Monumental Brass Society

William Armorer

Date of Brass:
All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London
Lytkott, Script 8


December 2007

On the floor of the Northwest corner of the sanctuary of the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, close to the Tower of London, lies a smallish (58cm x 48cm) plate which is December’s Brass of the Month. It is dated 1560 and commemorates William Armorer, his wife Elizabeth, their three sons and two daughters. It is a Lytkott style brass using Script 8, and is not noted as being palimpsest, despite having been taken up from time to time as we shall see below.
The engraving of the figures is very light so that, except close-up (fig.2), they are quite difficult to make out, such that a nineteenth century rector of All Hallows, the Reverend Joseph Maxwell, wrote in his “Notes on the Sepulchral Brasses” of 1860 that the brass “deserves no particular notice.” These figures turn out to be William, in armour, and his wife, kneeling, with a coat of arms between them and their children behind them. They are kneeling on a tiled floor, with his helm and gauntlets on the floor in front of him. The heraldry is described by Maskell as “On a chevron between three dextra hands erect, or, two pullets between three demi fleurs-de-lis”. The motto above their heads reads, split between two labels, “Lyve to dye” and “is the waye to lyfe”, while below them are lines, described by Maskell as “quaint rhymes of which the sentiment is better than the verse”:
He that lyveth so in this worlde
That god is pleased with all
He need not at the judgment day
Feare nothing at all
Therfore in peace lie downe will we
And take our rest and slepe
And offer to god in sacrifice
Our bodies and soules to kepe.
Unto that day that god shall call
Our bodies to rise agayne
Then we with other shall come together
To Glorify his Name.
Below these lines is the epitaph:
Willm Armar Esquier, Sarvaunt to Kinge Henry the Eight,
Edward the syxte, Quene Mary and Quene Elizabeth (one
And Fyftie yeares) (Governor of the pages of honor) and
Fre of the Citie of London & of ye Company of Clothworkre
And heare under lies buried with Elizabeth his wyf. We
Beleve in the Blode of Christ only to Ryse agayne to
Everlastyng Lyfe: Ano Dni Mc CCCCC LX
In the 1633 edition of Stow’s Anatomy of London the brasses in All Hallows are described as being “in the chancell on the ground neere to one another”, but by the 1840’s this one was on the second pillar of the South aisle where, according to Thomas Howell, churchwarden and member of The Clothworkers’ Company, it had “fallen into decay”. He suggested that it might be “regilded and painted for £5 or less”. The Court of the Company ordered that it be “repaired, involving a sum not exceeding £6 6s”, and on 6th December 1843 the Court Orders read, “ The restoration of Armar’s monument in All Hallows Barking has been accomplished and Mr Howell has added a brass plate recording the Clothworkers’ part therein”. A contemporary rubbing shows the repaired brass complete with a modest Clothworkers’ plate beneath (fig 3 ). However, in the archives of the Company there exists the original design for this plate (fig 4), but it must have taken the estimate to over six guineas!
All Hallows must have suffered severely from damp in that era because in 1926 Mill Stephenson notes that the brass is still on its pillar in the South Aisle, “restored by the Clothworkers’ Co. in 1843, but now much corroded”. Only fourteen years later, on 29th December 1940, the church was bombed and burned out in the blitz, but by great good fortune the brasses survived within the remains of the church which were asphalted over until 1951 to prevent pilfering. A long-forgotten hero, the verger, Commissioned Gunner C.W. Tissaw R.N. (retired) recovered all the brasses so that we can enjoy them today. William Armourer’s brass has returned to the floor of the chancel from whence it came and appears to be in good condition, with no sign of damp, nor of the 1843 Clothworkers’ plate.

 It would appear that the Armourer family came to London from Norwell in Nottinghamshire in the late 15th century. In those days an earlier William Armourer (also known as Smyth) was the brother-in-law of one John Cromwell, ancestor of Thomas, and the families lived together in a fulling mill at Wimbledon. This could go some way to explaining the later William’s membership of The Clothworkers' Company, which had been formed in 1528 by the merger of the Fullers’ and the Shearmen’s Companies.
William’s fifty-one years as a royal servant would have started at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign. The Pages of Honour, or henchmen, were sons of gentlemen who walked near the king’s horse in public processions. His wife was employed in making shirts for the king and several of his attendants, and a number of payments to her are recorded in The Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII.
William was proud of his royal service and of his membership of The Clothworkers’ Company and Stow (1633) records a notice in All Hallows church of “God’s blessings bestowed on the poore of this Parish, by the benevolence and charity of wel-disposed people……. Given by Mr William Armourer, to hold for tenne years, one load of Charcoales, and two hundred of Faggots, by his wife to be delivered every Christmasse, to and amongst the poore of the same parish”. He was buried in All Hallows on 3rd October 1559.
There remains a post script: another William Armourer, also with a wife named Elizabeth, was elected Master of The Clothworkers’ Company in July 1560, nine months after the older William had died. He could have been the latter’s son, but this is not certain, although membership of the same Livery Company makes it likely that they were related.

A Sixteenth Century Workshop, by John Page-Phillips, Monumental Brass Society, 1999.
Notes on the Sepulchral Brasses of All Hallows Barking, by Joseph Maskell, 1860.
Collections in Illustration of the Parochial History and Antiquities of the Ancient Parish Church of All Hallows Barking, by Joseph Maskell, 1864.
The Survey of London, by John Stow, 1633.
Archives of The Clothworkers’ Company.
The Monumental Brasses of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, by C.G.Misselbrook, 1964.
The Privy Purse Expences of Henry VIII, ed. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, 1827.

Copyright: Michael Harris

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