ON A RECENTLY DISCOVERED MONUMENTAL BRASS, BELONGING TO BOWERS GIFFORD CHURCH.
BY H. W. KING, ESQ.
Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, ‘old series’, Volume 1 (1858)
It was, I think, in the year 1845, while engaged in noting and copying the monumental and fenestral antiquities of the Churches of South Essex, that I first ascertained that an early monumental brass, of one of the ancient and knightly family of Gifford, mentioned in Salmon's History of Essex as existing in the Church of Bowers Gifford, had disappeared. Neither at that time, nor at various subsequent periods of enquiry, could I learn that any one had ever seen or heard of it. This occasioned no surprise, as I was aware, not only that many brasses had been lost, and that many sepulchre monuments and heraldic windows had been destroyed, or defaced, since 1740, when Dr. Salmon wrote, but arms and inscriptions, which I had myself copied, have since perished, and are, perhaps, recorded only in my own collections.*
I have now the satisfaction of reporting to the Essex Archaeological Society, the recent recovery of this long-lost monumental brass.
On visiting Bowers Gifford Church, in June last, I was informed by the present Rector, the Rev. W. W. Tireman, that the effigy was in the possession of Major Spitty, of Billericay, to whom it had been given, many years ago, by the Churchwarden when the Church was rebuilt. Within the last few weeks, Major Spitty has placed it in the hands of Mr. Tireman, who immediately very obligingly furnished me with the rubbing from which the accompanying engraving has been very accurately reduced.
Although, unfortunately, in a mutilated condition, the result of comparatively modern violence and spoliation, the figure is one of peculiar interest. Hitherto it has been neither described nor appropriated, and probably, for more than a century, it has been unknown to Archeaologists — it may, therefore, be regarded as an entirely new discovery.
The Church of Bowers Gifford, in the Hundred of Barstable, stands in the marshes, perhaps a mile from the high road, from which it is from no point visible; and being remote from any town, would be very likely to escape the notice of the Antiquary or Archaeologist, who, otherwise, from its obscure situation, would hardly expect to find within it any monument of interest.
The present structure was barbarously rebuilt about twenty or twenty-five years ago. There are but few vestiges of the olden edifice remaining. The tower contains two ancient bells, one of them inscribed in Longobardic characters : + SIT. NOMEN. DOMINI. BENEDICTUM; the other in old English: + SANCTA. KATEEINA. OEA. PEO. NOBIS., both of which legends are of frequent occurrence upon the church bells in that district, and elsewhere. An original perpendicular doorway opens into the belfry; the nave is lighted by four square-headed windows of the 15th century; a plain octangular font of the same period remains, and in the south wall of the chancel there is a trefoil-headed piscina.
Dr. Salmon's notice of the monument in this Church is as follows:— "Under the north wall [of the chancel] is a gravestone, seven foot in length, with the Portraiture of a Knight; the legend, which was upon a fillet of brass, is torn off, the arms of Giffard remaining, six fleurs-de-lis 3, 2 and 1." But I am able to refer to a much earlier mention of the monument, in a MS. in the Lansdowne Library supposed to be written by Wm. Shower, Norroy, temp. Queen Eliz., from which it also appears that the Giffard arms were then in one of the windows of the Church, and perhaps this is the only record of their arms and quarterings extant: "Sabell, 3, 2 and 1 floure de luce gould, Gyfford Armine, a cheife gould and gules quarterly, St. Nic'las. Sabell, a chevron ermine betweene 3 lyoncells silver^ passante. And the writer afterwards adds, "Bures in compleat hamys thar buiryed, with his scotchon of armes."
Shower had written "Bures" in both sentences; in the former he has erased it, and inserted “Gyfford," but in the second, it remains unoorreoted.
In the reign of Elizabeth, the monument was undoubtedly perfect, or the writer, according to his practice, would have mentioned it, had he found it defaced. Unfortunately, he did not record any inscriptions. In 1740, however, we find the brass fillet with its legend was gone; and Mr. Tireman has recently informed me that an aged parishioner remembers the figure perfect, but is unable to describe the form of the bascinet.
The effigy is of life size; the head and right thigh, it is to be feared are irrecoverably lost, but the figure, notwithstanding its mutilated condition, is of peculiar interest, being among the earliest specimens we possess of this description of monument, and a valuable addition to the series of English brasses. It is of the transition period, when changes were rapidly taking place in defensive armour, and perhaps were not always adopted. The costume, Mr. J. G. Waller informs me, "is no certain criterion of date, as we see figures on some monuments represented in a costume apparently earlier than the date of death, while others were probably executed at some period subsequent to the decease." The armour in which this figure is represented, seems, at least, as early as the year 1330, or some eighteen years prior to the date to which we shall assign it. At this time portions of plate armour, as brassarts and greaves, began to be worn. But this figure is clad only in banded ring mail, with the addition, however, of richly engraved genouieres, and elbow plates. Over his hawberk he wears file jupon embroidered at the bottom. The belt is highly ornamented, and the hilt and scabbard of the sword elaborately wrought. I would here direct attention to the small cross engraven upon the pommel of the sword, which, calling to remembrance the ancient practice of swearing upon the sword — although the hilt itself forms a cross, which was essential to the sanctity of the oath — ^may have been one purpose of its introduction, for here the Knight would actually kiss the sacred sign. The sword is worn across the left thigh, but in later brasses, I think, it is more commonly worn dependent perpendicularly by the side. The shield borne upon the left arm, and sustained across the right shoulder by a narrow baldric, is of particularly elegant shape ; the field, charged with the five fleur-de-lis, is diapered with a graceful flowing foliated pattern, similar to the diapering upon the shield of Sir Hugh Hastings (1374) in Elsing Church, Norfolk, with which effigy this figure has some analogies, as it has also with that of Sir John de Creke (1327) in the Church of Westley Waterless, Cambridgeshire.
