The Hastings Brass at Elsing

THE  HASTINGS  BRASS

                In 1408, a remarkable occasion took place in Elsing Church.  Sir Edward Hastings, great-grandson of Sir Hugh Hastings, was defendant to a suit by Reginald, Lord Grey of Ruthin in the Court of Chivalry, sitting in the Guest Hall of the Priory at Norwich, and concerning the title of  Lord Hastings.  He asked the Commissioners to adjourn to the church to see evidence on his ancestor’s tomb and in the windows which could not be brought to the Court without great damage being done to them.  This they agreed to do, resulting in a unique and detailed description of the memorial brass as it was in those days, written in Norman French, with the evidence and depositions being nearly 800 pages long.

Four generations later, it was Sir Edward Hastings who, on his uncle John’s death, claimed the title of Baron Hastings.  The Lord Grey of that time disagreed.  The Court of the Constable and Marshall, or Court of Chivalry, considered the matter, and found for Reginald Lord Grey, awarding him “971lbs 17s” costs, a fearsome amount of money in those days.  Edward refused to pay, still styled himself Lord Hastings and Stoteville, and was consigned to the Marshalsea prison, where here stayed, stubbornly refusing to give away his heir’s claim to the baronies, for twentyone years until his death.

It was Sir Edward’s son John, who was not knighted, who built (or re-built) Elsing Hall, a handsome moated mansion of flint and red brick, as evidenced by the arms that were in the porch, of Hastings quartering Foliot and impaling Morley – (Argent) a Lion rampant (Sable) crowned (Or);  his wife Anne was the daughter of Lord Morley.

The Brass

The brass itself was “rubbed” in 1781 showing many elements now lost.  A reconstruction has been made for rubbing and is at the back of the church.  The original was displayed in the “Chivalry” Exhibition of 1987, and afterwards was carefully restored and placed in a surrounding stone frame.  As before, it lies in the centre of the chancel, the founder’s place.  Its design was taken from the Earl of Pembroke’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.

The central figure of Sir Hugh stands within a canopy,with his body slightly flexed to the right (a French trait  which accords with the continental origin of the engraving;  King Edward, Lawrence Hastings and Ralph Lord Stafford show a similar sway to one side).  His hands are elevated before him in prayer.  The brass was gilded, and the coats of arms were coloured; the pommel of Sir Hugh’s sword has another small Hastings coat of arms,  In the corners there were shields of glass, two with his own coat and two with his wife’s coat, Gules a bend Argent,  but these have been long gone.

On the jupon, on the shield, and repeated on the sword pommel, are his arms:  (Or) a Maunch (Gules) with a label of three – Hastings.  The crest is on the finial over the central figure:  a Bull’s head erased – Hastings.

Two angels hold Sir Hugh’s eight-cornered diapered and tasselled pillow; two more angels above his head  assist the rise of his soul heavenwards in a napkin .  Within the upper part of the canopy, St. George attacks not a dragon but the devil.  On the finial is Hasting’s crest of a bull’s head erased; to either side, on brackets, the coronation of the Virgin Mary.  One upper corner has another angel with a censer; the other is missing.

     The surrounding inscription has gone as well, but according to an old record it read:

“Hic iacet humatus Hastynges Hugo, veneratus Y modum fari potuit, petijt tumulari Luce ter x mense Julij mors hinc terit ense Anno fertur in M. ter C quarter x. quoque septem Vos qui transitis Christum rogitare velitis, Hunc ut saluet a ve Finis sit cum pater Aue.”

“Here lies interred the revered Hugh Hastings;  He wanted to be buried in the style in which he lived.  On the thirtieth day of July 1347 death took his sword. You who pass by ask God to forgive his trespasses; pray for him with an Ave and an Our Father”.

There were eight panels of “weepers”, in this instance Sir Hugh’s relatives or companion in arms from his warrior days; six remain.  There is no evidence that these individuals actually attended his funeral.  Two shields have been lost from the panels; the edges remain smoothly turned in, and are free of the damage which might have been evident had enamel been cut from the brass there.  They were probably also inserts of coloured glass.  The whole must have looked spectacular.   The brass of Sir Hugh and the attendant figures provides a very rare record of the development of the armour of the day.

In each side pillar are four canopied panels showing the commanders and colleagues with whom he fought in France. On the dexter side, KING EDWARD III heads the “weepers”, his arms Quarterly France Ancient and England.  Below him, THOMAS BEAUCHAMP, EARL OF WARWICK, with Gules a Fess between six Cross-croslets Or.

Next was Sir HUGH LE DESPENSER, THE 3RD BARON DESPENSER, bearing Quarterly Argent and Gules Fretty Or over all a Bendlet Sable, though this panel is missing on the original. At the bottom is SIR JOHN GREY OF RUTHIN, with Barry of six Argent and Azure in chief three Torteaux a label of three points Argent.

On the sinister side, HENRY PLANTAGENET, KG, later DUKE OF LANCASTER is at the top; his arms are Gles three Lioncels passant guardant Or a label of three points Azure each charged with as many Fleurs-de-lis Or. Next, LAWRENCE HASTINGS, 4TH LORD HASTINGS AND ABERGAVENNY, and later EARL OF PEMBROKE, bearing Quarterly 1 and 4, Or a Maunch Gules – HASTINGS, 2 and 3, Barry Argent and Azure an Orle of Martlets Gules for VALENCE.

Third is RALPH DE STAFFORD, KG, LORD STAFFORD, with Or a Chevron Gules. Lastly, ALMERIC LORD ST. AMAND Or fretty Sable on a chief  Sable three Bezants.

Six of the “weepers” were related to Sir Hugh Hastings; Henry Lancaster was also the superior lord of the Foliot manors at Elsing and elsewhere.

Three of the figures bore shields which have been removed – it is likely these were also of enamel. The whole would have been one of the most magnificent memorials and works of art of the fourteenth century.

What were almost certainly Sir Hugh’s bones were found under a stone just to the east of the brass, where the founder’s tomb would be expected to lie. It showed recent damage to his jaw and teeth. Sir Hugh was sent home from the siege of Calais to deal with a riot in Lincolnshire. He received wounds, probably a sword blow across his face, and died near London from them. His will is still extant.

[This image is from a document in the Norfolk Record Office, probably drawn by Thomas Martin; it has been coloured by the author.]

There used to be an east window with Sir Hugh and Lady Margery kneeling before a church, bearing the Hastings and Foliot arms on their robes, and with the bull’s head crest between them, and with more shields of arms in four lateral lights, but these have all been destroyed.

2 Comments

  1. David

    St Amand – shouldn’t it be 3 bezants in chief?

    • I think the blazon as given defines the sable chief; your suggestion could be interpreted as showing three bezants on the fret. Do you agree?

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