Brass of the Month

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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

April 2018,William & Joan Strode, 1649, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

This month's brass was represented by a replica in the Society's 1996 Exhibition 'Crown and Commonwealth' at the Commandery in Worcester. It is illustrated here from that replica. The original brass is somewhat darker even though it was cleaned before 1933, when it was photographed for A B Connor's Monumental Brasses in Somerset, published in twenty-two annual parts between 1931 and 1953 and finally appearing in book form in 1970.

As a colonel in the parliamentary army during the Civil War, William Strode was only too familiar with the wearing of the sort of armour he is depicted wearing. He had also been Member of Parliament for Ilchester until 1648, when he was ejected during Pride's Purge, arrested and imprisoned as a notorious firebrand. He was the third son of a Shepton Mallet clothier, also named William Strode, and followed in his father's footsteps as a cloth merchant. He must have been successful in his business as he was able to marry the daughter and heir of another clothier, Joan, when she was in her mid-teens and to buy various properties in Somerset, including Barrington Court from the Phelips family of Montacute in 1625.

    The brass that William Strode had made after Joan's death in 1649 was a very substantial rectangular plate that depicts their family, although those children who had died are represented both by gravestones in the foreground, with shields of arms for the boys and a lozenge of arms for the one dead daughter, and heads wearing heavenly crowns peering over the walls of the chapel. William, with his sons behind him, and Joan, her daughters behind her, kneel either end of a tomb-chest from which a skeleton, representing death, emerges both the spear Joan with a dart and to hand her a wreath of laurel leaves. William reaches out as if to restrain the fatal blow.  Joan's own heavenly crown is descending from the clouds with a scroll reading Vincenti dabitur (It shall be given to the conqueror). In front of the tomb-chest is a shield with eight quarterings, the first for Strode: ermine on a canton sable a crescent gules, and the last for William Strode's mother's family, Upton, sable a cross moline argent. Hung from the architecture top left and right respectively are shield for Strode and Joan's family, Barnard, argent a bear salient sable bridled of the field. Two further shields impale Strode and Barnard. Whether the classical chapel interior depicted had the slightest resemblance to the Strode chapel of Shepton Mallet church is debatable as the chapel was incorporated into the north aisle when that was widened and rebuilt in 1837, removing any evidence. The largest feature of the brass is the Latin inscription with a concluding Biblical quote in English, the whole resembling a modern drop-down projector screen. The brass is mounted in a substantial oak frame that is surmounted by three armorial cartouches and supported by two more.    

    The Strode family illustrates the divisions caused by the fracture between the monarchy and parliament: George Strode, William's brother, had made his way to London and done well. He whole-heartedly supported the king, was knighted in 1641 and badly wounded at the Battle of Edgehill the following year but recovered to die in 1663, only three years before William. William had challenged royal authority in Shepton Mallet in July 1641 in one of the brawls that preceded the formal commencement of hostilities. Yet in 1627, the brothers had together converted buildings in Shepton Mallet for almshouses, a chapel and a school with a house for a schoolmaster and in 1657 they issued regulations for the working of their charity.