Church Monuments Society

Brecon cross slab commemorating Lewis Havard d 1569 Fig 1

Brecon cross slab commemorating Lewis Havard (d. 1569)

Month: October 2016
Type: Cross Slab  
Era: 16th Century

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Brecon Cathedral
Havard Chapel,
Brecon Cathedral,
Cathedral Close,

More about this monument

Members of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies are currently surveying the Havard Chapel in Brecon Cathedral, with its fine collection of ledgerstones. Results will be reported in the Newsletter … meanwhile , here is a taster, another of those puzzling post-Reformation cross slabs which are so common in this corner of south-east Wales and so unusual elsewhere.

This magnificent (if rather battered) cross slab commemorates Lewis Havard, a local landowner who died in 1569. Unfortunately for the student of sixteenth-century ledgerstones, it is currently part hidden under the oak panelling of the memorial to the South Wales Borderers (the 24th Regiment of Foot) and the Monmouthshire Regiment. The panelling is itself of interest to students of church monuments, but it is a pity that it covers up the earlier stones.

Brecon was not of course a cathedral until the twentieth century. The church had been part of the Benedictine priory of St John and was converted to a parish church at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The monuments were pretty comprehensively moved around when George Gilbert Scott restored the building in the 1860s and 1870s, and we can’t be sure that this tomb slab is anywhere like its original location. Even more unfortunately, the panelling completely covers two medieval cross slabs which have been tucked away under the radiators – not the best conservation practice!

There is a drawing of the slab in Theophilus Jones’s History of Brecknockshire which is easier to interpret than the battered original, though if you look at it carefully you will see that the details of the heraldry are different.

The drawing was done by another Welsh antiquarian, the Rev. Thomas Price (better known by his bardic name, Carnhuanawc), who quite possibly made notes on the slab and drew it up afterwards: this might explain the inaccuracies. For example, the original slab has the Havard family’s own arms, the three bulls’ heads, at the upper part of the sinister panel. Instead of this, Carnhuanawc drew another coat of arms sometimes attributed to the Havards, a bull’s head between three mullets.

As well as the Havard arms, the slab has on the dexter side (reading from the top) the chevron between three arrow-heads of the local Games family, a chevron between three birds (possibly the chevron between three cocks of the descendants of Einion Sais, one of the quarterings recorded for the Games family) and a stag (possibly the crowned stag of Owain Gethin, another quartering of Games). Alas, the shields on the sinister side below the three bulls’ heads are too battered to identify them now. Carnhuanawc drew them as a boar’s head erased and a lion rampant. The lion could possibly be the lion rampant of Sir Davy Gam, ancestor of the Games family.

The heraldry on the slab makes it clear that family and lineage were important to the Havard family. More intriguing, though, are the cross head and the inscription. Crosses on tombs are unusual in post-Reformation England but surprisingly common in south-east Wales. They appear in so many different designs that they cannot be the work of one team of stonemasons. Crosses in the Vale of Glamorgan are simple, often only four intersecting lines. In north-east Monmouthshire and south Breconshire they are elaborate, floriated and sometimes interlaced. Some of the sixteenth-century ones (like the Havard cross) are more reminiscent of late medieval designs but with the fleurs-de-lys getting squarer and more baroque by the early seventeenth century.

There is of course nothing in Protestant thinking to preclude a focus on the cross as the emblem of the redemptive sacrifice, but it was increasingly regarded as suspect. Even during the Commonwealth in the mid seventeenth century, though, tombs were explicitly excluded from Parliamentary ordinances for the removal of crucifixes, crosses and other visual imagery in churches. Nevertheless, they were clearly regarded as vulnerable. The memorial to Edward Hunter (d 1646) at Marholm, Northamptonshire, actually has the lines

Noe crucifix you see, noe Frightfull Brand
Of Superstition´s here. Pray let me stand.

More clearly ‘Catholic’ in sentiment is the inscription on Lewis Havard’s tomb. In Latin and in blackletter script, it records his status and date of death and concludes with the traditional prayer ‘cuius anime propitietur Deus’. While not as defiantly Catholic as an outright request for prayer for his soul, this would have been regarded as distinctly suspicious by the church authorities. But was it actual evidence of Catholicism? Some branches of the Havard family were certainly reported as recusants in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lewis Havard himself died in 1569, before the Papal bull Regnans in Excelsis which finally excommunicated Elizabeth and (among other things) ordered Catholics not to attend the services of the established church. This is the point at which Catholic sympathies are forced into outright recusancy. Lewis Havard, with his cross slab and his family’s concern for his soul, might well have regarded himself as a traditionalist but loyal subject of the Queen. As the NADFAS survey is proving, there were plenty more like him.

Madeleine Gray

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