Sunday, September 11, 2016

Space and the End of the Middle Ages in Britain

  Now I am not a person who likes to indulge in debates about periodisation in history. As far as I am concerned, the middle ages came between the early ages and the recent ages. There is no one set of events, or values, or levels of knowledge, or types of government, or religion which draws a line between different eras. It is all a complicated jigsaw. Scholars of Italian history like to put the end of the middle ages earlier than those of British history for the paradoxical reason that Italian intellectuals suddenly took an interest in the writings of the ancient past. The French seem to like to keep the medieval era going until they all became Enlightened.

Ruins of Lanercost Priory, Cumbria
  In Britain the changes of the Reformation are taken to be a watershed issue that could be considered epoch changing. The family medievalist firmly asserts that the medieval period ended in England in 1540. So there. Much ink has been expended on how much, how comprehensively and how quickly those religious changes got into the mindsets of ordinary people. Not going there. Enough said already and some of it based on modern personal belief rather than much else. What did happen in England was that the use of space in daily life changed. The configuration of town and country was changed forever.

  I have always found Oxford a rather unwelcoming place. Nothing to do with the people, although I guess they have their little exclusivities at times, but the ancient layout of the town is a trifle forbidding. Everywhere there are exclusion zones, defined by elegant quadrangles which are not public space. The streets are oppressively walled off and you feel that all the action is going on inside those secluded enclaves from which you are barred. Like many first time visitors, I was lost and confused about where the university actually was, gradually realising that the university is not a bounded entity but a whole bunch of entities dotted around the town, each claiming its bit of space and history.

The vast complex of Blackfriars, Norwich, middle distance behind another large church.
  Late medieval towns were a bit like that. In the larger and more prosperous towns, various types of religious institutions had acquired space within the town walls, built increasingly grand constructions and enclosed them within their own walls. These were communities within the larger community, and those not members of them just walked past and wondered, I guess.

Anglo-Saxon tower of St Mary-le-Wigford, Lincoln, one of three surviving medieval churches.
  This is the pattern for the end of the middle ages, but it doesn't define the whole epoch. Towns which were prosperous before the Norman Conquest had many small parish churches founded by lay patrons, many of which did not survive to the end of the middle ages as parishes consolidated. The constant process of church rebuilding meant that the surviving churches became larger and more elaborate as others disappeared. The monasteries became larger, more elaborate and more powerful forces in the land.

Southwell Minster, collegiate church.
  More recently founded collegiate churches, with colleges of canons rather then monks, rivalled the cathedrals for grandeur.

St Cross Hospital, Winchester
  Hospitals were built, not as places of medical healing but where the poor, elderly and sick could be cared for. In the case of the leper hospitals they were also for protecting the rest of the community against disease and were often located outside the town walls. Within the towns they ranged from little houses of charity, pilgrimage hostels, to some quite grand institutions, often run by Augustinian canons and resembling other large, enclosed church institutions.

Blackfriars complex, Norwich, largest surviving in the land.
  The arrival of the friars in the 13th century added more to the ecclesiastical mix of the towns. The concept of mendicants living like the apostles on charity in the streets gave way to the building of large complexes, each in their own enclave. The massive churches were available for the laity to be preached to, but the borders of the enclaves expanded as town populations took a hit after the bubonic plague of the 14th century.

Ruins of the bishop's palace at Lincoln.
  Bishops and archbishops claimed pieces of towns all over the country, constructing large palaces for when they went rambling around their dioceses. They did it in style, even when they were away from home.

Fountains Abbey
  Even in the countryside large areas were controlled by the church. The Cistercian abbeys set in remote locations for the monks to live the ascetic and contemplative life became large estates with increasingly huge and elaborate buildings. The various abbeys had rural manors all over the place. Some of these places must have seemed like small towns in their own right.
  Essentially the church had space, the church had walls. Then within a very short period of time, those walls came down. The friaries and some collegiate churches seem to have disappeared quite rapidly, their walls pillaged for building materials, their buildings sometimes used for other civic purposes, but steadily running down. Leland, in his travels around England immediately after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, refers to the friaries and urban abbeys in the past tense, which they certainly were in terms of being institutions but probably rapidly became so in terms of fabric. Daniel Defoe, describing Lincoln in the early 18th century, claims that barns, stables, out-houses and "hog-styes" were built "church fashion" using carved stones from old ecclesiastical buildings.

