ACTON, SUFFOLK All Saints I. Sir Robert de Bures M.S. I HH act 1302 [eng. c1320] London work: Camoys style1 The effigy of Sir Robert de Bures, died 1331, cross-legged, in mail and surcoat with shield; marginal inscription in French lost. Engraved c1320. On the floor of the North Chapel. The full-face effigy of Sir Robert de Bures (78" or 198.1cm high) has often been called the finest military brass extant, and it probably deserves such praise. Sir Robert is depicted in the armor worn during the closing years of the reign of Edward II. Over the upper part of his body, he wears the hauberk, a garment of mail with a skirt reaching almost to the knees and split in front and back for riding horseback. The mail hood, which was usually still an integral part of the hauberk, seems here to be separate since it apparently covers part of the cloth surcoat and guige on the knight's right shoulder.2 The bulbous shape of the mail hood suggests further that beneath it he wore some kind of padded coif to keep the mail from touching the head itself. The mail mittens, however, were a part of the hauberk. Open at the palm, they could be thrown back if desired. The mail, as was typical, consisted of rings, each of which was interlinked with four others. To prevent chafing and to deaden blows, a thick-padded or quilted coat, the aketon, not here visible, was worn beneath the mail. Over the hauberk, and extending to the middle of the legs, Sir Robert has on a sleeveless cloth surcoat, longer in back than in front. Like the hauberk, it is divided front and back and here has a fringed, embroidered border. The surcoat is confined at the waist by a tight cord, below which Sir Robert wears a wide, decorative sword belt, buckled in front and with a rather complicated arrangement of straps to hold the sword almost perpendicularly in front to his left. The sword, which has an elaborately decorated hilt and a pommel with an engraved cross, is large and heavy, more useful for striking and cutting than for thrusting. The defensive shield, slightly curved at the top, with its two curved sides meeting at a point at the bottom (heater-shaped), is secured to Sir Robert's left side by a strap or guige slung over the right shoulder and buckled in front. In combat, of course, he would also strap the shield to his right arm. As on the brass of Sir John D'Abernon at Stoke D'Aberaon, the shield displays its bearer's family arms: Ermine, on a chief indented Sable two lions rampant Or.3 1 Norris, II, 314, figure 14. Bertram, p. 35, dates the engraving c1310. Binski, p. 94, identifies the Camoys style. 2 It was, however, probably attached to the hauberk in some way so that is could be thrown back. Cf. Bertram, p. 80. 3 Felgate, Suffolk Heraldic Brasses, p. 37. On an ermine field, a black upper horizontal band with an indented lower edge. On this band are two gold lions, each with one paw on the ground and three raised, head forward and tail erect. The leg-harness is rather simple. Over some type of cloth leggings, Sir Robert wears mail stockings that reach over the knees, which are themselves covered with elaborately decorated poleyns, probably of cuir boulli (i.e., boiled leather). Strapped around the instep are prick spurs, the sharp spikes of which would appear to have wounded rather than prodded a horse. The legs, which are crossed, rest on a well- designed, facing lion whose head is turned slightly to the viewer's left. The many similar details between this effigy and that of Sir John D'Abernon (MS. 1277)—the position of the lion's head, the faces of the two knights, the decorative details of guige, sword pommel, and belt—all suggest that both were made by the same London engraver. Certainly, despite the early ascribed dates, the brasses could not have been engraved earlier than 1310 and probably were engraved closer to 1320.4 Felgate notes, too, that the shield is a separately inserted plate and suggests that the effigy may have been made for an earlier knight whose arms were replaced by those of Sir Robert.5 His suggested date of c1300 for the year of the engraving, however, is probably too early. Once a marginal inscription in Norman French and in separately inserted Lombardic capitals surrounded