Brass of the Month

September 2006:Ringstead, Denmark

September's brass of the month is the first to show a brass to a king and queen. Surprisingly only four monumental brasses survive which commemorate  royalty. Two can be found in England with one each in Germany and Denmark.

 The English examples comprise a curious half-effigy at Wimborne Minster, Dorset, which depicts St Ethelred, King of the West Saxons (died in 871 although the brass was not engraved until c.1440), wearing a crown and holding a sceptre. The other English example, in Peterborough Cathedral, is a rather battered inscription engraved at the end of the 18th century, to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, who died at the age of 50 in 1536. The German brass commemorates Queen ?Agnes of Sweden, 1432, and is to be found at Gadebusch in the northern Baltic region of the country.


In contrast, the brass at Ringsted to King Eric Menved of Denmark and his wife, Queen Ingeborg, who both died in 1319, is the earliest and arguably the finest Flemish brass to survive anywhere in the world. The memorial occupies a prominent position on a low brick plinth in the centre of the cathedral choir. Some 25 individual plates have been individually cast and assembled together to create and absolutely colossal rectangular sheet measuring 2.84m (112”) by 1.68m (66”) set in a slab of Tournai marble.  



As was customary with Flemish-made brasses, the entire surface area is engraved with the life-size effigies of the king and queen standing under a double canopy with super-canopy containing the souls of the deceased rising from winding sheets (see below). The king is shown crowned with the sword of state in his right hand and in his left a sceptre. He wears an elaborate mantle embroidered with lions and hearts representing the arms of Denmark. His feet rest upon two crouching lions. The queen wears a wimple, in her right hand a sceptre and in her left a book, whilst two dogs play at her feet. The composition is completed with many figures set in niches with the whole background diapered with flowers, birds and monsters. A border inscription is Latin Lombardic lettering is punctuated with ten representations of the Danish arms.




The magnificent appearance of this memorial entirely obscures the unstable lives and times, which existed at this period. Eric’s father and grandfather were both assassinated while on the throne. It is thought that his grandfather, Christopher I (whose fine indent was recently rediscovered) was poisoned when taking communion at Ribe Cathedral. His father, Eric Gipping, succeeded to the throne at the age of 10 whilst Eric Menved was 12 when he was crowned in 1286. A bitter war with Norway dogged his reign for 25 years until peace was signed in 1310. However, by this time King Menved was fighting in Sweden where he became embroiled with the brothers of Queen Ingeborg. In the latter years of his life he undertook several military expeditions to restore Danish domination. His siege of Stralsund was unsuccessful but he did take possession of Rostock and Wismar. Menved was created Protector of Lübeck and enjoyed very close relations with this important Baltic port. Queen Ingeborg died on 15th August 1319 and he survived barely three months, dying on 13th November. Sadly all 14 children had already died leaving his disloyal brother, Christopher, to inherit the throne.




 A substantial restoration of the brass was carried out in 1883 when several plates were replaced – essentially on the right hand side of the composition. In addition, the incised alabaster inlay for the king’s head and two minor parts of the queen’s were also replaced (see above). More recently conservation of the entire brass was completed in 1972.

Copyright: Martin Stuchfield

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Page last updated 31 August 2006