There are but two of the family of Giffard, the dates of whose decease will accord with the period of the execution of this brass — namely, Sir Robert Giffard, of Bures, who died 17th Edward II., and Sir John Giffard, his son, who deceased in 1348. After a careful examination of the costume, and comparison with other monumental effigies of the period, I have no doubt that the person represented is Sir John Giffard, the last of the family upon record. In the Church there still remains a large stone, in the exact position indicated by Dr. Salmon, but there are no traces of matrices upon its upper surface; and, as far as could be ascertained by the Rev. Mr. Tireman, upon partially raising it, none were discoverable upon the underside. As there were, however, two slabs in the chancel, mentioned by Salmon, in memory of two former Rectors of the parish, who died in 1636 and 1641, respectively, this stone may, possibly, be one of them, but neither of the inscriptions exist. The Giffards were, evidently, a family of considerable station, for they deduced their descent maternally from the same ancestry as the Conqueror; but my researches do not enable me to extend their genealogy beyond that recorded by Morant. Their territorial possessions and influence in the county were extensive. With reference to these, the accuracy of the Essex Historian is fully confirmed, and I find, upon an examination of the Inquisitions Post Mortem that he has omitted nothing of importance. There are, however, some particulars to be derived from other records, of which Morant did not avail himself.
The Giffards appear to have held the Manor of Bures Gifford, under Hugh Bigod Earl of Norfolk, as early as the reign of Edward I. They descended from Walter Gifford, son of Osbem de Bolebec, and his wife Aveline, sister of Gunnora Duchess of Normandy, great-grandmother to the Conqueror, by whom this Walter was created Earl of Buckingham. In 1253, William Giffard, and Gundred his wife, were possessed of the advowson of the Church of S. Margaret de Bures; and in 1259 William Giffard is recorded as holding 100a of land in Bures, by the Sergeancy of making the King's lard or bacon, whenever he should be in England; and that he also held the Hundred of Barstable of the King for £16, and one mark, and used before to pay the King £18. In 1281, King Edw. I., in exchange for the Bailyship of the Hundred-and-Half of Barstable, confirmed to William Gifford and Robert his son, and Gundred the wife of the said Robert, in fee, the Manor of Bowers, quit and exempt of the ancient fee farm, reserving view of frankpledge and other liberties of the same; reserving also to the said Robert the fairs and profits of his market in Horingdon [Horndon], with some other exemptions, and fine warren. Gundred Gifford died in 1300, and Robert was her son and heir.
It appears, from the Hundred Rolls, temp. Edw. I., that William Giffird exercised the power of life and death in his Manor of Bures, for he had erected a gallows in the ville but by what authority the Jurats were ignorant. Robert the son and heir of Gundred, held, among other things, the Manor of Bures of Hugh Bigot by the yearly service of a pair of gilt spurs. Morant does not say in what year Robert Gifford died, but as he cites an Inquisition 17 Edw. II., it must be presumed that he deceased in 1323. I do not, however, find this Inquisition in the calendars, neither does it occur in Sir Symonds Dewes' collection of Inquisitions relating to this county. Sir John Giffard, the last of the family upon record, had a park at Buers, and held also the Manor and Advowson of the Church, with other estates, by the service of a pair of gilt spurs, of the value of sixpence, yearly. The particulars of these will be found in Morant's History of Essex^ with the exception of a few unimportant possessions which I find in the original Inquisition. It appears, from Newcourt's Repertorium that Sir John Gifford was the son and heir of Sir Robert, although the fact is not stated by Morant, and that he presented to the Church, on the 17th August, 1328, being the first presentation upon record. He died in 1348, and in the original Inquisition is styled a knight, a title which is not accorded to him by Morant, Willara Brygod, son of Thomas Brygod, of Ffange [Vange], was his heir, but the consanguinity appears not.
A more careful and extensive examination of records, had time permitted, might, perhaps, have enabled me to furnish a more complete history of the family and of their possessions, as I have references to charters and other documents connected with Bowers Gifford, which I had not leisure to consult; but the facts adduced afford sufficient evidence for the correct appropriation of the brass.
It is most fortunate that the effigy fell into the hands of Major Spitty, who was able to appreciate it as a work of art and antiquity, and to whom, not only this Society, but the Antiquaries of England, are greatly indebted; primarily, for its careful preservation for a series of years; and, secondly, for its opportune restoration, at a time when the historical value of such memorials is more fully understood. There is too much reason to fear that, had not Major Spitty evinced sufficient interest for Archaeology, as to preserve this valuable relic, it would, long since, have found its way to the braziers or the melting pot, which has, probably, been the fate of the missing portions of the figure. To the Rev. W. W. Tireman I desire to record my personal obligation, for his attention, in immediately informing me of its recovery; and our associates will be gratified to learn that it is Mr. Tireman's design to restore it to its ancient position in the chancel of Bowers Church, where we may hope that the effigy of its founder — as it very probably is — will continue undisturbed over his remains, and secure from any further act of Vandalism, for ages to come.