the effigy. Mutilated by the end of the 17th century, it was recorded as reading: Sire : Robe[rt : de : Bures] : gist : ici : deu De: sa : alme : eyt : mercy : kiki : pur : sa : alme: p[rier]a quara[v]nte : iours : de : pa[r]dun: avera6 Translated: Sir Robert de Bures lies here. May God on his soul have mercy. Whoever for his soul will pray will receive 40 days of pardon. Waller also suggests that there were two shields on the stone slab. Like so many of the early brasses, both the date and the identification of the person commemorated has been called into question in recent years. Long assumed to represent a Sir Robert de Bures who died in 1302, it has now been convincingly identified by Jennifer Ward7 as representing another Sir Robert who died in 1331. The earlier Sir Robert, indeed, did not actually die until 1324. Having distinguished between the two Sir Roberts, Ward has discovered many details about him. Presumably of a family of small yeomen farmers in the vicinity of Bures, Suffolk, this Sir Robert rose through service to the Crown, first in a military capacity, serving Edward I in Wales, especially in the period between 1288 and 1295, when the Welsh revolted against 4 Norris, I, 11. 5 Felgate, Knights, p. 33. 6 Quoted in Waller, Notes to figure #3. 7 Ward, pp. 144-150. English rule. In addition, he was frequently employed on commissions of enquiry and on judicial commissions in Wales, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland.8 On the death of Edward I in 1307, Sir Robert, temporarily out of royal service, acted as steward of the honor of Clare, belonging to the Clare Earls of Gloucester, who were then among the most powerful of the nobility. By 1309, however, he was also back in the service of the Crown, and by 1312 was a Suffolk land owner. Indeed, from the early fourteenth century, Robert began to acquire estates in Suffolk. In 1302, he obtained the manor of Bansfield in Wickhambrook, and in 1309, land in Great Waldingfield, but his most important acquisition was Acton Hall, which he got the following year and immediately made the family seat.9 Formerly the home of John de Hodebovile, it came to Robert through his marriage to John's widow Hilary, the daughter of Sir John de Fermor. This was Robert's second marriage, his first having been to a woman named Alice, according to a seventeenth century record, the daughter of Sir Robert de Reydon.10 He soon acquired more lands in Acton and gradually acquired more in surrounding villages, some for life, and some to pass on to his heirs. Indeed, by 1331, he held land in fifteen Suffolk villages besides Acton in addition to one estate in Essex.11 Sir Robert died in 1331, probably in September, and Hilary died later that same year in December. They had no children, but by his first marriage, Sir Robert had a large family. He was succeeded by his son Andrew, then about thirty. So it was that Robert rose to comparative wealth through service to the Crown, his own ability, and marriage, and was able to leave to his son a landed inheritance.12 The manor of Acton Hall remained in the family until 1528 when the last male heir, Henry Bures, whose brass is nearby (q.v.), died. 8 Ward, pp. 145-6. 9 Ibid., pp. 147-8. 10 Felgate, Suffolk, p. 37. 11 Ward, pp. 148-9. 12 Ibid., p. 150. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bertram, Jerome. Brasses and Brass Rubbing in England. Newton Abbot: David and Charles (Publishers), Ltd., 1972. Binski, Paul. "The Stylistic Sequence of London Figure Brasses," The Earliest English Brasses, ed. John Coales. London: Monumental Brass Society, 1987. Brenner, Gernard, and Madeline H. Brenner. Sir Robert de Bures: A Soldier of Edward I. Falls Church, Virginia, 1981. Felgate, T.M. Knights on Suffolk Brasses. Ipswich: East Anglian Magazine, Ltd., 1976. Felgate, T.M. Suffolk Heraldic Brasses. Ipswich: Angliam Magazine, Ltd., 1978. Norris, Malcolm. Monumental Brasses: The Memorials. 2 vols. London: Phillips and Page, 1977. Waller, J.G., and L.A.B. Waller. A Series of Monumental Brasses from the 13th to the 16th Century (1864). London: Phillips and Page, 1975. Ward, Jennifer C. "Sir Robert de Bures," Transactions of the Monumental Brass Society, 10 (1965), 144-50.