Brass of the Month

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    Page last updated 15 October 2017

October 2017 - Alice Paston, 1608/9, Oxnead, Norfolk


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The rise of the Paston family in the fifteenth-century is well-documented in the letters published centuries later, the largest such collection of family correspondence to survive from the medieval period in England. The family's rise continued after the medieval period, culminating in Charles II creating Robert Paston as earl of Yarmouth in 1679, a title extinguished when his son William, who outlived his own sons, died in 1732 leaving the Oxnead estate to be sold to pay his debts. Oxnead had been passed down through the family since the time of William Paston, the judge who began the rise of the family before his death in 1444. In 1554 it was bequeathed to Clement Paston, fourth surviving son of Sir William Paston, lawyer and courtier. Clement made his mark as a naval captain and soldier in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary before retiring to Oxnead early in Elizabeth's reign. He was elected MP for Norfolk in 1563 and married Alice, daughter of Humphrey Pakington and widow of Richard Lambert, a rich London merchant, in 1567. He then built a large house which remained the principal residence of the family until 1732. One wing survives.

    It is Alice's brass that is featured this month. After Clement died in February 1597/8, the provision of his will was enacted in which he requested a fair and convenient tomb to be made over his body, and his and his wife's arms to be graven thereon. It is in alabaster with inlays of black marble and rance. Clement's life-size recumbent effigy reposes on the top of the chest and the smaller figure Alice is depicted kneeling in the centre of the chest.  Alice survived Clement by almost eleven years dying on 18 January 1608/9.

    Clement's monument is on the north side of the sanctuary and Alice's is south of it, the bottom half of the slab under the north end of the communion table. In a similar position, half under the south end is a brass of the same design commemorating Edmund Lambert, Alice's son by her first husband, who is described on it as 'late of Boyton in the county of Wiltshire'. He died less than month before his mother on 28 December 1608, the two brasses evidently part of the same commission, perhaps by Sir William Paston, Clement's nephew who inherited the estate. A later Sir William Paston who succeeded to the estate in 1636 was a major patron of Nicholas Stone, who made the monument for Sir William's first wife Katherine Bertie, on the north side of the chancel. It was probably then that the chancel was paved with black and white marble squares set diagonally. Between the sanctuary and Katherine's monument is an area of red and black tiles but set among them are two white Carrara marble tiles engraved with 'Alice Parkington wife of Clement Paston Esq 1608' and 'Here lyes Edward Lambert Esq 1608'. Alice is thus commemorated three times.

    Alice's brass consists of an inscription and two shields set in strapwork surrounds, quite possibly the work of the same workshop that produced the marble tomb, probably in Southwark. The brasses are set in a slab of Wealden marble, which had supplanted the use of Purbeck marble in the latter part of the sixteenth-century but was soon itself to make way for black Belgium marble. The strapwork surrounds of the shields are identical to those on the Lambert brass. The inscription is in Roman capitals with slightly larger letters at the beginning of names and ranks. A blank has been left for the forename of Alice's father Humphrey Pakington. The shields show Lambert impaling Pakington and Paston impaling Pakington for Alice's two marriages.

    The marble lozenge probably relates to the inscription REP WILLIAM BRIGST 1662(or 9) on the top of one of the shields on the side of Clement Paston's tomb.  The superstructure of the tomb has largely disappeared and the likelihood is that the this alabaster tomb of the Paston family was targeted during the 1640s, although Katherine Paston's marble monument appears untouched. William Brigstock, brought in to repair Norwich Cathedral after the damage it incurred during the same period, seems to have run a large tomb-making business in the city for over thirty years and would have been the most local mason qualified to tidy up the damage at Oxnead and to inscribe the two lozenges.     

Copyright: Jon Bayliss