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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

August 2018, Robert, 1526, and Mary Appleton, Little Waldingfield, Suffolk

Like many pre-Reformation brasses in Suffolk, that commemorating Robert and Mary Appleton has lost its inscription. It was recorded early in the seventeenth-century by the anonymous Chorographer: On a stone the pourtrayture of a man & woman under them this epitaph

    Orate pro a'i'abus Roberti Appylton generosi et Mariae uxoris eius qui quidem Robertus obijt 27 die mensis Augusti a'o 1526 quor' a'i'abus  &c.  

    On it 4 escutcheons 1. arg a fesse sable entre 3 apples gul. stalked & leaved vert borne by the name Appylton. 2. Appylton quartered with arg. a fesse betwene 3 (cross crosslets fitchy drawn) gules, and then empaled with azur a bend betwene 6 martletes or. 3. arg. a fesse betwene 3 (cross crosslet drawn) gul. 4. azur a bend entre 6 martletes or borne by the name of Mountney.

    This was one of four inscriptions recorded by the Chorographer in the church, all to the Appleton family, three, including Robert's, in the middle of the nave and one in the south aisle. This is the only one to survive but the brasses of John Colman, died 1506, John Wyncoll, died 1544, and an unknown lady of the Brewse family are present, the latter recorded as under the organ. The Chorographer failed to spot these brasses, as did Weever, although the latter gave a further fragmentary Appleton inscription, probably provided by Robert Ryece, whose wife was a later Mary Appleton.

Did William Dowsing's deputy for this area of Suffolk also miss the same brasses in 1644-5? There is no written evidence for such a visit, as Dowsing's journal covers only those churches where he was in attendance himself and the churchwardens' accounts do not survive for this period. However the font has damage consistent with a visit of this sort. The Appleton inscriptions all began with 'Orate pro anima(bus)' and three of them had closing prayers, all objectionable in the eyes of the iconoclastic puritans that removed such wording where they found it in the mid 1640s. The surviving brasses of John Colman and John Wyncoll both have prayer clauses that should have led to them being 'corrected'. The easiest method to apply such a correction was to remove the inscription in its entirety, which accounts for many such examples in Suffolk and elsewhere in East Anglia, some of them removed in advance of visits by Dowsing and his deputies.

    The brass of Robert Appleton was made at Bury St Edmunds and set in a stone of Lincolnshire 'marble'. It retains three of the four shields described by the Chorographer. The fourth shield is recorded as formerly loose in the vestry but not found in 1938 in the appendix to Mill Stephenson's List. Not recorded by the Chorographer but probably a victim of 1640s iconoclasm were two scrolls above the heads of Robert and Mary and an image on a square plate between them. Our member Philip Whittemore reported a marbler's mark on the slab in 1989. It is barely discernible by the naked eye and is in the bottom right-hand corner of the slab. To date it is the only one reported that accompanies a brass made in Suffolk rather than in Norwich although it is likely that others exist.

    Robert Appleton was thirty years old according to the inquisition post mortem taken in 1508 following his father's death in October 1507. Thomas Appleton had married Margaret, daughter and heir of Robert Crane and their eldest son was presumably named for his maternal grand-father. Thomas and Margaret had separate brasses at Little Waldingfield and Thomas's parent John and Margaret were also commemorated there. Robert was the only one with more than a name, as he was described as a gentleman. He married Mary, daughter and so-heir of Thomas Mountney of Mountnessing in Essex. Robert owned the manor of Holbrook Hall in Little Waldingfield as well as other properties. He was succeeded by his son William when he died in 1526. It seems likely that the wealth of the family was built on the cloth trade, for which they were known in the following century. Robert's great-grandson Samuel Appleton (Robert Ryece's great-nephew) emigrated to America with his family in 1636 and the family was prominent in New England.

References: D N J MacCulloch, The Chorography of Suffolk (published in 1976 as volume 19 by the Suffolk Records  Society), p 96.

                   J Weever, Ancient Funerall Monuments (1631), p 759