Brass of the Month
August 2007: John Byrkhede, d. 1468, Harrow-
August's brass of the month is, although damaged, of great interest.
Fig. 1 John Byrkhede, d. 1468 (rubbing prior to the loss of the top L. shield)
Headless and lacking parts of its canopy and inscription, as well as all but one of its shields, the brass of John Byrkhede at St. Mary, Harrow-
Byrkhede, like many other canons, is depicted in processional vestments. The fashion for this mode of representation seems to have been set by the canons of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Dugdale illustrates several brasses of c. 1400 which show inhabited orphreys. Of surviving brasses, the earliest are William Ermyn at Castle Ashby, Northants., and John Sleford, at Balsham, Cambs. Nearer in date to the Byrkhede brass are John Blodwell at Balsham, a London B product, and Henry Sever, at Merton College, from the London D workshop. Byrkhede’s cope depicts saints who were evidently selected for their particular connection with his life, although sometimes the connection is now obscure. The saints shown are, on the left, from top to bottom, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Peter, John the Evangelist, Richard and Paula, and on the right, John the Baptist, Anne, Laurence, Nicholas and Bridget of Sweden.
Byrkhede’s surname suggests an origin in the north-
At the head of the orphreys are the Blessed Virgin, the patron of Harrow church, and Byrkhede’s name-
Fig. 2 Blessed Virgin and St. John Baptist. Note the rose en soleil on the morse, possibly a Marian symbol as well as a Yorkist badge in this context.
Fig. 3 St. John Baptist
Fig. 4 St. Nicholas
Fig. 5 St. Richard
Fig. 6 St. Anne teaching the
Blessed Virgin to read
Fig. 7 St. Paula
Fig. 8 St. Bridget
Above the canopy are two missing scrolls. One of these still survived in 1786, when it was recorded by Gough as reading: ‘Jhu blessyd mitt thu be’. The occurrence of vernacular pious interjections at this date is not uncommon. A secular inscription in English is recorded in the will. Byrkhede bequeathed to his cousin and executor Hugh Ives a standing cup of silver with a cover, inscribed with the reason or motto: ‘Al my pleser’. Master Wynterborne was given another silver standing cup with a cover, pounced and gilt on the outside, with a finial in the form of a flower. Thomas Rygby, the other overseer, received a third silver standing cup, pounced and parcel gilt, with a finial in the form of an eagle. These are all gone, melted down long ago, but the brass remains as a testimony of the life of John Byrkhede.
J.G. Nichols, ‘The Brass of John Birkhede at Harrow’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, I (1860), pp. 276-
H.K. Cameron, ‘The Brasses of Middlesex. Part 14’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, New Series, XXIV (1973), pp. 165-
Byrkhede’s will is PRO, PROB 11/5 (Godyn), ff. 190v-
Copyright: Nicholas Rogers
Click here for the Brass of the Month feature
Copyright © 2007 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)
Page last updated 25 August 2007