Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 10 February 2017

February 2017 -  William and Elizabeth Berdwell [1490], West Harling, Norfolk




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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

One of the foremost warriors of the late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth century was Sir William Berdwell. Born in 1367, he was from a family that had held land at Bardwell in Suffolk, reputedly from the time of the William the Conqueror. He was buried in the chancel of the church at Bardwell, where his effigy in armour is still to be seen in the glass. He outlived his eldest son, John, dying at Bury St Edmunds in October 1434. His inquisition post mortem is respect of his Norfolk lands found his heir to be William, aged 24 or more, son of John but while that for his Suffolk lands found likewise, the remainder was to Robert, named as his son and heir in his will. Robert inherited Sir William's manor of West Harling and settled there, building a house and acquiring a further manor in the parish. It is not clear what happened to Sir William's Suffolk lands but they had passed out of the family long before 1490. As the inquisition post mortem held after William Berdwell died on 30 August 1490 shows, William was the grandson of Robert and was in possession of West Harling and other Norfolk lands formerly held by his grandfather in Middle Harling, Gasthorpe, Riddlesworth, Hopton, Winfarthing and elsewhere. His own son and heir was another William, aged 30 or more, who was to be commemorated by another brass in the church. The inquisition tells us that William's wife Elizabeth had previously been married to John Cheeke, gentleman.

    William is referred to as William the elder but his own father had been another William, whose brass is now an indent that shows his two wives with butterfly headdresses that clearly identifies the brass as having come from the workshop of the first Norwich marbler, Thomas Sheef, whereas his son's comes from that of Richard Foxe, Sheef's apprentice. Whereas the earliest brasses from the Sheef workshop show a considerable debt to the designs of the London workshops, Richard Foxe's work is entirely independent of that influence. Foxe lived close to Norwich cathedral in the parish of St George Tombland, the same parish as Sheef. Both requested burial in the parish church of St George. Foxe also had property in the parish of St Martin-at-Palace, which also adjoined the cathedral close. Between 1492 and 1495, he served as constable of Wymer Great Ward, which runs through the centre of Norwich along the south bank of the River Wensum. Foxe made his will in December 1496. It was proved in June 1497. His working career was less than twenty years but some eighty-five examples of his work are known from surviving brasses and rubbings of lost ones.