A bit of old stone wall, all that exists of the Austin friary in York.
  York had substantial houses of the four major orders of friars, but barely a stone remains and those not very recognisable. This is not an uncommon fate for these institutions.

Rievaulx Abbey as garden ornament.

  These changes to the use of space were probably less obvious in rural areas. Large rural monasteries were taken over by large rural landholders who nicked stonework to build their new mansions but left ruins for their aesthetic value and swank. You can see how a medieval monastery was laid out and worked in the wild hills of Yorkshire better than in the crowded towns.

Norwich Cathedral with beat up remains of monastic cloisters.
  Even the urban monasteries that were cathedrals, or were turned into cathedrals, lost much of the structure outside the church and their sense of enclosure.

Partially ruined collegiate church at Howden.
  Collegiate churches disappeared or declined. Even the beautiful Beverley Minster was barely rescued from destruction by some engineering genius in the 18th century, as the townsfolk continued to use the town church of St Mary's, as they had always done. There was just too much church around. In Leicester and Norwich collegiate churches disappeared, releasing their enclosed spaces for other urban purposes.

Holy Trinity Hospital, Leicester.
  Hospitals became run down and less able to provide for those they served without the charity of the church, and the obligations the church put on others, to support them. In Leicester Holy Trinity Hospital became steadily more decrepit until it was rebuilt in the late 18th century.

Where a bishop's palace once was, Northallerton.
  The bishops and archbishops had to curb their profligate living arrangements and the palaces dotted around the place  were appropriated, pillaged or disappeared.
  New urban amenities were built, such as grammar schools to replace the teaching functions of the church schools. It does seem that some areas of the towns were ransacked for their materials and became a bit derelict until the renewal of urban amenities in the 19th centuries. Post offices, railway stations, theatres, museums and art galleries so often occupy the sites of medieval religious institutions. Changes to trade, transport and commerce over time caused towns as a whole to open up as walls and gates were demolished. This process has gone to extremes with modern road transport in some places. (I'm looking at you, Leicester and Nottingham.)
  So perhaps we can define the end of the middle ages in English towns not so much by religious change as such, whatever that implies in terms of belief or private conviction, but in terms of use of urban space. This just leaves the question of whether bringing down those old walls reclaimed the space for the town dwellers, or handed them over to a new class of owners.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 21: Brass Rubbings - Perfect Facsimiles?

  In 1973, on my first visit to England, I did over 80 brass rubbings from medieval tombs. A major reason for doing them was that my husband had recently begun teaching medieval history in Australia and realised that students there did not have the familiarity with medieval heritage remains or an awareness of how they fitted into the ordinary landscape of folks in England. It was part of an ongoing project that included increasing amounts of photography over the years, and eventually some multimedia shenanigans. It meant much of our luggage was guide books, OS maps, Pevsners, cameras, paper and wax. We did take the odd change of undies. We were there for eight months on that occasion and I was towing a two year old child around at the time. Most of the rubbings were done around Yorkshire, Derbyshire and East Anglia, which were not so heavily populated with tourist brass rubbers as the more popular areas such as Kent. It was possible to fit each project into a two year old's timetable. The bulk of my luggage coming home comprised four large plastic cylinders solidly packed with rolled up paper. Don't quite know how we got away with that.
  I didn't do any more brass rubbings on our various extended trips after that. The tide had turned somewhat against it among the clergy and besides, how many cylinders full of rolls of paper that can only be got out for occasional special occasions does a girl need?

  This is one of the first rubbings I did, one of several in a strange little isolated church in the village of Harpham on the East Yorkshire wolds, of a knightly member of the St Quentin family. Yes, it's a scruffy phone pic, done under guerilla circumstances. One day I guess I must hire a small hall for a day and photograph them all properly.

