Portfolio of Brasses
Each month we feature an article about a brass of particular interest.
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This month’s brass seems to have a significance that has perhaps escaped notice. At the close of the 15th century monumental brasses in Europe were characteristically Gothic memorials – either in the elegant Flemish style of Branca da Vilhana  or in the rather overloaded ‘High Gothic’ of Duke Frederick the Good of Saxony. But when in 1510 the distinguished Vischer workshop in Nuremberg was asked to produce a brass for another member of Duke Frederick’s family, they seem, not unnaturally, to have turned to a fellow townsman, Albrecht Dürer, who had done...read more
The brass to Ann Butts is one of the finest of the early seventeenth century. It can be found in the chancel of the splendid church of St Mary at Redgrave, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, which works in co-operation with the Redgrave Church Heritage Trust to care for the church.
Ann Butts died over eighty years after her father, Henry Bures, whose brass can be found at Acton, also in Suffolk. Henry died in 1528 and was commemorated by a brass made in Suffolk, at Bury St Edmunds. While Henry's effigy is a good size...read more
Today nothing remains to show the identity of the two figures on this brass; the inscription, the shields and the crest on the man's helmet are all lost. When Weever was writing in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, it was only the crest, 'a Vulture splaid', that enabled him to identify the man as a member of the Shernborne family. About two hundred years later Cotman was able to quote the inscription as Thomas Sherneborne camerar. d'ne Margarete regine Anglie et Jamine uxoris ejus quondam domincellarie ejusd' regine (Thomas Sherneborne, chamberlain to the lady Margaret, queen of...read more
Mill Stephenson describes this brass thus: M.S.I. Inscription John Repps, esq; 1561, and 2 ws., (1) Margaret., eldest daughter and co-heir of Henry Smyth by whom one son Henry and seven daughters., (2) Thomasen, daughter of Thomas Derham, by whom Ele and John, local, on a board loose.read more
This unusual brass has had a chequered history. It is of an unusual, probably unique, design, consisting of six shields, four achievements a central inscription and a most unusual marginal inscription. All may be seen as the top slab on an altar tomb. It was almost complete when Charles Parkin,...
An unrecorded rebus in Ash Church
Research is now underway for the forthcoming County Series volume, The Monumental Brasses of Kent by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore. After several forays into the county it is already becoming apparent that there are many errors, omissions and discrepancies between Mill Stephenson’s List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles (published in 1926 with an appendix 1938) and our current findings.
On a recent visit to Ash-read more
next- Wrotham, it was noted that there was a major omission from the entry...
September 2009read more
I have recently been reading, and admiring with great pleasure, the new Shire publication Monumental Brasses by Sally Badham with Martin Stuchfield. Drawing on the rich collection of 3,000 surviving brasses in the U.K., this new book also reminds us of the loss of monumental brasses which took place, especially through iconoclasm and destruction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (2) My choice for this month’s ‘Brass of the Month’ is one such lost brass, that of Ralph Hengham, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and later of the Common Bench, (d. 1311) formerly in St Paul’s Cathedral,...
F.A. Greenhill, in his magisterial work Incised Effigial Slabs, notes the presence of a slab to a leper in the Musée Archéologique, Dijon, to one Jehan Martin, ‘dit le Scot’, who was a royal serjeant at Dijon and died from leprosy there in 1583 (Vol. I, p.229; Vol. II, pl.128b). Poignantly, the slab shows the afflicted Jehan without any ears and wearing a bell at his waist to warn people of his supposed contagion. With his usual sensitivity, Greenhill ends his short account with the comment that this slab is ‘perhaps the one surviving monument to show the lugubrious...read more
Most of Charles de Gaulle airport north-east of Paris is in the commune of Roissy-en-France, and both airport and commune are usually called just Roissy. The qualifying 'en-France' indicates Roissy's location in the Ile-de-France rather than the country as a whole. The church has a splendid Renaissance chancel and retains a number of incised slabs. The four remaining effigial slabs now line the walls of the chancel. Among them is that commemorating Gabriel Pluyette, a member of a family whose monuments can be found elsewhere in the area, at Le Mesnil-Aubry and Fontenay-sous-Louvres. Ferdinard de Guilhermy chose to illustrate...read more
The prominence given to the two great periods of destruction that monumental brasses suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often masks the further losses that came about through neglect in the eighteenth century and church restorations in the nineteenth. As illustrations of the latter two periods of loss, Suffolk has examples of the loss of life size early fourteenth century figures from Letheringham and Oulton. The effigy of the rector Sir Adam de Bacon at Oulton, stolen in 1857, survived long enough to be rubbed, so that a modern replica has taken its place, but that of...read more
May 2009read more
Dorothy Brewster was the daughter of Sir Thomas Jocelyn of Willingale Doe. She was in her mid-twenties when she died on 27 June 1613 and was buried some three weeks later at Willingale Doe amongst her Jocelyn relations. Her husband was Thomas Brewster of the Middle Temple. When Thomas was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1603, he was described as Mr. Thomas Brewster, late of New Inn, gent., son and heir-apparent of John Brewster of the Middle Temple, esquire. He was bound to his father and Humfrey Brewster, the latter being the second son of Humfrey Brewster,...
