The Brasses

The following is a copy of a speech given at the AGM of the Monumental Brass Society, held at St Peters Church, Ardingly, by Robert Hutchinson – 8th July 2023

See also: Church memorials


History is a living subject, constantly evolving as research uncovers new facets of our past. Our forebears’ relentless quests for wealth and status reveal the drama of historic events, truth that sometimes seems stranger than fiction. As the slick marketing slogan of a tabloid Sunday newspaper had it: ‘All human life is here’.

These Ardingly brasses are a telling case in point. Some of those commemorated had family involvement in two rebellions against the crown; received a royal pardon for dishonestly managing a client’s estate and abducted two heiresses, sparking a long-running and acrimonious law suit. Sounds more like storylines from a Netflix soap opera, doesn’t it?

Richard and Elizabeth Wakehurst

The earliest brass is to Richard Wakehurst the elder, 1454, and his wife Elizabeth, beneath a double canopy. It lies on a Purbeck marble slab in the NE corner of the chancel, atop a freestone chest tomb with two quatrefoil panels enclosing shields, originally painted. Richard is depicted wearing a doublet, under a fur-trimmed gown with wide sleeves, a purse, rosary and round-toed shoes. His wife’s headdress shows the beginnings of a fashionable transition from the fifteenth-century’s butterfly to the later pedimental, with lappets of plain fabric framing her face. She wears a fur-lined and tight-sleeved outer garment, the train casually hoisted up over her left elbow and an ornamental girdle buckled at the waist.

The brass was engraved around 1500 by the London ‘F’ workshop. As Ardingly is some distance from the sea or any navigable river, the slab and its brass must have arrived here after a tedious journey, trundling over poor, unmade roads. A recorded example of this mode of transportation is the Purbeck slab and brass to Sir John de Brewys at Wiston, in West Sussex, which incurred 12d customs dues for carrying it over London Bridge in 1426-7.

A rubbing in the Society of Antiquaries’ library shows that the left-hand canopy pinnacle, central finial and top right corner of the four-line inscription were missing in the nineteenth century, but these were restored about 1890.

Translated from the Latin, the inscription reads:

‘Pray for the souls of Richard Wakeherst esquire and Elysabeth his wife, daughter of Robert Echyngham esquire, the which Richard died the 4th. day of January 1454 and the aforesaid Elisabeth died the 19th. day of July 1464 on whose souls may God have mercy.’

The three shields above the canopy bear, left: Gules, a chevron engrailed between 3 doves argent (WAKEHURST); centre: WAKEHURST impaling Azure, fretty argent (ETCHINGHAM) and right: ETCHINGHAM.

The Wakehurst family had lived here since the early thirteenth-century. However, it is uncertain when the manor passed to Richard. Between 1404 and 1411 he fought a legal action over land in Ardingly against John Wakehurst (either his father or elder brother) but John remained in possession, at least until 1415. That year, Richard acquired more property in Ardingly, in addition to holdings in nearby East Grinstead and Worth. He had further estates in Surrey at Lingfield, Throwle and Bysshe Court. Dixter and Gatecourt in Sussex came to him via his wife, through a complex arrangement agreed with her family.

Richard Wakehurst, a member of Parliament for Sussex in 1413, was a lawyer specialising in land tenure law, and a Justice of the Peace for Sussex for 48 years, frequently entrusted to arbitrate in land disputes. Wakehurst’s clientele lay amongst the senior gentry and aristocracy, such as the baronial family of Cobham of Sterborough and Thomas Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. However, Richard’s persona of trusted lawyer and upright citizen was badly tarnished, a month after his death, when Chancery issued a posthumous royal pardon for his transgressions as a trustee of the Cobham estates.

He was involved in setting up a number of religious foundations: the Salerne Chantry in St. Clement’s church, Hastings, in 1443, and Boteler’s chantry in St. Mary’s, Horsham, the following year. His will, made before the day he died included bequests to Ardingly church, Robertsbridge abbey, the Austin Friars at Rye and the hospitals of St. Mary of Bethlehem and St. Anthony, London. He asked to be buried here in his parish church.

Richard and Nicholas Culpeper

We now move on to discuss the second and third of the brasses to Richard and Nicholas Culpeper and their wives.