  Here is a photograph of the same tomb. The proportions look different because I didn't have a hovercraft to get directly above him, so the rubbing is a more accurate depiction in that regard. A piece of his dagger has been broken off at some stage, which is apparent in the photograph but not the rubbing. He clearly had a livery collar in the past, inlaid in a different material to the brass. The slab he was set in also had four separate heraldic shields in the corners, only three of which have survived. These were most probably originally inlaid with coloured material, but that is gone. The colour of the brass itself is a dingy brown, weathered with age, and the whole arrangement is monochrome, a characteristic only emphasised by the stark black and white of the rubbing.

  The slab into which the brass is set lies in the floor of the St Quentin family chapel, amid a miscellany of tombs including other brasses, an incised alabaster slab on a table tomb under a canopy, a beat up old limestone effigy and some later wall monuments, not to mention bits of woodwork and old heating pipes. Whether it is in its original place or setting is impossible to know. These things got moved around and reorganised a lot.
  There were once many more medieval monumental brasses around than there are today, and despite the favourite villains of history often getting all the blame, there have been steady losses over the centuries from natural circumstances, religious change, pillage, church refurbishment and gradual wear and tear. The most vilified despoilers include Henry VIII and his henchmen, Puritans, Civil War soldiers who melted them down for cannons and corrupt churchwardens of later days. Those that survive tend to be battered, worn and often relocated, but they still provide a fascinating visual projection from that romanticised past.
  16th and 17th century antiquarians took a great interest in tombs, including brasses. Their particular focus was on recording epitaphs and heraldry. Detailed and accurate depictions of the figures on tombs and brasses are rare, although their records do indicate the existence of many tombs since lost or damaged. The first direct prints from brasses were taken in the 18th century, by flooding the incised lines in the brass with ink and pressing paper over them. I can't quite see this being approved of by church authorities today. Nevertheless, it produced very accurate monochrome, linear prints of the designs, but reversed of course. Easy to pick if there are inscriptions because these are written back to front. These were used to produce monochrome engravings for publication, and some are the only evidence for brasses which are no longer extant.

  This figure from a brass to Robert Attelath in the church of King's Lynn is known only from such a print by Craven Ord, later published as an engraving in J.S. Cotman and D. Turner 1838 Engravings of Sepulchral Brasses in Norfolk and Suffolk, Vol. 1. The image here is taken from Wikimedia Commons. King's Lynn has other surviving amazing Flemish brasses, and this is only part of the one that was lost, but it gives us some beautiful visual information.
  The use of black wax to take impressions of brasses became very popular during the mid 19th century. It produced sharp durable impressions which were the right way round. They were black, because the wax used was black heelball wax, used by cobblers to blacken the heels of shoes. Brass rubbing wax is still often referred to as heelball wax to this day, although folks have generally forgotten why.
  Collections of these historic rubbings survive in such places as the British Library, Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and in some cases they document brasses which have since disappeared or been mutilated or damaged. They are historical records, and at the level of reproducing linear design, they are accurate.

    This is my rubbing from 1973 of a brass in Cowthorpe, Yorkshire, showing one Brian Roucliff precariously balancing a church on one hand. Various other disordered bits and pieces of the design are scattered around. From memory, he was mounted on the wall at the time.

  The Victoria and Albert Museum catalogue of 1915 has this picture of a rubbing of the same brass, done before somebody ran off with his wife, not to mention the church tower, and the whole ensemble got disarranged. So we know a lot more about the monument than the surviving fragments can tell us.
  The stark blackness made these simple to reproduce at a time when books were largely printed in monochrome, and provided a much more detailed and crisp image than photographic images of three dimensional tombs could provide. The stereotype of the flat, black, negative, monochrome design patterns the mind into thinking that was what brasses were like.

  Flat, black and battered, this knight from Gorleston in Suffolk would have been a handsome fellow in his day, back when he had legs, and a canopy, and some colour in his heraldic shield. As for the brass itself, it may have been polished, or gilded or made shiny and interesting in some way. This rubbing was done on red paper, but as I recall that was a practical decision because the red paper was softer than the white and he was placed vertically on the wall, so it was easier to get a clean print.

