Brass of the Month

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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

November 2016, Thomas Holte, 1545, & wife Margery,

Aston, Warwickshire


'Coventry Style Brasses', MBS Bulletin, 4 (December 1973), p 8

Birmingham Archaeological Society Transactions, vol 54 (1929-30), pp 73-74

Today the parish church of St Peter and St Paul stands opposite the grounds of a major stately house, Aston Hall, a green oasis in the urban sprawl of Birmingham. Aston Hall was begun in the 1618 by Thomas Holte's grandson, the first baronet. The Holte family can be traced back to the early fourteenth-century and purchased the manor of Aston in the mid 1360s.

    Thomas Holte was a Middle Temple lawyer and Justice of North Wales. He was also one of the commissioners charged by Henry VII with taking the surrender of Warwickshire religious houses during the Reformation. He married Margery Willington, the daughter of a merchant of the staple from Barcheston. His brass comes from a Coventry workshop. In the early 1970s Roger Greenwood identified three series of Coventry brasses although a small fourth series fitting between Series 2 and 3 has since been recognised. Thomas Holte's brass comes about 20 years into the production sequence of Series 3 and is one of the later effigial ones although the workshop produced a limited number of inscription brasses into the 1560s.

    The Coventry workshops were much further inland than any other other provincial shop producing brasses. The earlier series were mostly set in local liassic stone but the slab at Aston has been described as 'a sandy, greenish, entro mostracan limestone' probably originating from either the Halesowen Sandstone group or overlying the Keele and Corley group, widely found north of Coventry. Perhaps the unsuitability of the earlier stone had been recognised – it has a tendency to delaminate. The Aston slab is now set upright. It has lost the effigies of the son and two daughters and small parts of the marginal inscription but the most noticeable loss is that of Thomas Holte's head. A particular characteristic of Series 3 brasses is that they show that engraved prints had rather more influence on its designs than the output of most workshops. At Aston this manifests in the way that the clothing of Thomas and Margery Holte is depicted. The engraved lines terminating in forks and triangles combined with those of a more angular nature and areas of shading give the impression that the figures are dressed in clothing made of heavy material. The approach is that of German print engravers of the early years of the sixteenth-century, notably the earlier work of Albrecht Dürer. It is a characteristic shared with the figures produced by a couple of other workshops of the time, one in London and the other probably in Canterbury, but it is taken rather further in Coventry work. Like most other female figures from the workshop, Margery Holte has the front of the hem of her skirt lifted up, but the material is not looped over their arms to achieve this. In contrast earlier ladies of Coventry Series 1 brasses do have the material of their dresses looped over their arms to lift up the front of the hem. Van Leemput's copy of Holbein's 1537 Whitehall mural of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York likewise does not show how the latter was holding up her skirt but a study by Holbein of a young English woman in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford shows that this was achieved by attaching clips with straps to the front of the skirt. The treatment of Thomas Holte's mantle is less convincing than on his wife's dress. They both stand on bases with 'milled' edges, extensively used on other brasses from this series.

The figures of the children on the rubbing were taken from replicas made by the late Stan Budd, a great enthusiast for Warwickshire brasses.