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November 2014 - Roger, 1542/3, & Mary Gifford, Middle Claydon,  Buckinghamshire


Malcolm Norris, ‘Palimpsest finds at Middle Claydon, Bucks.’, TMBS, vol xi, part vi,pp. 463-467 (Sir John Donne)

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

The church of All Saints at Middle Claydon stands close to the house of the Verney family, now a National Trust property. In 1495 the Verneys leased the manor of Middle Claydon, which they had acquired in 1465, to Roger Gifford for ninety-nine years. When Roger died in January 1542/3, he left the remaining term of the lease to his surviving five sons, John, George, Ralph, William and Nicholas, ordaining that if there was any part of the term remaining thereafter, it should pass to the heir male of his eldest son, John. Three of his sons had sons of their own by the time the will was made. His widow Mary and his sons were to be the executors. The will mentions only two daughters. His five sons were the survivors of his thirteen male children, as shown on the brass. The brass shows seven daughters. He had been active as a justice of the peace and a commissioner of the subsidy in 1525, when his son Ralph was a collector. In 1539 he hosted Thomas Cromwell's stay at Middle Claydon during Henry VIII's progress that year. Cromwell had already ensured Roger's son George's election to the House of Commons in 1536.

    The brass effigies commemorating Roger and Mary Gifford is extraordinarily large for the period   but those of the children are no bigger than would be found with much smaller effigies. Surprisingly for this period, the reverses of the main effigies are blank apart from a portion of Mary's head but the inscription and the two plates of children are reused material. The reverse of the inscription has another inscription, to Walter Bellingham alias Irelonde, king of arms of Ireland, and his wife Elizabeth, who both died in 1487. Their brass was in the Priory of St John at Clerkenwell.

Behind the figures of the daughters there is a four line inscription, lacking the year of death,  commemorating Sir John Doon. It had been thought that this brass was originally in St George's Chapel, Windsor, but the day of death given in the inscription, 3rd August, is not consistent with with a death in the short period of three weeks between Sir John Donne or Doon making his will of on 23rd January 1502/3 and the grant of probate on 13th January the same year. He was buried at Windsor. The script was dated by Malcolm Norris as c.1505 in his description of the palimpsests before a postscript to his article made the connection with Sir John Donne at Windsor but it could equally be ten years later. Sir John Donne was a major figure: he has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and he and his wife were depicted on the wings of a triptych by Hans Memling. He was buried next to Edward IV and Donne's brother-in-law William, Lord Hastings, and he would presumably have merited a substantial brass.

    Roger Gifford rebuilt the chancel of the church in 1519, as a surviving inscription over the door shows. His brass is not the only Gifford memorial inside. There is a brass to Isabelle Gifford who died in 1523. She seems to have been pregnant when she died to judge from her dress but it is not clear how she fits into the family. Perhaps she was the wife of one of Roger's sons but one of whom no other record remains. An alabaster tomb with the effigy of a lady commemorates Margaret, died 1539, the wife of Roger's second son George. He had probably acquired this tomb for her during in his part in the dissolution of the monasteries in the Midlands, which was extensive. Were it not for the sleeves of the effigy – a few years out of date – and the atypical incised inscription, it would not arouse suspicion but there is an excess of heraldry in the form of eight large shields around the sides of the tomb-chest and six small ones around the chamfer inscription. Only the three on the south side have been carved. A further small memorial tablet has the arms of Gifford and the family's motto – Omnia bona bonis – but there no indication who is commemorated by it. The motto is in the same script as on the alabaster tomb-chest and is presumably of similar date. It has an oval space which presumably held the inscription. This oval is surrounded by strapwork, as is the oval of ams in the centre of the tablet, which would be an extremely early instance in England if the monument is indeed of around 1540.

    Within five years of his Roger's death hiss eldest son John died. John willed to be buried in the churhyard at neighbouring Hillesden. George, the next brother, died in late 1557 and was buried at Middle Claydon. Initially trained as a lawyer, he was a receiver of the Court of Augmentations for the counties of Leicstershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland and Warwickshire from 1536 until the court was dissolved by Mary I in 1554, a commissioner for the suppression of the monasteries for the same counties from 1536 to 1539, a chantries commissioner for Herefordshire and Worcestshire in 1546 and for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1547 and a commissioner for the goods of churches and fraternities in 1553. He was also chamberlain of the household of Anne of Cleves and sat as an MP in at least two parliaments. Despite his part in the dismantling of the structures of the catholic church, he was a catholic and was knighted by Mary in 1554. His brother Ralph also sat as an MP and, like George, was an esquire of the body in Henry VIII's funeral cortege. He was settled at Steeple Claydon but predeceased George. The fourth brother, William, was, like George, one of those who rallied to Mary in the disputed succession after Edward VI's death. He seems to have died in late 1556. The youngest brother, Nicholas, was still alive when John made his will but died in 1546. He had been in royal service and had also taken part in the dissolution of the monasteries.

    The brass of Roger and Mary Gifford is an intriguing one both for the sheer size of its effigies – Roger's is over five feet long – and the mysteries it conceals on its reverse.

The reverse side of the daughters