The Culpepers were an ancient family which had suffered some ups and downs down the years. Walter Culpeper was executed in 1321, and a brother, Sir Thomas was hung, drawn and quartered at Winchelsea, after they supported Thomas, second earl of Lancaster, in his unsuccessful rebellion against Edward II, Walter and his mistress, Margaret de Clare, baroness Badlesmere, had refused Isabella, Edward II’s queen, admittance to Leeds Castle. Royal forces captured the fortress and hung Walter and eleven of its garrison in front of the gate for their temerity, if not treason.

Richard and Nicholas were sons of Walter Culpeper of Goudhurst, Kent, who, with two of their brothers, were among the 5,000 who joined Jack Cade’s rebellion in April-July 1450, that ended with the rebel leader fatally wounded in a skirmish, reputedly near Heathfield, East Sussex.

Richard Wakehurst’s two teenage granddaughters and co-heiresses, Margaret and Elizabeth, were the daughters of Richard the younger (who pre-deceased his father) and his wife Agnes Gaynesford. They were sent by their grandmother Elisabeth to live with Nicholas and Richard’s brother, Sir John Culpeper of Bedgebury in Kent. Ostensibly, this seemed a prudent arrangement as he had earlier married the girls’ widowed mother Agnes, who went on to have six children by him. Sir John succeeded to his father’s estates in November 1462 and had moved to Goudhurst. Their new guardian “promysed on the faithe and trouthe of his bodye and [that] as he was a gentylman,” the girls would not be endangered or wronged.

The following year they were abducted by Nicholas and Richard, who with ‘force and armes riotously agense the Kynges peas arayed in the manor of warre at Goutherst toke and caried’ them away, ‘the seide Margaret and Elizabeth… making grete and pittious lamentation and weyping’. They were taken to Bobbing, Kent, the home of their sister Margaret and her husband Alexander Clifford, and afterwards to London, to the house of one John Gibson, where they were allegedly detained against their wills.

Soon after, Margaret was married to Richard and Elizabeth to Nicholas, although no record of the place or date of these clandestine marriages survives. Backed by several of the local gentry, the girls’ grandmother launched a legal suit in Chancery and tried to block as much of the girls’ inheritance as she could, before she died in 1464. But was this abduction all it seemed? In reality, was this a carefully orchestrated charade, because the grandmother was vehemently opposed to the marriages? She probably regarded the brothers as poor matches for her wealthy granddaughters, and considered the Culpepers social climbers and presumptuous upstarts. Their ‘piteous lamentation’ and ‘weeping’ might just be smoke and mirrors to hide hidden passions. Or were the reports of the dramatic kidnapping, deliberately overegged by the grandmother to win the court’s sympathy during her legal action?

As Julia Pope pointed out twenty years ago in her erudite study of medieval abduction cases, the marriages fell within the then prohibited degrees of affinity, as the Culpepers became the girls’ step-uncles by reason of Sir John and Agnes’s marriage, but this strangely was never an issue raised in court.

Attempts to disinherit the two couples failed with the estate passing to the Culpepers in 1468 but twenty years later, they were still bogged down in legal disputes with Elizabeth’s relatives over manors and other assets contained in Richard Wakehurst’s original bequests.

Richard and Margaret Culpeper are depicted on a London style ‘G’ brass of 1504, now relaid in a new slab on the chancel floor, but originally was on its north side. He is in armour and she wears a pedimental headdress. The upper half of the lady, the two outer shields and the clumsy double canopy have been restored, the engraving lines filled and coloured. The engravers unsuccessfully attempted to insert perspective into the canopy design, far removed from the elegant structures portrayed on brasses of fifty years before. The curve in each compartment shows vaulting of a groined ceiling; in each apex is a quatrefoil circle with ‘ihu’ over the man and ‘m’cy’ over the lady. The lower side shafts are lost.

Margaret predeceased her husband and Richard died in 1516 but his date was never inserted in the six line inscription, which translated from the Latin reads: ‘Pray for the souls of Richard Culpeper esquire and Margaret his wife, which Richard was the son of Walter Culpeper of Gou hurst in the county of Kent and the aforesaid Margaret was the daughter of Richard Wakehurst the younger the which Margaret died the 25th. of July 1504 and the aforesaid Richard died day 15… on whose souls may God have mercy.

The three shields bear: (left) Argent, a bend engrailed gules (CULPEPER) a crescent for difference; (centre) CULPEPER impaling WAKEHURST and right WAKEHURST.

