Brass of the Month

August 2003: Shottesbrooke, Berkshire

This month's featured brass is from Shottesbrooke, Berkshire in the virtually unaltered late Decorated church of St. John the Baptist, one of the finest small churches of the period in England. It was rebuilt in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century following the foundation by Sir William Trussell of a college at Shottesbrooke in 1337. 


Trussell himself was buried in an eye-catching tomb with a relief effigy in the north transept. In front of it is a brass to his daughter and heiress, Margaret, wife of Sir Fulk Pembridge of Tong, Shropshire.


But the finest of the six brasses here, occupying the centre of the chancel, is the magnificent composition to a civilian and a priest shown on the right.   


Though the figures and most of the canopy remain, the marginal inscription disappeared many centuries ago; worn indents of the inscription can be seen at the left hand side and bottom of the photograph. Unlike many other brasses with parts missing, the lost inscription is not recorded in antiquarian notes. Elias Ashmole, a 17th century antiquary, who recorded many brasses in this area, noted a number of inscriptions in Shottesbrooke church, but not this one. It has always been assumed that the pair were kinsmen, but until recently their names remained unknown.


1386 brass at Shottesbrooke

The clue to the identity of the pair was afforded by the establishment of a chantry in the church in 1386 under the will of a London fishmonger, William Frith. Under its terms, two chaplains  were to say masses in perpetuity for the benefit of Frith's soul and those of parents, kinsmen and the faithful departed. In his will of 10 July 1386 Frith requested burial in Shottesbrooke church. He did not give any details of his monument, which might already have been commissioned, but he directed that each year on the anniversary of his death two candles were to burn next to his tomb, one at the head and one at the foot. There can be little doubt that the brass is the chancel is Frith's. Although there is no reference in the will to a kinsman who might have been the priest shown on the brass, it may be significant that one of Frith's executors was John Bradwell, the warden of the college at Shottesbrooke established by  Sir William Trussel. Possibly Bardwell, despite having a different name, could have been  related, perhaps through marriage, to William Frith.

For further details of this brass see Nigel Saul, 'Shottesbrooke Church: a Study in Knighly Patronage' in L. Keen and E. Scarff (eds.), Windsor, Medieval Archaeology, Art and Architecture of the Thames Valley, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XXV (2002), 264-81.

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