On Palm Sunday 1942 the historic centre of Lübeck was devastated by RAF bombers. The three most prominent churches – the Cathedral, the Marienkirche and the Petrikirche – were extensively damaged and numerous art works were lost. At the Petrikirche the important Flemish brass of Johann Clingenberg (d. 1356) was reduced to a few scraps. Among the many treasures lost at the Marienkirche were the Dance of Death paintings by Bernt Notke, virtually all the choir screen, both of the historic organs used by Buxtehude, and a multitude of funerary monuments. The Flemish brass of Tydeman Berck was...read more
In 1965 I was between jobs, and was re-training in Bangor to become a teacher. Wales is not rich in brasses, but when my closest friend from university days, Malcolm Norris, heard where I was going, he asked if I could try to get him rubbings of some of the half-dozen brasses at Llanrwst in what then was still Denbighshire. So we made that village our destination for a family outing. The sexton was friendly, but said I might find it difficult to rub the brasses as several were now mounted in wooden frames on the wall. Sure enough,...read more
February’s brass shows a figure in academic dress.
Surlingham is on the south bank of the River Yare, a few miles east of Norwich. It formerly had two churches. That dedicated to St Saviour was treated as a chapel even though it should have enjoyed full parish status. It was abandoned in the early eighteenth in favour of St Mary’s.
John Alnwik was nominated as vicar of St Mary’s by his kinsman, William Alnwik, bishop of Norwich from 1426 to 1436. John was a fellow of New College, Oxford, by 1426 and bursar of the college in 1427-8. He was presumably...read more
January’s brass is one of many now anonymous memorials.
Not all brasses are large and magnificent memorials representing the rich and powerful. Many are relatively small and apparently insignificant but represent a cross section of middle-class England; the small trader, yeoman, craftsmen and so on. Sometimes even their identity does not remain in either the brass or in other records.
One such is this unknown civilian, now mounted on a block of Iroko wood and bolted to the North Wall of St Mary¹s Church, Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire. It is one of relatively few brasses remaining in the county of Cromwell.
December’s brass is one members saw during the excursion to the Nene Valley earlier this year.
The Bacon family is usually associated with East Anglia but a branch was established in Northamptonshire by Edward Bacon, who was descended from the Bacons of Hessett in Suffolk, in the early seventeenth century. Edward's eldest son, Thomas, was recorded in the heralds' visitation of Northamptonshire in 1618 as seventeen years old. Eight years later, he had a monument with a brass erected to his wife, who died on 29 January 1626 (or 1627 by modern reckoning). The brass is evidently of London manufacture,...read more
November’s brass combines a shrouded effigy with a long verse epitaph.
The practice of engraving the deceased in a burial shroud draws attention to the frailty of man. This sombre message is reinforced in the closing words of the inscription on this poignant brass commemorating Ann Tyrell (1638) at Stowmarket, Suffolk:
“And (by her early gravity, appearing
full ripe for God, by serving and by fearing)
to teach the old, to fixe on him their trust,
before their bodies shall returne to dust.”
We only catch a glimpse of the face of Ann who died at the tender age...read more
The Much Married Spycer of Cirencester: the brass of Reginald Spycer (d. 1442)
The parish church of St John the Baptist, Cirencester, contains a number of remarkable monumental brasses from the fifteenth century.1 Together with St Peter and St Paul, Northleach, and St James, Chipping Camden, Cirencester forms part of the ‘triumvirate’ of wool churches in the Cotswolds. The wealth of these churches is not only reflected in the magnificent architectural features but also in the extent of the funerary commemoration of the parishioners, in the form of brasses, within them.2
1. I am grateful to Martin Stuchfield, Rupert...read more
September's brass commemorates a neighbour of the Paston family.
Stokesby is in the area known today as the Norfolk Broads. Nearby is Mautby, where Margaret Paston was buried in 1484 alongside her ancestors, and beyond Mautby are Caister and Ormesby. Ormesby was the seat of William Clere, Edmund’s grandfather. Edmund’s father Robert was a younger son, as was Edmund himself, but Edmund outlived his brothers, who died without heirs, and so inherited Stokesby from his father, who had been left it in his mother’s will. Edmund had a first cousin of the same name, a younger son of John, William...read more
August's contribution is a brass that was engraved engraved c. 1467, c. 1630 and c. 1850.
The remarkable collection of brasses at Stopham, near Pulborough in Sussex, deserves a full and detailed account, but this one is offered as a sample of the difficulties in store when it comes to disentangling just when, why and by whom the Stopham brasses were made. The series of brasses to the ruling family runs from 1428 to 1977 (so far), although there was a period between the late seventeenth and mid nineteenth centuries when they were commemorated by inscribed marble tablets instead of...read more
July’s brass usually resides in a hinged wooden frame on the east wall of the north aisle of the church of St Margaret of Antioch in Rochester, Kent. However it is not there at present as it is currently being conserved. The brass is palimpsest, i.e. it is engraved on both sides and the hinged frame allowed both sides to be viewed. Various vicissitudes overtook it in the nineteenth century and the metal is so thin that it can hardly support its own weight. As R..A..S. Macalister said when he spoke to the Society in 1891 (C.U.A.B.C. Transactions Vol.read more
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