Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The brass of Thomas of Woodstock

Whilst looking for illustrations for my recent post about the Merciless Parliament I came across a reproduction of the engraving of the monumental brass of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester.The brass, which was in Westminster Abbey, was drawn by Sandford in 1677, but has regrettably subsequently been lost.

Image: Monumental Brass Society website mbs-brasses.co.uk

The Duke, wearing the robes of a Knight of the Garter, is in the middle of the third register, with his wife below him. The figures either side of her may be their children. Above the Duke is the Holy Trinity, between the Blessed Virgin Mary and, presumably from the mitre, St Thomas of Canterbury. This suggests a devotion to the Trinity similar to that of his brother Edward Prince of Wales as shown in the tester over his tomb, which is situated close to the site of the shrine of St Thomas in Canterbury cathedral. 

At the top is King Edward III in state flanked by two of his sons and with others and his daughters, identified by their arms, forming the side panels. The way the figures are placed within the embattlemented canopy work is slightly reminiscent of the brass of Bishop Wyvil at Salisbury which shows him within the episcopal castle at Sherborne which he had recovered for his see.

The emphasis on the Duke's membership of the wider royal family is unusual, indeed almost unique, though it does recall the paintings commissioned by his father for St Stephen's Chapel in the adjacent palace showing the King and his sons at prayer, of which portions survive, having been rediscovered after the 1834 fire. It perhaps owes something to the design of a Tree of Jesse, and also to brasses which show a single figure flanked by smaller figures of saints. It presumably stresses Duke Thomas' membership of the royal house and his status as a Son of the King of England, the contemporary equivalent of the modern HRH, or the Iberian Infante. It is presumably designed to invite the viewer to pray for the souls of the Duke's parents and siblings as well as for him and his wife.

The design is unusual and it is not immediately clear if it is a single plate which might suggest that it was a product if a Flemish workshop, as they specialised in large plates, or if it is English work with the preference for individual  cut out figures and shields. I think it is the latter from the way Sandford shows the brass, with the apparent background being a stone slab.

The Monumental Brass Society website dates it to 1395, suggesting it was commissioned by the Duke, who was killed two years later. He was originally buried in St Edmund's chapel but King Henry IV moved his body to the Confessor's chapel to be near his parents King Edward III and Queen Philippa. The fine, separate brass of his Duchess, Eleanor, who died in 1399, does survive in the abbey.

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