Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 06 May 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

May 2015 -  William de Audley, 1365, Horseheath, Cambridgeshire


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Sir James de Audley came into possession of the principal manor of Horseheath in the 1250s and it passed in turn to his three sons but Alice, widow of Robert de Beauchamp and mistress of Sir James, claimed the manor. William, the third son of Sir James, released the manor to Alice and her son by Sir James, another James, in 1278. James took the name de Audley, and was dead by 1286, leaving an infant son, another James. Although the manor briefly reverted to a grandson of Sir James de Audley, Alice's grandson was back in possession at his death in 1335, his widow Margaret holding it until their son William, the subject of this month's brass took possession. He died without issue in or around 1365, passing it to his brother Thomas, who died himself in 1372. James, son of Thomas died young and the manor then passed to his sister Elizabeth and her husband, John Rose. Eventually it came into the hands of a great-grandson of the original Sir James Audley. In 1397 it was sold. The new owners, the Alington family, kept it for a little over two hundred years and it is their monuments that dominate the chancel of the church.

    William de Audley's brass has his figure and that of an angel, originally one of a pair placing his helm on his head. The top portion of the Purbeck marble slab has gone as have all the other brass components, namely the canopy and the marginal inscription although a small portion of the latter survived long enough to be rubbed. The figure is an early product of the London B workshop. Dr J P C Kent, whose study published in 1949 laid the foundation for the study of brasses by workshop style over the rest of the last century, compared it most closely with the fragmentary figure at Methwold (Sir Adam de Clyfton, 1367, which I am now more convinced than ever came from Wymondham Abbey, then a priory), a brass  featured here in May 2007). Kent noted that the brass at Horseheath was the first to introduce the cheerily grinning lion that survived in modified form far into the following century. A later version of the same lion can be seen on the brass of William's second cousin, Sir Thomas de Audley, died 1385, at Audley in Staffordshire. Dr Kent's method was to compare individual miltary effigies with each and to arrange them into different syles and to produce sub-groups within those styles of brasses so similar to each other that they must have been produced over very short periods. In this way he identified six groups of London-made brasses, styled A to F, and two groups of provincial brasses originating in Yorkshire and Norwich.

    Although we now know that monumental brasses were produced by men called marblers, we know little of the way that they organised their work. The Marblers' Company was officially incorporated in 1486 but we have no lists of members until 1585. In  that year, when the marblers merged with the masons, there were said to be only a dozen remaining, although some may have defected to the masons earlier or been missed by researchers. What seems clear to me is that with only two or three different styles being produced at the same time, we are looking at a few major designer marblers and rather more executant marblers. Whether the latter worked for specific designers or could take on work by different designers is totally unclear. By the time of the merger with the masons, all the designers seem to be immigrants from the Low Countries or, in the case of Cornelius Cure, the son of one such, all living in Southwark outside the control of the London companies. Although surprise has been expressed at the low numbers belonging to the Marblers' company in 1585, there is no other year for which we have so many names, suggesting that most of the names we do have for the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries are those of the most important, namely the designers,  as they occur time and time again over a number of years, as is the case with James Reames, who contracted for the style D brass of Richard Willoughby in 1466 and was still going strong at the end of the century, beyond the period studied by Kent. There is little change in style D brasses after Kent's cut-off date of 1485. At the time that the brass at Horseheath was made, it is likely that the designer of style B brasses was Richard Lakenham and that of the contemporary Style A was John Edward. Both men were also masons but there was evidently such a demand for brasses in the fifteenth-century that men could afford to specialise, leading to the formation of a separate company.

    The designers of style D, which took over from style A around 1410, were evidently men who could take on design work for other media, as a number of them (Richard Rouge, 1420s-1440s, Richard Stevens, who bought Rouge's business, 1440s-1460s, and James Reames) are described as glaziers in some instances. One has to wonder how the designs for brasses were transmitted from the designers to the engravers – perhaps they were marked directly onto sheets of brass and then sent to be engraved or perhaps individual patterns for each brass were drawn on some thin material that could be transferred to the metal by a process such as pouncing, where charcoal or something similar was passed through perforations in the pattern to the surface on the plate.  This would make those marblers who were responsible for the actual engraving and the setting of the brass plates into the marble stone sub-contractors, with the designers probably also supplying the brass plate and marble stones and dealing with the patrons. The remarks in one of the Paston letters shine some light on the matter: it is told me, that the man of St. Bride's is no cleanly pourtrayer ; therefore I would that it might be pourtrayed by some other man, and he to grave it up. This is in connection with the arrangements being made by John Paston with an unnamed correspondent in 1479-80 for my brothers stone (the brass of Sir John Paston). It is perhaps a reflection of the problems with the final style B brasses, where the late examples have been christened sub-B and are believed to have been designed by a coppersmith Thomas Stephens, who had been in partnership with the marbler John Essex until the latter's death in 1465, and then continued to produce designs for rather unsatisfactory brasses for some years. Sub-B was replaced by style F around 1480, producing some of the most attractive brasses of the period but, judging from the indent in Paston church, Sir John Paston's brass was in style D.

    The brass at Horseheath is at almost the very start of Style B, which was patronised by many clients with connection to the royal court and produced good quality work for about a hundred years.


Adrienne B Rosen, Susan M Keeling and C A F Meekings, 'Parishes: Horseheath', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 6, ed. A P M Wright (London, 1978), pp. 70-80 [accessed 30 April 2015].

J P C Kent, `Monumental Brasses: a new Classification of Military Effigies, c1360-c1485' JBAA 3S (12) (1949) pp. 70-97

R. Emmerson, 'Monumental Brasses: London Design c. 1420-85', JBAA, Vol. CXXXI (1978), pp. 50-78