  With the fancy brass rubbing waxes that were being produced in the 70s it was possible to get a shiny, metallic finish, as in this rubbing of Sir Robert de Bures from Acton in Suffolk. The colour is entirely false though. It is an artifact of production and still provides only a monochrome outline of what was probably a much more colourful affair. Interestingly, the purveyors of brass rubbing supplies back then said that some rubbers preferred the metallic waxes because they looked more brassy, and others preferred the "authentic" black and white look. In other words, the visual characteristics of the old rubbings were determining authenticity, not those of the original brasses. The little Shire Library book S. Badham with M. Stuchfield 2009 Monumental Brasses has lovely colour photographs that illustrate a number of brasses with spectacular survivals of colour.

 Something else that can be lost is texture. This little figure of a priest from West Tanfield in Yorkshire, here shown without his inscription, shows blank spaces where the brass was clearly scraped out and roughened for some sort of inlay, probably representing fur, on the garment below his cope. Similar things are seen on the collars and cuffs of ladies in elaborate gowns.

  This knight from Aldborough in Yorkshire looks to me like one that would once have had some colourful adornment, with both his jupon and shield covered in heraldic designs. Both this example and that from Gorleston were mounted on the church wall, which brings up another issue. The engraved sheet of brass and its base stone, even with shields, inscriptions, canopies and other adornments, were not necessarily the totality of the monument. Brasses could be on tomb chests, under canopies, part of larger compositions. The brass rubbing isolates the design of the engraved brass from its setting, once again creating a stereotype that does not reflect the complexity of the original.

  This canopied tomb chest in Higham Ferrers church supports a very famous brass to a priest, Laurence de St Maur, which cannot be seen from this angle. It appears that somebody has put a vase of flowers on him. (Ulp.) The whole arrangement may have served as an Easter Sepulchre as well as a tomb, which is something that cannot be deduced from looking at the many black and white illustrations of the rubbing of the brass.
  Back in 1973 some facsimiles taken from moulds of monumental brasses were being sold. These were taken up by brass rubbing centres as a way of taking the heat off churches while letting people have the brass rubbing experience. The actual sellers of these appear to have changed several times over the years, but it does seem that the core repertoire of brasses treated in this way has remained fairly constant. Some brasses have become more famous than others.

  This picture, taken in 1988 in the Norwich Brassrubbing Centre shows people getting up close and personal with some medieval heritage using these facsimiles. We also bought a bunch of them over the years so that Australian students thousands of miles from the place they were studying could have a bit of the experience. They were very popular at end of year parties as cash strapped students used their rubbings for Christmas presents. 
  Now these were claimed to be absolutely accurate, producing a rubbing that was unable to be differentiated from one produced from the original. Certainly they look pretty good. One indignant lady at a university open day accused us noisily of pillaging churches. However, for practical reasons many are miniature versions, and some extract details rather than show complete compositions. Our crosslegged knight from a full sized effigy is only about half a metre high. There are even some that are based on historical figures who never had brasses made. This is fine if they are accepted for what they are, homage to brass memorials not reproductions of them.

  This little facsimile is of a small group of daughters of the main figures on a brass from Dinton, Buckinghamshire. There is a brief description on the back, but no image of the complete composition. It's a little memento, not a recording, but that is also what you find out in the field.

  Sometimes all that is left is the ghosts, as in this indent of a lost brass in Chichester cathedral. You just have to use your imagination, and not just think in black and white.

  A couple of times we have pulled them all out to display some of the best ones for university open days. I still get a thrill when I open up one of the tubes to look at the shiny precision of them, but then it takes about an hour to roll them back up again for storage. They are precise copies of original art works at one level, but at another they are mere shadows.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Visual History: Magnifying Glass or Fun Fair Mirror?

