Brass of the Month

June 2006: Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, 1392

June's brass of the month features the large brass  to Thomas, Lord Berkeley and his wife, Margaret, which is on a Purbeck marble tomb chest in the north aisle of the church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.

The brass of Thomas, Lord Berkeley is an excellent example of the work of London style ‘B’ in its heyday – authoritative, economical and austere: the characteristics of the Perpendicular architecture of the period.  The figures are near life size. 

The brass was commissioned in 1392 on the death of Thomas’s wife, Margaret, daughter and heiress of Warin, Lord Lisle.  It was conceived as a joint memorial, to them as a couple, although Thomas himself was to live for another 25 years.  Thomas’s choice of a brass for his wife is a measure of the high status enjoyed by brasses at this time.  Earlier members of his family had all been commemorated by relief effigies – most of them of freestone but in one case of alabaster; and this tradition was to resume under his successors.  Brasses, however, enjoyed particular favour with the aristocracy in Thomas’s lifetime, with the earl of Warwick, the duchess of Gloucester and Lord Ferrers of Chartley all being commemorated by fine style ‘B’ products. 

On Berkeley’s brass, it is noteworthy that the sword belt was adorned by a jewel inlay, now lost.  Margaret's figure would also have been eye-catching; the crespine headdress had inlaid  jewels and the brocade cushions on which her head rest would have had coloured mastic inlay to enhance the design.

Lord Berkeley’s choice of Wotton under Edge as his wife’s burial place is also distinctive.  Earlier members of his family had been buried either at St Augustine’s Abbey, Bristol (now Bristol Cathedral) or Berkeley parish church; Wotton, however, an important Berkeley property, was where Margaret had died. 

Thomas, Lord Berkeley enjoyed a long and largely successful career in local and national politics.  He suffered temporary eclipse in Gloucestershire in the last years of Richard II’s reign, but recovered his position under Henry IV.  The collar of mermaids which he is shown wearing – not a known Berkeley device – may allude to the office of admiral to which he was appointed in 1403.  In Thomas’s lifetime the estates of the Berkeley family reached their greatest extent.  His wife, an heiress, whom he had married in 1367, brought him the wide Lisle estates in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.  On Thomas’s death in 1417 without male issue, however, the Berkeley inheritance was divided between the heir male and the heir general, and the great lawsuit began which was to last for nearly two centuries.

 © Nigel Saul 2006

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Page last updated 02 July 2006