Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 14 June 2018


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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

June 2018, William Knyght, 1501, & wife Katherine, 1506, Norton, Northamptonshire

The Coventry workshop which produced this month's brass was fairly short-lived and made relatively few brasses, of which only six now survive. It and its less productive successor were active in the first twenty-five years of the sixteenth century, preceded in the last third of the fifteenth century by the workshop run by Robert Crosse, recorded as both marbler and mason, who had served as chamberlain of Coventry in 1479-80, sheriff in 1485 and was dead by 1506. The last Coventry workshop was active from the mid-1520s and survived the Reformation, producing its last brass in the late 1560s. Who ran it is as yet undiscovered but it used a different source of marble from its predecessors for its pre-Reformation work. They had used a liassic stone, found close to Coventry, of the type later used to imitate black Belgian ledgerstones in the Midlands. Its surface was black but it was prone to delaminate, revealing a much paler grey interior, and it was generally a poor alternative to the Purbeck marble used by London marblers and the Lincolnshire marble used by the Norwich, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge workshops. The workshop that produced the Knyght brass was probably run by William Skarborow, a Coventry marbler who took an apprentice in 1500 but is otherwise not known.

    The Knyght brass does not have of the particularly attractive figures but much contemporary London work of the time is likewise less aesthetically pleasing than much of that of the late fifteenth century. William stands with his feet splayed unnaturally on a tiled floor, as do other figures in this Coventry style, but he is the only effigy in civilian dress in this series. Katherine Knyght, wearing a pedimental headdress with lappets down, is  similar to the figures of Alice Digby, died 1506, at Coleshill, Warwickshire, and Phillipe Michell, wife of Henry, died 1510, at Floore, Northamptonshire.  The inscription gives their dates of death and calls them special benefactors of the church, although what form their benefactions too is no longer known. The present position of the inscription immediately below the effigies is not where Coventry brasses normally place inscriptions; generally they leave a gap. Presumably this change took place when the brass was transferred to its present mural position.

The Knyght family appears not to have been well-documented before the deaths of William and Katherine, but various members are recorded in the following twenty-five years, with another William Knyght of Norton acquiring lands in Norton within a year of the death of the William of the brass, some of it next to lands he already held, perhaps by descent, and more in 1504  with Thomas Knyght, clerk, that adjoined some land held by John Knyght. In 1510, William Knyght of Norton was a woolman, in 1524 Thomas Knyght of Norton was a yeoman, a term that denoted a respectable place in society below gentry status rather than an occupation, and in 1529, the late John Knyght of Norton was described as a woolman. Wool in Northamptonshire was capable of generating wealth and a rise in social status, witness the rise of the contemporary Spencer family of Althorp, whose pre-Reformation monuments at Great Brington are evidently London work. The Knyght family of Norton did not reach the sort of eminence achieved by the Spencers.