Brass of the Month

May 2010: Christopher Playters, 1547 (C17 engraving), Sotterley, Suffolk


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Page last updated 04 March 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss


    In the seventeenth century at various places around England, brasses were laid down that purported to represent men, women and children that had died in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. In some cases this was done to repair and replace earlier brasses, while in other instances the motive was to help establish spurious pedigrees. The most well known instance of the latter is the series of brasses at Pluckley in Kent, supposedly representing the ancestors of Sir Edward Dering but there is at least one more example, at Rugeley in Staffordshire. The most extensive example of repair and replacement is at Stopham in Suffolk but two brasses at Sotterley in Suffolk are also in this category. It has been suggested that the brasses at Rugeley  and Stopham are the work of Edward Marshall and, in the case of Pluckley, there are entries in Sir Edward Dering’s account book during 1627 that confirm Marshall as the author. As Marshall’s signature occurs on the monument to Sir Thomas Playters, Baronet, who died in 1638, it is more than likely that Marshall was responsible for the brasses.

    An earlier Thomas Playters died in 1479 and is commemorated with his wife Anne on a brass of that time. Both ends of his inscription are missing, which probably indicates that William Dowsing, the iconoclast who visited visited Sotterley on 6 April 1644, removed a superstitious phrase from each end. A much smaller inscription on a Norwich made brass of the same period has disappeared completely, as has its shield. The effigy still remaining probably represents Robert Bumsted. A tomb chest with an early sixteenth century cover slab (it has a characteristic marbler’s mark in one corner) has a replacement marginal inscription for William Playters, died 1512, and his wife Jane, parents of Christopher Playters. Jane’s effigy on the front of the chest is clearly seventeenth century, showing her with a ruff but William’s was stolen about 1843. Christopher’s own brass has an inscription with the same style of lettering as that on his parent’s tomb and an effigy  that is a confused seventeenth century interpretation of an earlier figure. Christopher Playters died in 1547. The shield beneath the inscription is probably original. It is a different colour from the other two plates that make up the brass. Christopher’s effigy has a number of peculiarities. While most of his armour could be taken to be of the period of his death, he has a bascinet on his head and a coif of mail around his neck, which together are much more reminiscent of  the fourteenth and very early fifteenth centuries. His feet are placed on an oval base much like those employed by one of the Southwark workshops early in the seventeenth century.    

The inscription and shield, showing the difference between the colours of the shield and the replacement inscription.

    Weever’s Ancient Funerall Monuments, published in 1631, has transcriptions of the inscriptions at Sotterley. Two words of the inscription on the tomb to William and Jane Playters had evidently been lost, which are now present. The inscription to Christopher Playters was longer than it is now. Weever’s version is given below, with the parts missed on the current inscription in bold. The number of sons in the last but one line is now five, not seven, and the year is now in Arabic numerals.

    Here under lieth buried, the body of Christopher Playfers, esquire,
    true patron of this church, sonne and heire to William and Jane his wife,
    who had two wives: viz. Dorothy, one of the daughters and heires of
    William Aselak, of Carrow in the county of Norfolk esquire by whom he
    had issue, Thomas; and by Anne, daughter to William Read of Becles
    esquire ; he had issue, seven sonnes and foure daughters, and he died in the year
    our Lord God, MD.xlvii.

As Weever’s transcription of the remaining wording of Thomas Playters brass is correct, we can probably trust those he gives for William’s and Christopher’s. As there is nothing overtly offensive to puritans in either, their loss was presumably not ascribable to Dowsing’s visit.

    Christopher Playters was a fifth son yet succeeded his father in 1512. He was succeeded by Thomas, the son named in his inscription, who died in 1572 and is depicted in armour on his own brass. The latter’s son William, died 1584, also has a brass but his son, Thomas, the first baronet, not only has a brass but also the mural alabaster signed by Edward Marshall. His eldest son and heir, William, was a Parliamentarian until excluded by Pride’s Purge, and  also sat on the committee of the Eastern Association. He was the employer of one of Dowsing’s deputies, Francis Verdon. He died in 1668 and his son Thomas died without issue, so that the Reverend Sir Lionel Playters, a son of Sir Thomas by his second wife succeeded, within the lifetime of Edward Marshall, who died in 1675. While it seems clear that the brasses to William and Christopher Playters were replaced sometime after Weever recorded them and likely that the replacements were cut in the workshop of Edward Marshall, the date that this happened is unclear. Sir Lionel, who had seen brasses ripped up by iconoclasts in his church at nearby Uggeshall and had been ejected from his living there in the summer of 1644, seems a likely candidate to have undertaken such a restoration, if it was done in the around 1670 rather than the 1630s. However Sir William, when he put up a monument to his first wife Frances at Dickleburgh in Norfolk after her death in 1659, sought to disguise his initial allegiance to Parliament in its inscription, which had much to say about their son, a Royalist who died abroad. Joshua Marshall, Edward’s son, may also be a candidate for the maker of the replacement brasses at Sotterley.

References


Ancient Funerall Monuments, J Weever (1631), 762-763

The Journal of William Dowsing, ed T Cooper (2001), 76, 79 & 292

The history and antiquities of the County of Suffolk, Vol 1(1846), A Suckling, 82-86 (http://books.google.com/books?id=R8w_AAAAcAAJ)


Edward Marshall’s signature on the monument to Sir Thomas Playters

Jane, mother of Christopher Playters

Postscript: John Weever took the text of the inscriptions of the brasses to Christopher Playters and his parents, William and Jane, from William Hervey’s visitation of some seventy years earlier. Weever’s main entry for Sotterley omits both, suggesting they had been lost in the interim. The anonymous Chorographer visited Sotterley very early in the seventeenth-century. He did not mention Christopher’s brass at all, suggesting it had gone by then, and notes his parents’ tomb as having lost its circumscription and three of its six shields. He was told that the tomb was for William Playters. The earlier replacement of these two brasses is a possibility that must be considered, perhaps when Edward Marshall was erecting the monument to Sir Thomas Payters after the latter’s death in 1638..