Brass of the month

January 2004:Cobham, Kent c. 1305-10

January's brass of the month is the earliest surviving brass in England commemorating a woman, Joan de Cobham, who died before 1298. It is the first of the outstanding series of brasses at Cobham, Kent, which lie in serried ranks before the high altar, attesting to the power and importance of the Cobham family..

Joan's husband,  John 'the younger', Lord Cobham, who died in 1300, also was commemorated by a brass. Sadly this is now lost, but it was described in antiquarian sources as 'the brass of an ancient knight with a lion under his foot and at the upper end the arms of Cobham with the like on his breast in a great escutcheon of brass'. Joan's brass was made some years after her death, probably c. 1305-10. Her husband's may have been commissioned at the same time, possibly by the couple's 3rd son, Thomas, a clerk and thus of similar background to other early patrons of brasses.

From the 1330s joint brasses showing both husband and wife became increasingly fashionable, but at the start of the century  separate monuments were the norm and many more brasses commemorated men than women. Joan merited her own brass because, although she was a woman, she was a person of wealth and consequence in her own right. Her marriage allied her to the Cobhams, a minor baronial family of some consequence who were yet to reach the zenith of their influence, but she was a co-heiress of the more important Septvans family. Her brother, Sir Robert de Septvans, who died in 1306, was himself commemorated by a fine military brass at Chartham, Kent.

Joan's brass is a large and prestigious composition, likely to have cost in the region of £10, a huge sum in the early 14th century. The brass features the full length effigy of a lady wearing a loose gown with demi-sleeves over a kirtle, her head covered by a veil, and a wimple enveloping her neck and the lower portion of her face. Over her is a canopy and round the edge of the slab of Purbeck marble an inscription in rhyming Norman-French, reading:





(Dame Joan de Cobham lies here, God have mercy on her soul, whoever prays for her soul shall have 40 days pardon).

Joan de Cobham brass

Not all the brass is original. All the brasses at Cobham were expertly restored by J.G. Waller in 1865-6 with missing parts sypathetically replaced, copying evidence of antiquarian drawings in order to get the details as correct as possible. This replacement included all of the inscription of individually-inlaid letters, the shields and the canopy shafts. As such, it gives a faithful impression of the original appearance of early brasses.

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Page last updated 07 January 2004