MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: The lost brasses of what used to be known as the Croydon Parish Church provided rich accounts of the town’s important role in English history, writes DAVID MORGAN
Entrepreneurs really have missed a trick in Croydon.
Or “Ye Olde Croydon Towne”, as they might have it if eager marketing executives had gone into quaint cliché overdrive to pitch attractions which draw on the place’s strong Tudorbethan historical links.
Old Town could have a delightful Tudor Tearoom, while the nearby traditional sweet shop might be stocked with “Henry’s Humbugs”, “Catherine’s Creams” or even “Margaret’s Mints”.
Croydon’s oldest pub, the Dog and Bull, has a history that goes back even further (they started selling ales in 1276 to the thirsty market traders on Surrey Street), so they would be well-entitled to adorn the pub’s walls with crests and coats of arms that celebrate the town’s Tudor connections.
It is not every place in the country that was the regular haunt of the Archbishops of Canterbury. Few other towns have been graced by princes, princesses and monarchs as Croydon has been. It isn’t in every local church where members of the royal household are buried.
Croydon has all these, and more besides. Except that much of this period in its history has either been lost, destroyed or simply overlooked.
One of the brass monuments in the old Croydon Parish Church would have added greatly to a Tudor tour. It was dedicated to John Redinge and his wife. Redinge died on January 19, 1508.
The only illustration which remains of that long lost memorial is a faded brass rubbing of an armour-clad figure.
Redinge is depicted as wearing a breastplate together with taces and large tassets buckled over a mail skirt. Over his feet he wears protective sabattons, but without any spurs. A sword hangs from a narrow belt behind the figure.
The inscription on the memorial provided an amazing fact about him. It reads like a Tudor era CV.
“Here lyeth John Redinge, Esq, late treasurer to Prince Henry son to King Henry VIIth, and his wife Mary, Mistress to the Prince of Castell; which John deceased the xix daye of January an’o MCCCCCVIII.”
When Henry was born in 1491, a royal prince, there was no expectation of him becoming king.
His brother, Prince Arthur, was five years older than Henry and had all the attention, training and preparation to take over the throne.
Arthur was the heir, Henry was the “spare”, raised to play second fiddle to his brother. That all changed in 1502 when Arthur died. His 11-year-old brother was catapulted into the spotlight, becoming the heir apparent.
Both John Redinge and his wife Mary were part of King Henry VII’s household for many years. Henry Tudor had won the crown from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. Once king, Henry appointed people who he knew were loyal to him.
Being described as “our full trusty servant”, royal records show that Redinge was a household official who was often seconded on public business outside the court.
In the autumn of 1489, he received regular payments for expenses in connection with the French ambassador in London. The following autumn, he was paid for the food and drink he had supplied to Henry’s army in Brittany.
That same year he is described as “avener to the Queen”, being paid £50 (about £57,000 today) for the purchase of “palfreys”, the name given to the most commonly ridden horses at that time.
In January 1495, Redinge was travelling to Ireland in connection with the financing of the king’s military strategy there. In 1496 he was described as the Clerk of the Spices. Was there nothing this man couldn’t turn his hand to? His loyalty and adaptability were second to none.
Although there is no female figure shown in the Croydon brass, Redinge’s wife Mary is remembered on the Croydon memorial as being the “mistress to the Prince of Castell”. This would have been just one of her roles, as she, too, carried out various duties as a “gentlewoman”.
It is not surprising to see her as a member of the royal household when you consider her background.
Her maiden name was Brandon and that family were a major supporter of the Tudor monarchy. Charles Brandon, the Earl of Suffolk, was one of Henry VIII’s closest friends.
Charles’ father, William, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth where he was the standard bearer to Henry Tudor and was struck down, as a contemporary ballad reports, by King Richard himself. Thus, Mary lost a brother and Charles a father in that bloody encounter.
The Prince of Castell who Mary was tasked with looking after was Charles, the son of Philip and Juana. In looking to create alliances and treaties with European kingdoms, Henry VII sought to marry his daughter Mary to Charles. A meeting arranged for the two families was organised in Croydon at the Archbishop’s Palace.
In 1507 the betrothal went ahead between Mary and Charles and a formal treaty between England and Spain sealed the arrangement. However, Philip’s sudden death meant that his son Charles took the throne and the marriage treaty was dropped.
Mary Redinge is also remembered in the church inventory records of 1550.
“Item a whole set of vestments priest, deacon, subdeacon of satin embroidered with letters of gold with abbs and the apparel thereto at the gift of Mistress Redinge
“Item a cope of the same at the gift of Mistress Redinge embroidered with gold.”
These vestments must have been magnificent. They may well have been given to the church as a gift after her husband died in 1508. His will requested that his wife see that he was buried in the chancel of the Lady Chapel in Croydon Church and left her all his goods “to dispose for his soul”. There is no record of what happened to them.
Mary was named as a legatee in the will of Sir Thomas Brandon written in 1510, and legal documents from 1529 state that she was still pursuing a debt through the executors of that will against Sir Thomas for money owed to her late husband. In 1520, she was named as receiving a six-month salary of £10 from Henry VIII, who must have kept her on in the Royal household. It is not known when she died or when she was interred with her husband.
Croydon appeared many times in the royal records for Henry VII. He stayed at the Archbishop’s Palace in 1488, from May 29 until June 2.
Catherine of Aragon stayed at the Palace, too.
After her husband, Prince Arthur, died she spent some time at Croydon. She was certainly lodging at the Palace by May 1502.
Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, was also here at that time, having provided funding for the improvement of the accommodation. Catherine was probably residing at Croydon when John Redinge died, and she continued to do so until she married Henry the following year.
This story would have made an interesting start to a Croydon Tudor tour.
Another missing Tudor brass in Croydon Church together with the heraldic achievements which hung over the tomb would be the next stop but that is a tale for another day.
In the meantime, have another Henry Humbug.
- David Morgan is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster
- To read his previous articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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