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Copyright © 2011 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 04 March 2015

May 2011 – Geoffrey Boleyn, 1440, and wife Alice, Salle, Norfolk


Copyright: Text: Sally Badham    Photos: C B Newham

This month we feature the brass to Geoffrey Boleyn (d. 1440) and his wife Alice. It originally also had tiny figures representing their 5 sons and 4 daughters, but the inlay is lost. The brass is from Salle (Norfolk) which boosts an exceptionally fine church with a large collection of surviving brasses and empty indents which have had the brass plates stolen from them. Amongst them there is a brass to one other member of the family, Simon Boleyn (d. 1482), a priest; others were commemorated at nearby Blickling, including Cecily Boleyn (d. 1458, age 10).


The Boleyn family had settled in this area from the late thirteenth century, although there are only sporadic references to the first few men of that name. John Boleyn can be traced from1333 to 1369. Although it is not easy to identify land exactly in the manor court rolls, it appears that his holdings were inherited by Thomas Boleyn, presumably his son. He married first Margaret, the widow of Richard Anabile of Salle, and secondly Agnes. In 1399 Thomas gave to Geoffrey his son one message in Salle and the latter presumably inherited more property on his father’s death in 1411. To this Geoffrey added more pieces of land, though the court rolls reveal that he did not always pay for them in due time. By the time of his death he held 23 pieces of land in Stinton manor in Salle comprising 10 acres, as well as renting land in Nugoun’s manor. He was thus not himself lord of a manor, but a tenant under a lord, making his living by farming.


Although just a villain, Geoffrey Boleyn was a relatively wealthy one. He was evidently upwardly mobile and keen to proclaim his status. He contributed to the church fabric, providing timber in 1408. In addition he and Alice gave to the church ‘1 hearse cloth of tapestry, with two cushions of the same set’. No further details of this gift are provided, but it would not be unusual for such a hearse cloth to display some indication of the donors, perhaps even an inscription naming them and asking for prayers for them. It would have been a carefully thought out gift, designed to provide benefit to the donors as well as the church. It would have been used for all funerals, thus in a sense eternally re-enacted Geoffrey and Alice’s own and encouraging the congregation to add the Boleyns to their prayers for the person being buried.

That Geoffrey and Alice were commemorated by a small but fine London-made brass is another indication that they and their heirs wanted to reinforce the improved status of the family. They chose a position for it in the middle aisle of the nave, a desirable part of the church in which to be commemorated and where many people would see it and hopefully pray for their souls as requested in the foot inscription. The monument would have formed part of a vista including the Rood, in front of the chancel arch where traces of a Doom painting were found in the early twentieth century. The inscription on the scroll, which reads in translation ‘God be merciful to us sinners’, sends a message which links clearly to the imagery which would have been displayed above.