigy.1 The pet dog at the bottom of her skirt was a feature of London made brasses but used only infrequently on brasses in the N.1 style. The Flete brass is laid in a Lincolnshire marble that Sheef made use of extensively, although he used Purbeck marble and black Belgian marble too.
The marriage between Humphrey Castell and Margaret, daughter of Thomas Flete, was missed in the heraldic visitations of Norfolk in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but was given in the Castell descent by Charles Parkin in the description of Raveningham in his continuation of Blomefield’s History of Norfolk. Thomas Flete is described as ‘Esq.’ but the dates seem to fit with Thomas’s known career and later members of the Castell family may have made an assumption about the social standing of Thomas Flete. The case in which Humphrey Castell was acting as Flete’s executor does not give any rank to Flete but Castell is called armiger [esquire].
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
1 S. Badham, ‘An indent at St. Botolph’s church, Boston’, MBS Bulletin 106 (September 2007), 115–6; S. Badham, ‘‘From remembrance almost araced’: The Brasses and Indents of St Botolph’s Church, Boston’ in P. Cockerham and S. Badham, eds ‘The beste and fayrest of al Lincolnshire’: The Church of St Botolph, Boston, Lincolnshire and its Medieval Monuments, BAR British Series, 554 (2012), 105–6 and Figs. 6.7, 6.8 & 6.9.
- © Monumental Brass Society (MBS) 2023
- Registered Charity No. 214336