Richard’s will lists property in Kent, seven locations in Sussex and land in Surrey. He named his sister-in-law Elizabeth as one of his executors and requested prayers to be said for him and his wife, his parents, grandfather and his wife’s parents. No mention of Richard Wakehurst the elder’s litigious wife Elisabeth. The dirge and masses were the responsibility of the churchwardens who had to attend, ‘orels they to lose theire wages’.

His brother Nicholas died in 1510 and he and his wife Elizabeth are commemorated by another but less ambitious, London ‘G’ product, again relaid in a new slab on the chancel floor, but in its original position.

Like the earlier brass, we have an armoured figure facing his wife wearing a full pedimental headdress. The three-line English inscription again has blanks for the dates of the wife’s death to be inserted. It reads:

‘Of yor charite pray for the soulles of Nich(ol)as Culpep(er) esquyer & Elizabeth his wyf the whiche Nich(ol)as decessed the xxii of May in ye yer’ of or lord Mt VCX and the seid Elizabeth decessed the day of the yer’ of our lord MTVC …on whose soules ihu have mercy.’

Two shields above the figures are (left) CULPEPER a crescent for diflerence and (right) CULPEPER impaling WAKEHURST, repeated on a third shield below the inscription.

The Antiquaries’ rubbing shows the two plates depicting children below the lower shield: ten sons on the left and eight girls on the right – an impressive family of eighteen children – and the largest family group on any Sussex brass.

The highest number of children depicted on brasses is twenty-four, on the Fermer product to Peter Coryton and his wife Jane, redated to c.1553, at St Mellion, Cornwall. The same number was also on the now fragmentary brass to William Aldriche and his wife Agnes, c.1520, at Burnham, Buckinghamshire, but the plate depicting their nine sons was stolen and now only the daughters remain. Why such large families?

The key is the very high infant mortality rates in Tudor England, coupled with the impact of regular epidemics, there is also scant medical knowledge and poor diet: only 10% of Tudor citizens lived beyond their fortieth birthday. This explains the difference between the eighteen children seen on the brass and genealogical records showing that Nicholas and Elizabeth had only five sons surviving into adulthood.

Thomas Culpeper, who died in 1570-1, asked to be buried in the chancel of Ardingly church and instructed his executors to erect ‘three several toombes upon my grandfather. [Richard, died 1539] my father ‘[John, died 1565] and myne grave with escriptions to be graven in brasse & to be fayre and comlie’. These brasses have not survived, or were never made.

Wakehurst Place was built by Sir Edward Culpeper in 1590. The blocked doorway in the east wall of the south aisle originally provided access to the property’s manorial pew.

Elizabeth Culpeper 1633

Our fourth brass is to Sir Edward’s wife, Elizabeth, died 1633, set in a black limestone slab in the chancel floor. This depicts her facing left, wearing a graceful gown, open in front to display a richly embroidered under-skirt, full sleeves, striped and slashed and frilled at the wrists. She has a pointed lace collar and a mantle drapes her shoulders and is elegantly caught up under her left arm. Her hair falls in ringlets beneath a veil stiffened at the edges.

The eight-line Latin inscription beneath can be translated as:

‘There lies under this stone Elizabeth Culpeper, the most beloved wife of Sir Edward Culpeper of Wakehurst in Sussex, knight, the which Elizabeth was the daughter of William Farnefold Esquire, of Steyning in the said county: died on the 10th. day of September 1633 (noted as 4ft from South Wall, which is incorrect?).`

From Hamline University – Brass Rubbings Collection

Above is a shield bearing, quarterly, 1. (CULPEPER), a crescent for difference. 2. Argent, a chevron sable between 10 martlets gules (HARDRESHULL) 3. (WAKEHURST) 4. Argent, on a bend sable, 3 eagles or, (ERNLEY) in pretence, Argent, 2 bars sable, in the upper, a crescent for diflerence, (PELLATT); all impaling Sable, a chevron engrailed between 3 stags’ heads argent, (FARNFOLD).

Elizabeth, daughter of William Farnefold of Nash in Steyning, married Edward Culpeper in 1584, the only son of Thomas Culpeper by his second wife Phillipa Thatcher. They had thirteen children: four sons and nine daughters. Edward was knighted in 1603, on the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I. He was twice sheriff of Sussex in 1596 and 1606. He died intestate in 1630 and the parish registers recorded on 9 April that year: ‘Sir Edward Culpeper, an ancient Knight, was buryed close to the south Window in the church’.

On his death, Elizabeth took up residence at Bolney, a manor which came into the possession of her third son, Sir William Culpeper, on his marriage with Jane, daughter of Sir Benjamin Pellatt.