  Some weeks ago I got into a slightly testy (but polite) Twitter exchange with somebody from the humanities area of academia who was wanting to know whether anybody out there was doing research on the purely visual aspects of humanities subjects. I pointed out that there were whole disciplines in this area, such as archaeology and art history. These, I was informed, didn't count because people just wrote words about them and critiqued each other's words and didn't actually read the visuals. Er, no. Could I provide some references? Well, every excavation report ever written would make a start.
  Perhaps we had just got our wires crossed and were misreading each other's arguments. That can happen when you break up a discussion into 140 character spasms sent asynchronously across different global time zones. We all read the visuals of our subjects and draw conclusions, or at least cement impressions, from the way we process them. We can look at stuff, we can reinterpret through drawing or photography or computer modelling or re-enactment. We incorporate interpretations based on our previous reading of words on a page or try to interpret the visuals based on other experience. Is this hollow bone with holes in it a prehistoric flute or a bone that a carnivore has chewed? All manner of observations and experiences can be drawn in.

    We all know what this scene, here painted on the rood screen of Hexham Abbey, represents: the Annunciation of course. It's a story from a book; a much read, much reproduced, much studied book. It's a book that was systematically translated, corrected and edited so it could be presented in a standardised form. We know what it is because we know the written story. There are also elements of this picture which are not derived from the book, but we recognise as visual conventions of medieval art: the Virgin kneeling at a desk reading a book, turning her head coyly towards the angel behind her; the haloes; the pot of lilies; the bent over respectful posture of the angel. They not only inform what we see, but how we see it.

  On the other hand, this misericord from St Werburgh's Abbey in Chester has no book to tell us exactly what it means. We are left with a jumble of folklore, reassembled and recast over centuries, and similar images from many other places to inform us that it is not unique or even particularly weird for its location, just not what we were expecting. We can speculate about the psychology of the wild places of the mind and invent symbolic meanings, like the priests quashing the forces of evil with their butts, or something like that.
  How things, tiny or enormous, present themselves, or are presented, influence the way we mentally process them. No historical object is in its original position or condition. We have to fill in from our knowledge and imagination, hopefully in an informed way, but with an open mind  to other than the standard possibilities. We also need to fill in the absences. Sometimes an empty space can tell us something.

  Conwy Castle in Wales, with its massive forbidding presence, had such a profound effect on my four year old son at the time that he claimed he wished we had never called him Edward. "Edward I was a big pig!" he pronounced, and has insisted unto this day that he would be called Eddy. The fact that it was bleak and freezing and snowy only added to the atmosphere. It was an entirely different conception of a castle to that perpetuated by the modern craze of bodies like English Heritage dressing small children up as faux Vikings or soldiers or knights and let them pretend to bash the bejiminies out of each other in the name of good clean medieval fun. On the other hand, a raucous re-enactment of a guard chopping off a prisoner's ear in Lincoln Castle some years later sent my small nephew into the abdabs. He took some convincing that it was just pretend. The places can speak for themselves, with a bit of subtle guidance. Let's not hit the public over the head with a brick.

  Looking out from the top of Clifford's Tower in York, it is not so hard to imagine what an imposing and dominant presence the mighty minster would have been. Just mentally erase the multistory buildings, the fire station across the road and assorted other distractions, sketch in a few animals and aromas and you can see this monolithic building as the commanding presence in a small community by today's standards. You can make out two other church towers in this picture (look carefully), but there were other prominent features that you can't see, because they are not there. York had four friaries, a major hospital, several hospitals outside the walls, a number of parish churches now departed and various buildings adjunct to the minster. A network of religious buildings enmeshed the town. This is the concept we have to work a bit to see.

   This gatehouse in York led into a complex known as the Bedern, where the vicars choral of the minster lived when they weren't attending to their choral duties. Two small restored buildings, including the chapel on the left of the picture, are all that survives above ground, but the space still exists, albeit now occupied by modern housing. The past hasn't gone away.

  St Leonard's hospital was a very large institution, but now represented by just a fragment of ruin. The imposing building behind it is the public library, built on part of the site. Some hospital foundations are under a nearby theatre. New urban institutions have replaced the old, but the space is still defined. You are looking at something that isn't there. The medieval town is not defined simply by its standing ruins, but by its spaces and replacements. 
  Maps are one way of refining the seeing of history. Ancient historical maps may not conform to modern cartographical standards, but they are a conception of a place. They define what features and what spaces were seen as important at the time.

