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Fig. 66

Fig. 67

Combining my growing interest in medieval brasses with a military theme, I visited the church of St. Michael and St. Mary, Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, for it is said that it holds the second earliest brass in the land – to Sir Roger de Trumpington, who died in 1289, (Fig. 66). Sir Roger went to the Holy Land in 1270 and fought alongside Price Edward (later Edward I). Sir Roger’s brass is to be found in the north aisle and forms part of an impressive Purbeck marble tomb (Fig. 67). I was very interested to be in the presence, albeit dead, of a man who led an astonishingly adventurous life and who must have seen many of the abominations and cruelties the medieval period is often known for – maybe he perpetrated a few himself?


The oldest monumental brass has always been reputed to be at Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey, dated 1277. However, this unique brass to Sir John d’Abernon – he carries both a lance and a sword – is dated 1325 on the Church’s website and 1327 on the website of the Monumental Brass Society. One assumes, if the date of Sir Roger de Trumpington is correct, and, indeed, it is Sir Roger represented (it could be Sir Roger’s son, Giles, or his grandson, {another}Roger), then his brass is the oldest in England. Sir Roger’s brass is rare not only for its age, but also because he is shown with legs crossed, of which there are, reputedly, only some half-dozen examples in existence. Chistopher Howse in an article for The Telegraph (25th May, 2006), entitled, Sacred Mysteries: Why a Lion Makes a Good Footrest, gives a date for the Trumpington brass as 1323, still making it older than Sir John d’Abernon. However, I was curious to establish if there were any brasses between 1289-1323, to secure a possible alternative candidate to the Trumpington brass as the earliest monumental brass in Britain. I could find nothing of use on the internet so I chose to go through the ‘Outstanding Brasses in Britain’ section of Malcolm Cook’s, Discovering Brasses (1969, Shire Publications). I did indeed find monumental brasses that fall between these years. Let me record what I found, in ascending order.


There is a military brass at Pebmarsh, Essex (1323); an ecclesiastical brass at Merton College Chapel, Oxfordshire (1320); a military brass at Gorleston, Suffolk (1320); an ecclesiastical brass at York, Minster, Yorkshire (1315); a civilian brass at Pitstone, Buckinghamshire (1310); a civilian brass at Trotton, Sussex (c. 1310); a military brass at Chartham, Kent, dated 1306; a military brass at Acton, Suffolk (1302); a military brass at Buslingthorpe, Lincolnshire (1300); a military brass at Croft, Lincolnshire (1300) and a undesignated brass at Hereford Cathedral, Herefordshire (1290). Of course, there may be brasses that fall between 1289-1323 that are not ‘choice brasses’ as given by Cook, but, at the very least, we have here extremely early examples of the three types – ecclesiastical, military and civilian. There are no notable brasses of this date to be found in Scotland, Wales or Ireland. A fourth type, ‘shroud brasss’ does not appear.























Fig. 68


It is impossible to photograph the brass of Sir Roger de Trumpington in situ for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is covered in thick glass/perspex which is encased in a wooden frame and locked down. Secondly, the light from the nearby windows generates many reflections, so much so that it is actually difficult to make the brass out clearly. Thirdly, the brass is a metre off the ground atop a table tomb and so I had to stand on a chair to get what images I could. However, whilst I could not overcome these obstacles, I decided to use the reflections to best effect. Figure 68 shows a composition, as I took it, with the Silvertone effect to highlight the brass. It is the best image of Sir Roger I took and I think may have some considerable mileage in it for artwork! The upper west side of his tomb can be seen clearly in the reflection, as can the stone slab, either side, upon which the brass is laid. 



                                    Fig. 69                            Fig. 70


Figure 69 is a detail of Sir Roger Trumpington’s chain mail, whilst Figure 70 is a detail of Sir John de Creke’s chain mail (see below). Both are examples of ‘banded’ mail (the other being ‘linked’ mail, worn by Sir John d’Abernoun). Chain mail was worn up to about 1320, after which it was mixed with plate armour. The brass to Sir John Creke, below (Fig. 72), marks the beginning of this transitional stage – note the shin guards (bainbergs), upper arm guards (rerebraces), forearm guards (vambraces), and foot guards (sollerts), for example.








