Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 05 August 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

August 2015 -  Thomas Capp, 1545/6, Norwich, St Stephen


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This month's brass is one that will be seen by those attending the Society's Norwich conference next month. It commemorates Thomas Capp, D. C. L., vicar of St Stephen's church in Norwich, who died in 1545/6.  

    When this brass was listed by Mill Stephenson in A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles in 1926, he failed to identify it as 'local'. It is in fact the work of two different Norwich workshops. To the late Roger Greenwood, a vice president of the Society and first editor of its Bulletin, we owe a great deal for his epic work in identifying the output of the different Norwich workshops. He found that seven different styles of lettering could be attributed to Norwich marblers in a period of around a hundred years from the 1440s to the very early 1550s. Thomas Capp's inscription is one of the latest and belongs to a large group that Roger tentatively associated with the marbler William Thacker, who made his will in 1551/2, although it was not proved until 1563. Will evidence, unknown to Roger, strongly suggests that Thacker took over an existing workshop in the 1530s and continued to make very similar brasses. Capp's inscription is one of two in the church  of the mid-1540s that are attached to earlier effigies. The other one is that of Ele Buttry, prioress of Campsea Ash, who died in 1546. It has long been recognised that her figure is much earlier that her date of death, dating from around 1410. In addition to providing a new inscription for this earlier brass, Thacker had also cut a small plate showing two bedesmen sitting in a grassy meadow to fit between the figure and the inscription. Presumably he was using an earlier slab that had an indent for a longer figure and the addition of the new plate disguised the slab's reuse. In the case of Capp's brass, Thacker was also using an existing slab brass plus an old brass effigy and had only to engrave a new inscription and fit the components together.

    Both the Buttry and Capp brasses are set in slabs of Purbeck marble, which was a material that was not used for Norwich made brasses once an alternative supply of stone had been established in the early part of the second half of the fifteenth-century. This is indicative of reuse of old slabs. The earlier figure reused for the Capp brass had been produced by a short-lived but very productive Norwich workshop in the period 1502-1506. This can be demonstrated by comparing the face of the effigy with others produced by this workshop. This is not the only instance of the combination of a figure from the 1502-1506 workshop with an inscription from the larger later group but the date of that inscription, 1505, is most likely an indication that the earlier workshop was succeeded directly by the later, which was completing an unfinished brass for the same client.

    Thomas Capp was a Cambridge graduate, awarded a B.A. in 1493 and B. Civ. L. in 1501-2. His doctorate in Canon Law in thought to date from 1512. He had been ordained a sub-deacon at Lincoln in March 1501 but his known later appointments were in Norwich, where he was an official of the Archdeaconry of Norwich in 1524, a prebend of the cathedral 1530-1535, and Master of the Hospital of St Giles as well as vicar of St Stephen's. He is depicted wearing a cope. He died on 11 February 1545/6. It is noticeable that his inscription in Latin is undamaged whereas Prioress Buttry's English inscription has the first and fourth words of 'Praye for the soule' obliterated although 'on whose soule Jesu have m[er]cy' is untouched. On the inscription commemorating Robert Grene, a former mayor of Norwich, who did in 1541, 'pray' and 'soule' have been obliterated on the first line. On the brass to Richard and Christian Brasyer, a single word of their inscription in Latin has been obliterated but the inscription to John Frakissh, 1498, has escaped unscathed.  St Stephen's was not the only church in Norwich to suffer this type of iconoclasm but none of the surviving parish records for the city's churches specifically record such work on brasses in the 1640s when most of this type of damage was being inflicted on brasses.

    Such iconoclasm would have been a complete anathema to William Thacker, whose outspoken views on the religious reforms under Henry VIII brought him into such serious conflict with the authorities that he was very lucky to survive and continue with his work of making brasses. Even he, however, had to bow to the economic realities of the high copper alloys prices after 1525 and the easy availability of old metal and marble slabs after the Reformation, as his reuse of older brasses and Purbeck marble slabs for the Buttry and Capp memorials demonstrates.

For information on Norwich-made  brasses, please refer to The Brasses of Norfolk Churches by Roger Greenwood and Malcolm Norris, (1976) chapter 3, ‘East Anglian styles of Brasses in Norfolk’.