Elizabeth Culpeper 1634

Our last brass is to Elizabeth, died 1634, eldest daughter of Sir William Culpeper and granddaughter of Elizabeth. It has been relaid in a freestone slab in the floor on the south side of the chancel. The effigy is just 43cm in height, showing the seven-year-old child wearing a lace cap over her ringlets, a deep collar edged with lace, puffed sleeves, and the gown open to display a narrow strip of underskirt.

Beneath is the inscription in seven lines of Roman capitals in English:

DNI 1634

From Hamline University – Brass Rubbings Collection

The engraver had problems in spacing the wording and squeezed in the lettering in ‘WILLIAM’ in the second line and ‘BETTER’ in the penultimate.

Above the figure is a rectangular plate, bearing, quarterly, 1. CULPEPER. 2. HARDRESHULL. 3. WAKEHURST. 4 ERNLEY and in pretence, PELLATT.

Both this brass and that to Elizabeth Culpeper, 1633, are engraved in the style of Edward Marshall (1597 -1675), Marshall was a mason and sculptor and made brasses: he signed that to Sir Edward Filmer and wife, 1629, at East Sutton, Kent. That year, he moved his workshop from the parish of St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster to a ‘Shoppe’ near St Dunstan’s in the West, Fleet Street, vacated by another monument carver and brass engraver, Francis Grigs. Later he moved to Pink’s Alley, round the corner in Fetter Lane.

I have always been fascinated by the practicalities and logistics of making and transporting brasses. We are all aware of the importation of Flemish brasses and incised slabs from Europe, but have only scratched the surface in researching brass exports.

As an aside, during my work on iconoclasm of brasses in London during Edward VI’s reign, I waded through the London Port customs accounts to determine if imports of latten plate declined because the market was flooded by metal looted from churches during the Reformation (They did!) cargoes, some shipped by Hanseatic merchants, contained a multitude of commodities, included tennis balls, brought in 8,000 a time, and playing cards. Three ships came into port on 5 July 1535, carrying 14,460 packs of ‘playing cards’; clearly Tudor London was keen on sport and gambling. The same month two marble stones were landed, probably Flemish brasses or incised slabs. With all that was going on in Henry VIII’s England and what followed in his son’s reign, was it a wise time to lay down expensive memorials imported from Europe? Ah, the wisdom of hindsight!

On the other hand, we know that English brasses were exported to Ireland, Guernsey, Germany and France, including churches in Calais, during its English occupation that ended in 1558.

I raise this issue because of a surviving slab, measuring 2.06 x 0.9m, probably commemorating Sir George Yeardley, governor of the English colony in Jamestown, Virginia, who died in 1627. I saw this indent during a business trip to Virginia in the late 1990s, preserved in the church there in front of the chancel step, under a glass plate. Almost certainly this was made by the Marshall workshop and is similar to another Marshall product at Cardington, Bedfordshire, where the male effigy wears a helmet of similar shape. A photograph of the Jamestown indent was published in our Transactions, vol. x, facing p. 369, in a paper by Keith Cameron in the 1960s. The grave was excavated in 2018 and DNA samples taken in an attempt to confirm whether Yeardley was buried there. No results have yet been published.

It’s almost 4000 miles from Fleet Street to Virginia and no other brass has made such a long and perilous journey, probably being transported as ballast in the ship.

Anne Forster

Finally, we come to the Wealden iron slab mounted in the South aisle. It commemorates Anne Forster, died 1591, possibly an abortive casting from the sand mould, as it only partially survives. It was probably made at the Strudgate furnace here at Ardingly, first recorded in 1574. Other castings are at St Swithun’s Church East Grinstead, the museum at Anne of Cleves’ House in Lewes, Baynards, Cranleigh, Surrey and Ye Olde Six Bells, Billingshurst. The complete slab is at Crowhurst, Surrey. [See full list of other castings. – ed]

In its entirety, the inscription reads:


The slab was said to have been found in the blacksmith’s forge at Ardingly, sent there for recasting into iron bars. Afterwards, it was used as a fireback and discarded in 1917 when a cottage was demolished.


My talk this afternoon began with the proposition that history is a living subject, full of the drama and fascination created by the foibles of human life. The monuments in Ardingly are an excellent illustration of that thesis, as is that indent in the Jamestown colony in North America, so nearly destroyed by famine and attacks by their indigenous neighbours.