                                         Fig. 71                         Fig. 72


Figure 71 shows Geoffrey de Fransham, from the chancel of Great Fransham Church, dated 1415. Figures 66 and 71 represent the types of armour worn a century apart. The size of the Fransham  brass causes the unavoidable perspective problem, as before.


Figure 72 is of Sir John and Lady Aleyne de Creke, dated 1325, and comes from Westley Waterless Church, Cambridgeshire. It is, thus, an extremely early brass. As H. H. Trivick wrote in his, Craft and Design of Monumental Brasses (J. Baker, 1969): ‘Surely there's no other husband and wife on brass who express dignity, nobility, refinement and elegance better than the two figures of Sir John and Lady de Creke’ (p. 61) ‘probably one of the most elegant and gracefull military brasses ever designed’ (p. 58). I show enlargements here (Figs. 73 & 74). It is the earliest brass in England to show a knight and his (first) wife.











                                     Fig. 73                             Fig. 74















                                     Fig. 75                   Fig. 76


Figure 75 shows a copy of the brass of Sir Hugh Hastings, dated 1347, at Elsing Church, here leaning against the west nave wall. Unfortunately, the original is in the chancel under lock and key (Fig. 76). You can see it by appointment. I hate it when, after a long trip, you encounter this kind of thing. A copy is just not the same; surely they could have covered it in glass like the Trumpington brass. The original was described by Pevsner as being ‘the most sumptous of all English church brasses’, whilst the church leaflet describes it as ‘one of the most important in Europe’, and it apparently contained red, blue and gold glass and enamel. I wonder what Sir Hugh, whose brass effigy is 5ft 6in in height, and who had no doubt prepared his impressive memorial during his lifetime, would have thought of being nearly permantently encased? One thing is for sure though, that wear and tear of the original is elimated – assuming it doesn’t corrode due to damp and lack of air flow! Hastings and his wife, Margaret, actually built the church at Elsing in gratitude for his safe return from the French wars.













Fig. 77


I wanted to include Figure 77 as I thought the juxtaposition of the brass to Sir Thomas Shernborne and his wife (d. 1458), once set in the floor and now mounted on the north wall of the chancel at Shernborne Church, stone slab included, and the two chairs, worked really well. It is as though the chairs have been laid on their backs and I thought the composition may prove interesting for a future painting.


















Fig. 78


Figures 78–82 form one of my favourite items – what the Japanese call sabi, best translated in English as, ‘mellowed by use’ and the similar, worn by use.


I have shown Figure 78 before in my Inspirational Excursions on this website under the heading, The School Room at Salle Church, Norfolk, to which I refer the reader, but I couldn’t resist showing it one more time. The photograph shows where priests and children have held on since the early 15th century whilst navigating the steep, dark, and narrow spiral staircase that leads to a parvise, which would have been used as a Lady Chapel and schoolroom. The stone is not only as smooth as silk, but is so polished that it shines when light is upon it. 














Fig. 79


I love finding worn steps. Figure 79 shows where priests have stepped for six hundred years and worn away the stone so that it is completely smooth and indented. This original turret door, situated on the south-west nave corner of Salle Church, leads to a parvise that would have acted as the church’s treasury and sacristy.

Fig. 80


Figure 80 shows the worn step leading from the south porch into the nave at Toftrees Church. This church is interesting because it has a splendid Norman font and Saxon quoins in the west nave walls. The south doorway is 13th century, so one imagines that this wearing is a result of parishioners treading on the step for between 600-700 years.
















Fig. 81


Figure 81 shows where priests, students and lecturers alike have stepped repeatedly at the entrance to Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Peterhouse is the oldest Cambridge college, having been founded in 1284. I don’t know for how many centuries this stone has been sited here but, given its wear, it could well be original. This photograph is misleading because of the puddle, but the stone has the deepest indent of any I have ever seen.





















Fig. 82


Figure 82 shows the worn step leading to the old dining room (beyond the steps to the left), the old kitchen (beyond the steps to the right) and Old Court (straight ahead), from Cloister Court, at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Many famous people have contributed to the wear on this step, including Erasmus, who was at the college from 1506-1516, Saint John Fisher and John Frith (both of whom died as a consequence of religious intolerance in the 16th century), and a number of kings and queens of England. It’s a small world, for Queens’ college was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and Thomas Shernborne and his wife (Fig. 77) were chamberlain and maid of honour to Queen Margaret, respectively.

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