Military Effigies in Nottinghamshire before the Black Death

By Rev. Henry Lawrence, M.A. and T E Routh

An attempt is made in the following notes to describe, and where possible identify, the early military effigies of the county. Those here described are nineteen in number and are to be found in fourteen churches:

Church Probable subject Approximate date
I. *Blyth Fitzwilliam c.1240
II. Gonalston (1) Sir John Heriz c.1270
III. Laxton (1) Sir Adam de Everingham c.1280
IV. Staunton (1) Sir William de Staunton c.1290
V. West Bridgford Sir Robert de Lutterell c.1298
VI. *Gonalston (2) Sir John Heriz c.1310
VII. Staunton (2) Sir Geoffrey de Staunton c.1310
VIII. Hawton Sir Robert Compton c.1310
IX. *Bingham Sir Richard de Binlham c.13l0
X. *Lowdham Sir John de Lowdham 1318
XI. *Staunton (3) Sir William de Staunton 1326
XII. *Willoughby Sir Richard Willoughby 1326
XIII. *Norwell Sir John de Lisours 1330
XIV. *Flintham Hosee c.1330
XV. *Laxton (2) Sir Adam de Everingham 1335
XVI. Whatton Sir Robert de Whatton 1336
XVII. East Bridgford Sir John de Caltoft c.1344)
XVIII. Laxton (3) Everinghain 1343
XIX. Tuxford Sir John de Lexington 1341
*Illustrations are given of these effigies.

The Nottinghamshire effigies provide a fairly comprehensive summary of the armour in use between 1250 and 1350. Most of them to belong the first standardized type, the chain-mail period, during which the knight was clothed, with the exception of knee-caps, entirely in mail from head to foot. A few of the later effigies belong to the period of transition which intervened between chain-mail and the succeeding standardized type, Camail and Jupon, and overlapped the Black Death interval. During this period Various reinforcements to the mail were being tried, and attempts made to combine strength with lightness and flexibility.

Probably the finest effigy in the county is at Laxton, but the one at Lowdham is a serious rival. The effigy at Blyth is of special interest, belonging as it does to the comparatively small class of heaume effigies (i.e. with cylindrical helmet). The Bingham effigy is also of importance: the two at Whatton and Staunton figured by Stothard are for that reason the best known. On the whole the county is to be congratulated on the number and importance of its military effigies of this period.


This effigy is for many reasons of exceptional interest. It now lies at the north side of the structural south aisle, and like others of the same type—notably one in the chapel of Kirkstead, Lincolnshire—is made of Purbeck marble.1 It is not carved like later effigies to stand out from the base slab, but is worked to only about half the usual depth. Unfortunately the effigy is in a sadly dilapidated condition, but when perfect the knight lay within a canopy, consisting of an arch over the head and shafts with moulded capitals and bases at the sides. The legs have not been crossed, and the feet, to which spurs were attached, rest on two grotesque beasts. The sword lies diagonally underneath the shield,2 which is placed directly in front of the body and covers almost the whole of the upper part. The position of the arms is difficult to determine, but perhaps the right lay down that side whilst the left was bent upwards under the shield. The surcoat is short and both it and the shield are charged with the knight’s arms—lozengy. To find the surcoat thus ornamented with coat armour at this early date is very unusual and the writers cannot recall a parallel instance. Another point of exceptional interest is that the figure is depicted wearing a heaume, which completely covers the head and face. This is not, of course, unique. The effigy at Kirkstead, referred to above, wears a very similar one, and there are two effigies at Furness Abbey of knights portrayed in the same manner and one or two other examples elsewhere. The heaume at Blyth is flat-topped and belongs to a type which appears to have come into use in the reign of Richard I and continued for about fifty years. On the whole it is not possible to assign a later date than 1240 to this effigy, which may be some­what earlier.

