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May 2013 - Indent of Sir Thomas Felton KG, 1381, and his son Thomas, East Barsham, Norfolk

The brass of Sir Thomas Felton and his son Thomas has long gone but the stone in which it lay still gives a good impression of how it once looked and how individual medieval brasses could be if the patron required the marbler to deviate from his workshop's standard product. In the case of the London C workshop, to which our member Sally Badham assigns the Felton indent, the product was never quite standard anyway, especially in the early days of its existence, from which this brass evidently dated. The identification of the subject of the lost brass at Barsham is thanks to Ron Fiske.

     Sir Thomas Felton was, as his indent still shows, a member of the Order of the Garter. He did not live very long after this honour was bestowed on him in January 1381, dying only three months later. He had spent most of his career in France, much of it serving under the Black Prince. He had accompanied the prince to Bordeaux in 1355 and fought at Poitiers in the following year. After witnessing the Black Prince's marriage in 1361, he went with him to Guienne in 1362, serving for fourteen years as seneschal of Acquitaine. He was captured while scouting with a force of two hundred knights in advance of the battle of Najera. His force encountered six thousand French and Spanish troops and attempted to fight them off, his kinsman Sir William Felton being killed in the action. Thomas was soon exchanged for a French knight. In 1370 he raised the siege of La Linde, which had been about to surrender to the Duke of Anjou. Under the leadership of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Felton assisted at the seige and capture of Montpaon. In 1377 he and four Gascon barons led a force in an attempt to relieve the Duke of Anjou's siege of Bergerac but on 1 November he was ambushed and captured at Eymet. He was allowed to return to England for three years in an attempt to raise his ransom, set at 30,000 francs. Towards the end of that period, Richard II put a French prisoner at Felton's disposal and allowed him to return to France on 23 October 1380 to negotiate his freedom. He died in April 1381. His son Thomas, shown as a half-size figure in armour by his father's side on the brass, predeceased him leaving his three sisters Mary, Sibill and Eleanor as co-heirs. All of Sir Thomas's daughters married and produced children. His wife, Joan, the daughter of Sir Richard Walkfare, survived him by many years and in 1385 received licence to set up a chantry in the newly built chapel of St Anne at the priory of Little Walsingham in Norfolk. The licence listed those for whose souls prayers were to be said. They were Joan herself, the king's father (Edward the Black Prince), Sir Thomas de Felton, Thomas his son and others. The brass and its slab must have been rescued from the priory at its dissolution and taken to nearby East Barsham. Presumably this was undertaken by a descendant. It is not readily apparent who this would have been nor why East Barsham was chosen.

The existing brass that Felton's would have most resembled is that of Sir Nicholas Burnell, died 1382, at Acton Burnell in Shropshire. The rivet pattern on the indent shows that Sir Thomas's head was on the same plate as the canopy against which it was shown, like Burnell's, the join with the body being along the bottom of the aventail, the mail that covered his neck. The body was made up of two plates, joined by a narrow reinforcing plate just below the level of the sword belt. The younger Thomas's effigy was made up of two plates, again joined by a reinforcing plate, this one under the lower edge of the aventail, where it meets the jupon covering the plate armour on his upper body. The canopy is a triple one, and like Burnell's, has a shield either side of the central pinnacle. The inscription is a marginal one, with quadrilobes at each corner, possibly carrying the signs of the four Evangelists. Between Sir Thomas's body and the left shaft of the canopy are the indent of four garters, with a fifth between Sir Thomas's legs and those of his son. Each man's sword hung at an angle behind his left leg, the indent giving the impression that Sir Thomas is leaning sideways. The indent seems to show a helm with a crest behind the elder man's head, this being more apparent on the photograph than the rubbing. However there is the clear indent above young Thomas's figure that may also be a helm with a crest.  Felton's crest is described as 'out of a ducal coronet Or, two wings inverted Gules, quilled of the first'. If the wings met at a point, as on his garter plate at Windsor, this would explain the shape of the indent.

There is a prominent break across the middle of the stone. If this occurred during its carriage from Walsingham or its relaying at Barsham, it would help explain the comprehensive lost of the brass inlay.

Garter plate of Sir Thomas Felton


Ron Fiske, ‘An Important Indent for a Lost Brass at All Saints’ Church, East Barsham’, Norfolk Archaeology,  XLIV, part iv (2005), 713-715

It is easy to discover much about Sir Thomas Felton from the internet but amongst other sources, G F Beltz, Memorials of the most noble order of the garter, from its foundation to the present time (1841) deals with the garter knights in the order of their creation, Felton being number sixty-eight:

Copyright: Jon Bayliss