Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Sir John Harpenden
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This brass is part of the London style “B” series and is located on an altar tomb in Westminster Abbey. Sir John Harpenden (also spelled Harpedon) died in 1438 and is depicted in battle-ready, full body armor typical of the mid-15th century with a long sword hanging by a belt at his right hip and a dagger tucked behind his left hip. Harpenden wears a bascinet and rests his head on a decorative helmet displaying the head of a deer. A lion rests at Harpenden’s feet, alluding to his bravery in battle. The monument highlights those qualities- power, status, honor- which contribute to a knight’s masculine identity.

    There are four shields on the brass, two in the top corners and two at Harpenden’s side. The upper left shield shows the arms of Harpenden impaling those of Mortimer and De Burgh and on the top right shield the Harpenden arms impale those of Cobham. These two upper shields are presumably indicative of marriages in the Harpenden family. The shield on the left of Harpenden is representative of his marriage to Joan de Cobham. The final shield to the right depicts the arms of Harpenden himself.

    Harpenden was of French descent and fought for the English at Agincourt and in the Aquitaine. In two instances King Henry V authorized him to make treaties with the French. The king’s favor may explain why Harpenden was the fifth (and final) husband of Lady Joan de Cobham, heiress to the vast Cobham estates in Kent. Her previous husband, Sir John Oldcastle, had been executed as a Lollard heretic.

    Harpenden’s monument is notable for its size and quality of work. His political connections from the French wars along with the influence from his wife’s family may have gained him a place in Westminster Abbey, originally in St. John the Evangelist’s chapel. In 1772 his tomb was moved to the ambulatory when General Wolfe’s monument was placed in the chapel.

  • Source: Haverford College donated by David and Maxine Cook
  • Rights: Permission of Haverford College
  • Subject (See Also): Brass Rubbing Gender Knights Masculinity Tomb Effigies
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1438
  • Related Work: Drawing of John Harpenden's brass monument from the British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=1279133001&objectId=733956&partId=1
    Drawing of Harpenden's monument from the Effigies and Brasses website: http://effigiesandbrasses.com/1622/2393/
    Rubbing of Joan de Cobham's brass monument in the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Cobham, Kent. She died in 1434: http://www.ashmolean.org/ash/britarch/images/brasses/Cobham_Kent_300-large.jpg
  • Current Location: Haverford College, Special Collections
  • Original Location: London, England. Westminster Abbey
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Brass Rubbing
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Heelball; Paper
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 138.4//
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Bertram, Father Jerome. Monumental Brasses as Art and History. Alan Sutton, 1996.
    Description of John Harpenden’s Monument, Hamline University: http://content.clic.edu/cdm/fullbrowser/collection/p16120coll31/id/3078/rv/compoundobject/cpd/3080
    Saul, Nigel. Death, Art, and Memory in Medieval England: The Cobham Family and their Monuments 1300-1500. Oxford University Press, 2001. Pages 216-219.