  William Stukeley's map of Leicester shows us how an 18th century antiquarian saw the shape and organisation of the town. You would be hard pressed to untangle that plan from a modern map. Nevertheless topographical maps, Ordnance Survey maps and Google satellite images can all combine to help us image the past and fit it into the present. There is even a space archaeologist working with NASA these days.

  Here are the massive ruins of the huge and stately medieval bishop's palace at Wells. You don't need a literal medieval banquet re-enactment to imagine the lavish doings that must have gone on here.

  Here is an empty space, now filled with a modern cemetery at Northallerton in Yorkshire. You are looking at something that isn't there; a palace of the bishop of Durham. The ditch and bank surrounding the site survives, defining a space from which the material content has been removed. You have to imagine the ceremonies, the banquets, the consultations and plottings that might have gone on here. Their shadows are still lurking.

  This is the site of the church of St Paul in the Bail in Lincoln, possibly the oldest Christian church in the north of England. It has been excavated and several subsequent versions of the church have been discovered on the site. You are looking at chronological layers of things that are not there. I was standing here once when a stranger approached and asked me where Roman Lincoln was. I told him we were standing in it. He didn't believe me. Admittedly you have to go down a lane to see a bit of wall, and another lane to see a turret, another to see the main upper gateway and another way to see the foundations of the lower town gates. I gave him directions and he pottered off bemused. Perhaps he was expecting something like the forum in Rome, but Lincoln has seen a lot of life since those days. Would it have helped if there had been explainers wandering around in metal breastplates and sandals? It might please some, but it makes more sense if you train yourself to see. 

  Bolingbroke Castle might not exactly be the best preserved medieval fortress in Britain but it was the birthplace of one Henry, part of the ever ongoing murderous struggles to determine the monarchy of England. It still sits in a landscape. Far better than banquets and jousts is to sit and contemplate how such a peaceful spot played a role in the gore and splatter of competitive English kingship.

  Does anything epitomise the struggles for control of land, people and wealth like the stark and bleak ruins of the fortified houses, or pele towers, dotted across the Scottish borders? Nothing to be seen for miles but hills and sheep but you locked yourself up in a stone tower before you went to bed. The one above is at Bewcastle, but there are many others, visual reminders of troubled times at least as eloquent as the chronicles that described them.

  "Why" said the family medievalist "are we standing in the middle of a field looking at a small pile of rocks stuck together on top of one another?" Well, Leland described it as a large manor house of the Percies. "But it's not here!" Nope. It is not. The manor house of Seamer is not there. But you can still see it if you try.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 20: Owning the Church

  My sorting and cleaning up of old photographs finally allowed me to identify two pictures which recalled a tale from when they were originally taken. I was trailing two small boys around medieval sites at the time. Mostly they were happy with castles and didn't mind monasteries if they had good drains, but churches generally had to be rationed. They were observant little lads though and as I was investigating a tomb one queried "Why is the shield in the stained glass window the same as the one on the knight's shield. Did he own the church?" I explained no, he didn't own it, but he may have had something to do with building the part of it where he was buried. Thinking about it for a few decades, there is an element of ownership in these remains, and sometimes contested ownership at that.

  The church was in Ryther, West Yorkshire, where there are tombs to members of the Ryther family. In an earlier post I discussed how stained glass windows could be funerary monuments in themselves, and could contain specific references to praying for the souls of the dead. Another post also discussed the use of heraldry on tombs as an identifier and a status marker. I guess I am trying to pull a few threads together to look at signs of possession within the church.
  There must always have been some competition between the clergy and the wealthy lay folks about ownership of the church real estate. The clergy used the space to go about their business of saying the offices and the mass, conducting weddings, baptisms, confessions and funerals and doing their own work. It was their space. Nonetheless, wealthy donors provided some of the means for them to do it, and laid claim to spaces for their personal and family display.
  Some of the earliest large effigy tombs are in the great churches, the cathedrals and abbeys, commemorating the senior clergy of the church; the founding fathers and those who oversaw the development of ever increasing grandeur of these buildings and communities. These can be seen in some places, despite being moved and messed around during the course of various religious upheavals.

