Medieval Writing
Works on Heraldry (4)
funrerary brass of Robert de Septvans One of the best places to discover heraldic imagery is on funerary monuments. The image taken from the rubbing of an early 14th century funerary brass at left shows a knight wearing the kind of chain mail armour, surcoat and long shield that were used by the crusaders. This was about the last gasp for this style of armour, as it was steadily replaced by plate armour. His armorial motif is a quite elaborately drawn fan, possibly a rebus or pun on his name, although in no combination are there seven of them. The motif appears on his shield, on his ailettes (the leather neck protectors which, in the two dimensional image, are drawn as if they stick out like wings) and in several places on his surcoat. And let us put to bed one persistently repeated myth about these 14th century tombs. There is no evidence whatsoever that the crossed legs of the knight indicate that he has been on crusade. Most crosslegged images are way too late, and early effigies of genuine crusaders are often not crosslegged. They just drew them that way.
Rubbing of funerary brass of Sir Robert de Septvans (d.1306) in the church at Chartham, Kent.
This knightly figure from the mid 14th century is one of the small supporter figures from the funerary brass to Sir Hugh Hastings. His armour is a combination of mail and plate, and the long surcoat has been reduced to a short tabard bearing his coat of arms. It also appears on his now much reduced shield, but does not show too well as the surface has been damaged, having been chiselled out in order to display the emblem in coloured inlay. This figure represents the very same Ralph, Lord Stafford who produced the letters patent on a previous page, but crests and mantling, as mentioned in that document, are not shown here. The fashion for depicting the human figure has changed from macho crosslegged to dainty mincing curves, but as before, they just drew them that way.
brass depicting Ralph, Lord Stafford
Figure of Ralph, Lord Stafford from the funerary brass of Sir Hugh Hastings (d.1347) at Elsing, Norfolk.
heraldic brass This late 15th century brass shows the more complex vocabulary and syntax of late medieval heraldry, with four different shields at the corners of the slab showing different family relationships. The full helm with crest and mantling is shown behind the knight's head. One needs to refer to three dimensional tombs, like the one below, to see that this is meant to indicate that his head is leaning on it, and the figures are actually depicted lying down, even if they don't look like it. This tomb also has brass plates with angels holding various shields of arms around the sides.
helm with crest
At left, rubbing of a brass memorial of 1475 to Nicholas and Joanna Kniveton on a table tomb in the parish church of Mugginton, Derbyshire. Above, The helm, with crest of a horse's head and mantling under the head of the effigy of Sir Richard Redmayne (d.1475) in the parish church at Harewood, Yorkshire.
Garter stall plate A source of elaborate heraldic imagery is found in the stall plates of the Knights of the Garter in St George's Chapel, Windsor. One wonders how much imagery of this type has been lost from churches scattered around the country, apart from the funerary context.
Garter stall plate of Sir Lewis Robessart, Lord Bourchier, from the early 15th century.
Heraldic ornament can also appear on architectural carving, and perhaps to the most stunning visual effect, in stained glass. The example below commemorates the donors to a very large and spectacular town church which made its fortune from wool. Not only are the shields of arms displayed above the figures, the person on the right is wearing his arms on a heraldic tabard.
heraldic stained glass 15th century stained glass window of donors with their shields of arms in the parish church of Long Melford, Suffolk.
Heraldry is not only a subject which has its own medieval literature, descriptive nomenclature and literate culture, it is a symbolic language in its own right, expressed in various visual media.
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