Church Monuments Society

The figure lies recumbent and with crossed legs 01

A military effigy

Month: June 2014
Type: Effigy   Stone carving  
Era: 13th Century

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St James's Church

More about this monument

We are very fortunate in England in that a large number of medieval effigies have survived, often in an excellent state of preservation, despite destruction and loss during religious upheavals, unfortunate restorations or just the ravages of time. They may be found in medieval churches, of course, often in small and isolated ones, this isolation possibly limiting active destruction, but may be also found in modern churches, where they may have been preserved from an earlier church, moved from a nearby church or found buried during excavations and restorations.

I have included this effigy in the Monument of the Month series not because it is particularly notable but rather because it is a walk down the road from where I presently live. Iddesleigh is a small village with the church, a rather fine pub and a few houses, all of which may well be missed as you pass through on narrow road which almost serves as a by-pass.

St James’s originates from the 13th century but is mainly 15th century; it was partly rebuilt in 1720 and restored in the early 19th. The effigy is tucked away and easily missed, being under a low arch in the north wall of the north aisle, behind the organ in what, although Pevsner calls it a chapel, is more a broom cupboard for cleaning materials. It clearly does not belong under this later recess but the original position can not now be ascertained.

The effigy is of a military figure, of oolithic limestone -1, nearly six feet in length and in a fairly good state of preservations; it dates from about 1250. There is no remaining paintwork.

The figure lies recumbent and with crossed legs -2, his head resting on a single rectangular pillow with no supporters, his feet on a lion, whose tail can been seen between the feet. His right hand passes across his body and rests on his shield, his left on the scabbard of his sheathed sword.

He wears a knee length mail shirt (hauberk) with long sleeves with attached gauntlets. A narrow strap passes around each wrist to hold these in position. His head is covered by a separate mail hood (coif) and this is tightened by a strap which can be seen above the forehead, A flap of this coif (the ventail) can also be seen to be fastened to this strap on the right hand side; presumably the neck was open in order to put on the coif, which was then closed by folding and tying this ventail to the other side of the coif. Above this coif can be seen the swelling of a padded arming cap which would have supported the great helm. He wears mail stockings and again narrow straps can be seen, which also appear to join with pads, possibly made of leather, protecting the knees . The mail is represented by parallel rows of C’s with the C’s being reversed in alternate rows; because of the state of wear this is not obvious in many places.

His shield, which shows no heraldry, is held by a belt across his right shoulder and his sword with one across his hip; the buckles for both of these belts can clearly be seen. There is also a thin belt around his waiste hold the surcost in position. Prick spurs are shown strapped to his feet. Over his armour he wears a surcoat reaching to mid calf; this falls open at the front showing the underlying armour.

Who does this effigy represent? As stated there is no heraldry carved on the shield and, if it were painted it has long gone. Neither is there any inscription. However Rogers -3 , quoting Westcote -4, states that it is of Sir John Sully, who lived in the area at the relevant period. However I do not know if there is any strong evidence for this claim.

John K Bromilow MInstP

-1 Mark Downing FSA Military Effigies of England & Wales Volume 2 states that this is Dundry stone, which indicates the material from which the effigy is constructed was at least quarried in the Bristol region.

-2 Note: military effigies of this period (from about 1250) and in England have crossed legs; earlier effigies have straight legs as do later ones. More rarely effigies of male civilians, and even ladies, have crossed legs, although, because of long gowns, are not so noticeable and rather pointless to depict. It is nothing to do with the Crusades, although this is often still stated and asked about; in fact, the reason for crossed legs is not known but is probably merely a ‘fashion’ to add interest to the sculpture.

-3 W H Hamilton Rogers FSA The Ancient Sepulchral Effigies and Monumental and Memorial Sculpture of Devon 1877 Published by the author.

-4 Thomas Westcote (c. 1567 – c.1637) A View of Devonshire.Westcote was a historian and topographer of Devon.

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