Saturday, September 09, 2006

A funerary brass -- Sir Nicholas Dagworth

In the later Middle Ages, prominent people were buried in churches and had monuments erected to them. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such monuments were restricted to royalty and bishops, and were three-dimensional stone effigies. In the fourteenth century and later, engraved brass effigies, usually set in the floor of the church, made such monuments more widely available. You only had to be rich, not filthy rich.

Above is the best reproduction I could find of a brass that I have a personal connection with. It is located in Blickling, Norfolk, England and commemorates Sir Nicholas Dagworth, who came from a family of Hundred-Years-War plunderers. Sir Nicholas spent freely to have a very distinctive monument -- no off-the-shelf, out-of-the-catalog designs for him. The gauntlets are finely shaped and decorated with fine engraving; the lower edge of his surcoat (tight tunic over the body armor) is done in an oak-leaf design. And the crest on his helmet ends in the head of a hawk (not shown here).

My connection? When I first visited England, you could for a small amount of money "rub" brasses -- use a crayon and a roll of paper to make a copy of the original, as you might now use a pencil and a piece of paper to create an image of a coin. One of the brasses I rubbed was this one. Soon after that, someone figured out how to create a brass copy of the ancient brass, and "brass rubbing centers" sprang up, not just in Britain but elsewhere, too. Rubbing the originals was forbidden. This was probably a good thing, since rubbing brasses does wear them down. However, going to the church, kneeling on the hard stone floor for an hour or more, and reproducing the design at its original site did make you think about the monument and its setting. It was a kind of contemplation that I'm not sure you'd get in a "brass rubbing center."

One thing worth thinking about is how important it was for many people to be shown, in death, as warriors wearing the best armor available.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across the Dagworth brass today. I suppose this is the same Dagworth who served Richard II in Italy on two occasions as ambassador in the early 1380s?

If so, he would have known the more (in)famous John Hawkwood, about whom two biographies have been published recently - by Stonor Saunders in England (2004) and by Caferro in the USA (2006).

I am myself writing a specifically military biography of Hawkwood for an English publisher. There is no brass of Hawkwood. The Dagworth brass is classed as an excellent example of the 'camail and jupon' period of armour [1360-1410], in a catalogue of Brass Rubbings which I acquired here (in England) in the late 1960s.

I understand England has a unique collection of brasses. I was sorry to read that the ancient sport of brass-rubbing had largely died out. I never did it myself, but it was very popular with some.

3:31 AM  

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