There can be no doubt that it represents a member of the great South Yorkshire family of Fitzwilliam, whose arms were lozengy argent and gules3. Roger, younger son of Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, was living about this time at Braithwell, which though in Yorkshire is no great distance from Blyth. Owing to the lack of detail it is not possible to date the effigy accurately, which adds to the difficulty of identification.4


This effigy, which now lies at the east end of the south aisle, though in poor condition is of considerable interest. The head and shoulders have disappeared entirely. The hands, which are joined in prayer, are clothed in mail mittens fastened with cords tied at the wrists. The sword-belt is much narrower than is usual later, and is fastened to the scabbard at two points, a method which though later than the attachment at one point, is earlier than the interlocking-thong principle. The quillons of the sword are long and straight and the hilt is surmounted by a pear-shaped pommel. The surcoat is short and only split up the front a matter of six inches, displaying the hauberk beneath it, the latter reaching down almost to as low a point as the surcoat. The legs are crossed5 and the feet rest on a lion. No knee-caps are worn, but straps are fastened round the leg below the knee much after the fashion of the effigy ascribed to William Longsword at Salisbury, which has several features in common with this effigy. The purpose of these straps was to lesson the drag of the heavy chain-mail chausses, an inconvenience which was afterwards obviated by dividing them into two separate gannents, termed chausses and chaussons respectively.6

This effigy evidently represents a member of the family of Heriz who held four knights’ fees: one at Stapleford, one at South Wingfield in Derbyshire, and two at Gonalston and Widmerpool. It seems probable, having regard to the type of equipment, that the original was Sir John Heriz who in 1236 paid three marks relief on succeeding to his brother Yvo’s lands.7 He appears to have died about 1270, a date which suits the character of the armour worn.


This effigy, the northernmost of the two free-stone effigies in the south aisle, is so worn that it is difficult to speak in anything but general terms. The head rests on a double cushion, and the metal skull-cap is secured by a plain fillet. The hands are joined on the breast in prayer. The sword has a round pommel and the quillons slope slightly downwards, the attachment to the sword-belt is somewhat uncertain, but seems to have been by interlocking-thongs. The shield, twenty-eight inches in length, is worn low down on the left side and bears no charge. The knees are protected by plain caps, and though both feet have gone, the prick-spur remains on the right heel.

There seems little doubt that this effigy, as well as the later effigies in the same church, belong to the Everinghams.8 Their important property in Nottinghamshire came to them by the marriage of Sir Robert de Everingham with Isabel sister and heir of Thomas de Birkin. This lady was the grand-daughter of Adam de Birkin and Matilda daughter and co-heir of Robert de Calz, from whom she inherited the hereditary office of Keeper of Sherwood Forest. Isabel died in 12529 and Adam her son and heir is returned the next year as holding twelve-and-a-half knights’ fees of the barony of Shelford.10 Amongst his manors was included Everingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, from which the family derives its name. Sir Adam served in the Welsh wars and fought against the king at Evesham. He died 8th December, 1280 and in the following year Robert his son paid relief for his lands.11 The latter only survived six years, dying before July 20th, 1287, so that this effigy might commemorate him, though his long life and distinguished career point rather to Sir Adam.

(1) Effigies were largely worked in this material at Corfe in Dorset.
(2) The sword is usually held in an upright position in effigies of this type as is the case with three in the county of Durham. For a somewhat similar attitude to the one at Blyth we may compare an effigy at Bitton, Somerset.
(3) St. George's Roll of Hen iii: Dunstable and Willement's Rolls: Parl Roll. "Sire Willem. le filz Willem. mascle de argent e de goule." 
(4) A Thomas Fitzwilliam is named as holding property at Harworth and other places in the immediate vicinity of
(5)  As this is the attitude of all the remaining effigies to be described, the fact will not be referred to again, to avoid useless repetition. Needless to say, this position of the legs has nothing to do with participation in a Crusade, still less does it suggest that the original of the effigy was a Knight Templar.
(6) See Archaeological Journal vi. 5. (1850) for Mr. Westmacott’s account of the discovery of the two effigies at Gonalston in 1848. Both are illustrated in Thoroton’s Nottinghamshire.
(7) Pipe Roll 20 Hen iii. See Thor. iii. 50. The pedigree is somewhat involved.
(8) See Thor. Soc. vi. for an account of the effigies in this church. The article includes illustrations of all three.
(9) Inq. p.m. 36 Hen. iii. Sir Adam did homage and had livery of his mother’s lands, 12th Aug., 1252.
(10) Pipe Rolls, 37 Hen. iii.
(11) Pipe Rolls. 9 Ed. i. Sir Robert had livery of his lands, Feb. 9, 1280/1, being then 24 years of age.