  The Purbeck marble tomb to Bishop Joscelin de Bohun (d.1184) in Salisbury Cathedral is one of several of senior ecclesiastics in this church.

  Abbot Benedict (d.1193) is one of a number of abbots who survived the Reformation and remain commemorated in Peterborough Cathedral after it was changed from a Benedictine abbey. They weren't forgetting their origins in Peterborough.
  Ecclesiastics were not the only people memorialised in the abbeys, even those which did not serve as cathedrals. Although one might think of the more remote Cistercian houses, for example, as places that were largely the preserve of their serving monastic communities, significant lay people were buried there, having paid well for the privilege no doubt.

  This mangled specimen of a knightly effigy lies in the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey. Nobody salvaged him and carted him off to a safer haven at the dissolution of the monasteries. His capacity to own a piece of monastic territory was subverted by the disappearance of the institution itself.

  A hefty but battered tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes stands plonk under the crossing of the church of Egglestone Abbey, a Premonstratensian house. More modest slabs and brass indents are scattered about, of lay and ecclesiastical figures. This was a bit of a battling house and probably had to treat its patrons well.

  At Fountains Abbey some battered relics of the tombs of the abbots lie in the chapter house. This was a space where the monks conducted their own affairs and could perhaps be perceived as their particular space, even more than the body of the church was.
  In the later medieval period, the claiming of space in the major churches, by ecclesiastics as well as mighty lay people, became even more conspicuous with the building of lavish chantries, marking out confined spaces within the general area of the church and splashing heraldry and other symbols of ownership all over them. They were for the wealthy, religious or lay, as they not only required payment for their construction but ongoing expenditure to maintain the priests who said the masses in them.

  Entrance to a chantry in Ely Cathedral. Now imagine it with all its colour and statuary; definitely laying claim to a space.
  In the parish churches, it seems the wealthy local laity had the upper hand. While there are some fancy tombs to parish priests, there are many more modest little affairs and a lot of them are small brasses.

  This tiny brass to a priest in West Tanfield church, North Yorkshire, sits in a church with several large and elaborate effigy tombs to the laity. Who provided these modest memorials - family, parishioners? I don't doubt there may have been some battles, and some rearrangements over time, as the priests tried to ensure they had the space to do their business while the lay patrons tried to impose their memorials in the most conspicuous places.
  Stained glass windows do not occupy floor space and they do serve useful and aesthetic functions within the church. Heraldic windows emblazon the family stamp on the place without getting in anybody's way, which might explain why you find so many of them.

  The above is an assortment of glass fragments in St Martin's church, Stamford, featuring some natty heraldic shields.
  I suspect some competition among the laity themselves for ownership of space as family fortunes waxed and waned. There are plenty of clues that tombs got moved around and re-organised and it is not always clear when. The older, and often a bit forlorn, effigies seem to be usually found in churches that are not crammed with the clunky memorials of post-Refomation upstarts, whether they are in tiny country churches or tucked away rather surprisingly in modern industrial towns (or post-industrial in many cases today). Tomb chests show signs of having been broken up and reassembled. Effigies look to have been dragged outside and left in the rain. In some cases they have been found buried in the churchyard or tucked into strange places inside the church.

  This alabaster couple in Pickering church lie in what looks like a family chapel, but if they haven't spent some time out in the North Yorkshire dreek I would be very surprised.

  Then there is this. Several tombs of the de la Pole family reside in the church at Wingfield, Suffolk, a church which became collegiate under their patronage. Note the location of the tomb up next to the altar and the way that various heraldic devices spread all over the aisle arcades of the chancel. The sedilia are actually built in to the structure of the tomb. Another tomb lies directly opposite on the other side of the chancel. These folks are still owning the church.
  We like to have a romantic notion of medieval churches as havens of peace, love and Christian values, but it is very hard for those competitive, acquisitive, pugnacious creatures we call people to leave those characteristics at the door. The battle for status and influence continues inside, using the vocabulary of the sacred spaces.