Norbury Church, medieval tombs and the White Boar badge worn by Sir Ralph Fitzherbert

Fitzherbert Banner 3 smallA long planned visit was made today to the Church of St Mary and St Barlock (an Irish Saint) in Norbury in Derbyshire, UK. This delightful village church contains a number of medieval tombs and memorials not least of which is that of Sir Ralph Fitzherbert (died 1483) who was Lord of the manor of Norbury along with his wife Lady Elizabeth Marshall which sits beside that of his father Sir Nicholas Fitzherbert (b. 1400, d. 19 November 1473).  The memorial to Sir Ralph Fitzherbert and his wife Elizabeth is well regarded and is thought to have been made at the same time as the matching memorial to Nicholas Fitzherbert, both are carved from Chellaston alabaster, this famous quarry being only nine miles away. Of particular historical interest is the effigy of Sir Ralph. His feet rest on a lion; next to it and under Ralph’s shoe crouches the small figure of a bedesman. The bearded bedesman is telling his rosary for the souls of the departed but interestingly Ralph also bears the Yorkist livery collar of alternating suns and roses, with the White Boar livery badge of the English King Richard III (1452—1485, reigned from 1483) as a pendant. The White Boar was King Richard’s personal device or badge, probably a personal choice about which there has been some speculation, the most interesting of which is that its use was a pun on “Ebor”, a contraction of Eboracum, the Latin name for York where Richard had his powerbase. It was also a badge of the royal possession the “Honour of Windsor” (an “honour” was a large estate, not necessarily all located around the place from which it took its name). Since the destruction by fire in 1998 of the wooden effigy of Ralph Neville (d. 1484) at Brancepeth in County Durham, this is the only surviving representation of a boar pendant showing how it would have been worn although several actual pendants still exist. Livery badges were important symbols of political affiliation in the Wars of the Roses, and King Richard III distributed very large numbers at his coronation and at the installation of his son Edward as Prince of Wales, for which an order of 13,000 badges in fustian cloth is recorded. Edward appears to have shared the use of the badge, either from Richard’s accession to the throne, or his own appointment as Prince of Wales, both in 1483, to his death the next year. A number of metal badges, for pinning to the chest or a hat, have survived in lead, silver, and gilded copper high relief, the last found at Richard’s home of Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, and very likely worn by one of his household when he was Duke of Gloucester. A new example in silver-gilt was found in 2009 near Bosworth battlefield, where Richard was killed in 1485. There is also the Chiddingly Boar found in Chiddingly, East Sussex in 1999, and now in the British Museum, this is, or was in silver-gilt, though much of the gilding has worn off. A most beautiful example of a white boar badge made from a copper alloy was discovered in October 2012 on the banks of the River Thames near the tower of London (see center image above). However the importance of the Fitzherbert representation of the white boar badge is that its context and provenance are known and the boar symbol is shown in place as it was worn with armour, an important aspect not evident from archaeological finds to date. Sir Ralph Fitzherbert died two years before Richard III lost his crown and life in the nearby Battle of Bosworth but it’s fairly certain that similar examples of boar badges and pendants would have been worn by King Richard’s supporters at the battle, and even perhaps by the king himself. A visit to St Mary and St. Barlock’s Church in Norbury is well worth while, not only for the Fitzherbert tombs and the white boar badge but also for the stained glass, much of which is a very rare and exquisitely beautiful thirteenth century survival. Recently conserved with a grant from English Heritage these windows in grisaille glass form the finest possible backdrop to some of England’s great alabaster medieval tombs.

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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