Brass of the Month

December 2003: Norton Disney, Lincolnshire

December's brass of the month is a curious and unusual genealogical composition of c1580, from Norton Disney, Lincolnshire, commemorating three generations of the d’Iseni or Disney family, ancestors of the famous animator, Walt Disney. The brass is a two-dimensional representation of the type of wall monument popular in the late 16th century. This is particularly evident from the pediment, flanked by crests incorporating heraldic beasts, which surmounts the four rectangular panels comprising the main part of the monument. In addition to the figures and inscription, the brass has a proud display of family arms, emphasising the Disney family lineage.  

Two of the panels contain serried ranks of demi effigies. On the upper panel two main figures face each other across a prayer desk on which rest open books. Between them snakes a prayer scroll with the words 'sufference dothe save', a strictly Protestant sentiment.  William Disney, Esquire, d. 1540, is shown in armour, to denote his status, rather than indicating he was involved in military affairs. His wife Margaret Joiner wears the pedimental headdress  fashionable during her lifetime, a deliberate attempt at antiquarianism. However, this is combined with a gown of a later era, open in front exposing a richly decorated petticoat. Behind the two figures are their children, the eldest closest to the parents. Their names are given in scrolls: Francis, Thomas William, Richard, Ann, Mary, Margaret, Katherine and Bridget.

The second effigial panel has centrally a forward facing figure of the heir, Richard Disney, d. 1578, again shown in armour. Either side of him are his two wives, Nele, daughter of Sir William Hussey, and Jane, daughter of Sir William Ayscough. Both are shown in the same dress as Richard's mother, except that they wear a headress known as the Paris Head or French Hood. Behind Nele are ranged 7 sons and 5 daughters; the section of the brass bearing the boys' names has been cut out, but those for the girls survive. They were named Sara, Ester, Judeth, Judeth and Susan, the first Judeth having presumably died young, despite being shown, like her sisters, as a miniature adult. The area behind Richard's 2nd wife, Jane, is blank, indicating that she was childless.  


Norton Disney brass


In the bottom panel is an inscription reading 'The lyfe, conversacion and Service, of the first above named William Disney and of Richard Disney his sonne were comendable amongest ther Neighbours trewe and fathefull to ther Prince and cuntre & acceptable Thallmighty of whom the truth they are receved to Salvation accordinge to the Stedfast faythe which they had in & throughe the mercy and merit of Christ our savior Thees thuthes are thus sett forthe that in all ages God maybe thankfully Glorified for thes and suche lyke his gracius benifites.' Again this is a strictly Protestant inscription, very far removed from the formulae requesting prayers for the souls of the deceased which was an essential part of pre-Reformation brasses.

The other interesting aspect of this brass is that it is palimpsest, the reverse having part of a Flemish inscription (another portion of which is on the back of a brass at West Lavington, Wiltshire) recording the endowment of a mass in 1518 by Adrian Adrianson and Paechine van den Steyne in the church of Westmonstre in the city of Middleburgh. The brass is mounted on a hinge so both sides can be viewed. Many brasses engraved between 1570 and 1585 are palimpsest, with brasses from the Low Countries on the reverse. The Netherlands at this time were under the harsh and unpopular rule of the Catholic Spanish monarch, Phillip II. Opposition under the Protestant William the Silent of Orange led to destructive, violence in Low Country churches, initially motivated by iconoclasm, but later to raid tradeable metals artefacts, including brasses, to raise money for William's cause. Much of this latten scrap was sold to London and Norwich-based brass engravers. 

This brass is the last of a series of six monuments to the members of the d'Isney family at Norton Disney. There are two relief effigies to unknown members of the family. Under an arch in the north wall lies the slender figure of a lady of c1300, with shields bearing the d'Iseni family arms in the wall behind. On a tomb chest is a military effigy of c1350 in mail with a shield carved with the d'Iseni arms; he has straight legs and his hands held in prayer.  More unusual   is an elaborate semi-effigial slab to a lady of the mid-fourteenth century. It features a cusped straight-armed cross flanked by shields, above which is a canopy and the sunk-relief bust of a lady with flowing hair, resting her head on a pillow and wearing a tight sleeved gown, buttoned from the wrist to the elbow. Within the cusped architectural mount of the cross are her feet lying on a hound, again in sunk relief. The incised Norman-French Lombardic inscription round the slab records that she was Joan, wife of  Sir William Disni and daughter of Nicholas de Lancforte. There is a very similar semi-effigial slab to another member of the d’Iseni family at Kingerby. Joan’s husband,  Sir William d’Iseni, was commemorated by a brass of c. 1340 made by the Lincoln brass engravers. The brass inlay has now gone, but the indent remains clear. It shows a cross-legged knight under a canopy, with a fillet inscription round the perimeter of the slab. Finally a late 14th century relief effigy of a lady with her hands held in prayer. Beasts are at her head and feet and angels by her pillow. There are shields with the d'Iseni arms on the coping of the stone and on one side of it an inscription recording that the effigy commemorates Hantascia Disney.

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Page last updated 02 December 2003