Monumental Brass Society

Thomas Cheyne

Date of Brass:
Drayton Beauchamp
London A


The Black Death that ravaged Europe towards the end of the 1340s stopped production of monumental brasses in England for a number of years. By 1360 the two main streams of London monumental brass design that ran in parallel for the rest of the century had been established. Designated Series A and Series B in J P C Kent’s pioneering work of stylistic analysis of military brasses published in 1949, the persons who were most probably behind the initial designs of these memorials were John de Ramsey and Richard Lakenham respectively. Each was described as a marberer, as the memorials they produced were slabs of Purbeck marble ornamented with brass inlays. Ramsey died early in 1371. Kent identified half-a-dozen brasses to men in armour belonging to the beginning of Series A that must date from Ramsey’s time. Among them is that of Thomas Cheyne, died 1368, at Drayton Beauchamp, Buckinghamshire. Cheyne’s brass is distinguished from others by the treatment of the leg defences: three very similar figures have plates covering lower legs while Cheyne perhaps has studded leather strips instead and bells below his knees. Kent placed in among the second group of five of similar date, preceded in his list only by the brass of Sir John de Cobham put by itself in group 1 as the earliest example and differentiated by plate covering only the front of the lower leg and a sway of the figure’s hips. These features hark back to the latest brasses of the time preceding the Black Death, those of the late 1330s onwards, culminating in brass of Sir Hugh Hastings, died 1347, at Elsing, Norfolk. The Cobham brass commemorates a man who died in 1354 but is most probably a number of years later and is clearly related to those of the 1360s like that of Thomas Cheyne. Another military brass of around 1360 at Bodiam, Sussex, to John Wardedieu, has the same sway of the hips yet is unrelated and stands entirely by itself.

The effigy in Drayton Beauchamp church has long been bereft of its inscription. The county historian, Lipscomb, thought it could only be that of Thomas Cheyne, to whom the reversion of the manor was granted by Edward III in October 1365, naming Cheyne as his scutifer in the grant. The manor had previously reverted to the king after the death of John, Lord Cobham. There were two men of this name. The second Baron Cobham, had died in 1354 and the third Baron Cobham did not die until 1408. The latter commemorated himself, his father and Sir Thomas Cobham with three of the other early London A military effigies at Cobham, Kent. Lipscomb notes elsewhere that Lord Cobham was the son of Mary, Countess of Norfolk, and this means that it was indeed the second baron Cobham who had previously held Drayton Beauchamp manor. He also notes that Cheyne was the king’s shield bearer. The term denoting this in Latin is scutifer, which came into French as escuyer (modern spelling écuyer), and thence into English as esquire. Edward III had various shield bearers during his long reign including the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. The official documents of Edward’s reign, mainly the various series of rolls (patent, close and fine) usually termed Thomas Cheyne the king’s yeoman and he was a trusted servant: in 1358 he was granted an annuity of 100 shillings in addition to the 100 he was already receiving and further grants of offices and lands came his way in the next ten years. The offices for life included parker of Eltham Park in 1358, a commission to keep the park and houses of Wychemer within the close of Windsor Park and in 1368 constable of Windsor castle. The same offices were given to Helmyng Leget, the king’s esquire, after Cheyne’s death. By 1361 Thomas had reponsibility for the king’s valuables and he was eventually called the keeper of the keys of the king’s coffers. He was also the escheator in Devon, overseeing the various inquisitions undertaken in that county. He was given some of the lands that had reverted to the king. The escheators files in The National Archives suggest he held this post from 18 July 1360 to 4 April 1369 but the latter date is presumably not that of his death is not clear as he was dead by February 12.

What is not entirely clear is whether he was the Thomas Cheyne who married Emma or the son of the marriage although he is said to be the member of his family from whom the place name Chenies originated. The original inscription, quoted by Lipscomb from a manuscript source that he calls Steele Mss, does nothing to clarify his position in the family tree and the wording may not be wholly accuratelt transcribed:

Limo plasmatus hic Thomas Cheyne vocatus

Armiger oratus Regis jacet infra humatus

Omnibus et gratus fuerat sermone beatus

Christi (Dei natus) hujus rege terge reatus

The Reverend Herbert Haines quoted this from Lipscomb in the first version of his manual (1847) and picked up two of the likely mistranscription, suggesting ornatus for oratus and, less certainly, intus for infra, both in the second line.


Made from earth, a man called Thomas Cheyne lies buried here, an illustrious shield-bearer of the King. He was gracious to all, and skilled in conversation. Christ, the Son of God, guide and cleanse his soul and take care of him.


Copyright: text and photo by Jon Bayliss

translation by Stephen Freeth

rubbing from Lack Stuchfield and Whittemore, The Monumental Brasses of Buckinghamshire(1994), 67

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