Monumental Brass Society

Thomas, son of Thomas Pye

Date of Brass:


February 2020

Brasses commemorating children were far more common than sculpted monuments until James I and VI commemorated two small daughters early in the seventeenth century. Thereafter monumental sculpture memorialising children became much more frequent.

A late sixteenth-century brass to a child can be found in Brightling church in Sussex. It commemorates Thomas, only son of Thomas Pye, Doctor of Sacred Theology, whose surname was appropriately latinised to Pius. 

Young Thomas kneels on a cushion in prayer. He wears a gown that indicates he was very young, as at that time both male and female children wore the same clothing for their first few years. Scrolls either side of him proclaim that 'the Lord gave, the Lord has taken away' and 'Live pious, die pious'. The plate above the figure identifies him as being snatched away at an immature age and that his mourning father placed this memorial. 

The inscription below is a verse epitaph with the date of death:

O happy child: while thou livedst, of all Beloved & wondred at
for natures giftes, surpassing farre Thy age and tender state
But now of god beloved most, who from this world of woe,
Thy soul to himselfe so soone hath caught, and caused hence to goe:
Before that it had snared bene, with sinne and satans lore:
Or weryed were with worldly care: Thrise happy child therfore.
obijt Junij 4 1592.

Thomas Pye senior was rector of Brightling from 1590. He must be the Thomas Pye listed in Alumni Oxonienses who had been rector of Earnley-with-Almodington in 1586, canon of Chichester in 1587 and vicar and schoolmaster of Bexhill in 1589, all in Sussex. His will was made on 20 December 1609 and proved on 20 March 1609/10.

He had been born in Darlaston, Staffordshire, now in the midst of the Black Country and probably busy even then with nailers and other metal workers. A couple of years before he died he gave money to build the tower of Darlaston church. He was chaplain at Merton College in 1581, a Bachelor of Divinity on 21 July 1585 and Doctor of Divinity on 4 July 1588 aside from serving as rector of Newton Toney in Wiltshire between 1577 and 1589.

Pye's incumbency at Bexhill continued until his death in 1609. He repaired a ruined chantry chapel on the north side of the chancel in 1597 and turned it into a schoolroom. His will requested burial in it. He left money to the poor of Brightling. Anthony a Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses describes Pye as having enough learning to be a dean or a bishop.

Thomas Pye was also responsible for the brass of Francis Yarnold, MA, died 1587, in Merton College Chapel. Yarnold had previously been at Brasenose College but was at Merton by 1585. He drowned in Rewley Lock on 18 June 1587. His inscription in Hebrew, Greek and Latin is no doubt Pye's work and includes the same Vive pius, Moriere pius phrase as the 1592 brass. So it is likely that the inscriptions on his son's brass, including the English verse, are also his.

© Jon Bayliss


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