The History

Sir Robert de Septvans was born c1250. It is highly probable that Sir Robert, a
Knight for the Shire of Kent, took part in the 9th Crusade in 1271 under (the
then) Prince Edward, later Edward I, who donated 50 marks towards the
building of a church at Chartham in 1294.

The name Septvans probably derives from 'Septem Vannis' (seven winnowing
fans used to separate the wheat from chaff in the threshing process), a
distinctive design which appears to have been the emblem of his family and
which also appears on the commemorative brass. The de Septvans' family
motto 'Dissipabo inimicos Regis mei ut paleam'. 'The enemies of my King will I
disperse like chaff' suggests a connection between the family emblem and the
sentiment of their motto.

In 1275 Sir Robert was made Constable of Rochester Castle. Rochester Castle
was strategically important as it dominated the Medway estuary and was
regarded as an essential part of the defence of South East England. However,
this would also have been at a period of managing decline at the castle as, due
to the effects of a siege in 1264, much of the castle was burnt out ruins. It had
also suffered from many years of pilfering of materials from what remained.
As a Knight for the Shire of Kent, Sir Robert's association with the monarch
continued. In 1300 he fought with King Edward I at the battle Caerlaverock, on
the southern coast of Scotland, and continued northwards with the King's army
to fight against the Scots led by William Wallace. At the siege of Caerlaverock
Castle he was created a knight banneret by the King for gallantry. In medieval
times this was an honour bestowed by the monarch and meant that a knight
could bring a company of his own followers into the field of battle under his
own banner. Under English custom the rank of knight banneret could only be
conferred by the King on the field of battle. The military rank of knight
banneret was higher than that of knight bachelor (who fought under another's
banner), but lower than that of an earl or a duke.

In 1302 and 1303 Sir Robert is mentioned as having responsibility for work to
control flooding and drainage along the sea coast of Kent and Sussex. The
years 1286 to 1288 had seen widespread storm surge related flooding in areas
of East Kent, and floods in coastal areas of Sussex became increasingly
damaging in the period of 1350 to 1450. The Calendar of Patent Rolls shows
Sir Robert de Septvans as one of a 'Commission de walliis et fossatis',(responsibility for the erection of walls and digging of ditches) in an attempt to put in place flood defences. The flooding was causing the loss of life of both people and livestock and destroying land.

In 1304, with his increasing infirmity, he was relieved of this role and
eventually died in 1306. He was buried in St Mary's at Chartham, probably
close to the altar as befitted his rank and achievements. And so St Mary's
Church at Chartham became the final resting place for Sir Robert de Septvans,
a 13th Century Medieval Knight. His commemorative funerary brass, one of the
oldest military funerary brasses in England, was originally situated at the
centre of the Chancel but was moved to the North Transept during the
Victorian renovation of the church in 1875.

The Project


For hundreds of years tucked away in a corner of St Mary's church has
lain a very significant and historical artefact. A memorial brass depicting
Sir Robert de Septvans, a medieval knight in the reign of Edward I, has
lain in the church since the early 14th Century. The highly skilled carved
brass shows Sir Robert in medieval combat dress. This amazing piece of
history has, however, spent many years hidden, surrounded by mops,
buckets ladders and vacuum cleaners as well as a storage rack
containing all manner of odds and ends.

The memorial brass can be found in a corner of the North Transept, close
to the pulpit. Sir Robert, who lived at Milton Manor died in 1306 and
would have been buried in the chancel area of the church, close to the
altar and the memorial brass would have been placed close to the burial
site. It was moved to its present position during the Victorian Restoration
of the church between 1873 and 1875. The Victorian chancel
refurbishment, which included the addition of four stained glass panels
to the east window, the erection of an altar and the installation of the
beautifully carved oak choir stalls and the laying of Victorian Gothic
design floor tiles obviously meant that the medieval memorial brass had
to be removed from the area to accommodate the new layout.

In 2014 a report was commissioned by the Church Buildings Council to
ascertain the condition of the brass and to make recommendations for
the future preservation and treatment of this highly significant historical
artefact. The report was completed by Rose Lees Hood of Rupert Harris
Conservation Ltd of London, but among the papers is a comment about
the monumental brass by Sally Badham, an expert in medieval church
and churchyard monuments. Among her comments she wrote -
'The military brass at Chartham, Kent is undoubtedly one of the finest
and most important brasses surviving in England. Stylistic analysis
shows that this brass belongs to a pattern series engraved in a London
marbles brass engraving workshop, which has been termed 'the
Septvans style' after this iconic brass. The brass is one of five full-length
military brasses dating from the first quarter of the fourteenth century
which are well-known for their exceptional quality of design and
engraving. Despite having spent some 700 years on church floors where
they are susceptible to significant footfall, they remain in near perfect
condition. The Septvans brass is the only knight shown bare-headed and
is arguably the most elegant example with its beautifully drawn drapery
folds, elaborately decorated sword scabbard and stylish hair. In addition
to to its intrinsic artistic value, this brass is also important for the study
of armour. Very little actual armour survives from this period; hence
knowledge of the development of armour depends primarily on its
depiction in manuscripts and on monuments, brasses showing details
especially clearly. The Septvans brass is especially important as it has
articulated poleyns (knee defences) and early representation of the

'ringlocket' method of attaching the sword to the scabbard'.

In November 2018, after some four years of discussion, site visits,
emails and phone conversations, the Pilgrim Trust, an organisation which
gives grants to preserve historically significant historical artefacts,
agreed to fund conservation work for this amazing military funerary
brass, probably the last such brass of the reign of Edward I. We are very
grateful to the Pilgrim Trust for its financial support of this project.
Last November, Simon Cottle, a conservator from Rupert Harris
Conservation Ltd spent three days working on the brass. He was quite
surprised at how good the basic condition of the brass was, despite some
rather strange conservation work which had been carried out in the
1970s, which could have proved more damaging than conserving. Simon
spent three days lying flat beside the brass working with chemicals on
cotton buds to individually remove the green corrosion spots from the
brass - a problem caused by bat droppings. As this process brightens the
spots which have been treated, he then used other techniques to dull
these areas to the same colour as the rest of the brass. The brass was
then generally cleaned, waxed and lightly polished. And the result has
been exceptional. The detail of the engraving of the knight's armour and
clothing is amazingly clear. We are very grateful to Simon for all his
work. And we now have material covers to cover the brass to protect it
from any further corrosion from the bats.

Finally, the area around the brass has been cleared and carpeted and a
small history display about Sir Robert de Septvans has been put in place.
So please come along to the church and have a look at this quite
astonishingly well preserved 700 year old monumental brass. Just please
put the material cover back after you have finished viewing the brass -
to help prevent future bat problems!

Patricia Allen
November 2019


Sir Robert de Septvans

The History and The Project

© 2020 by St. Mary's, Chartham PCC. 

Website maintained by T/F Media;  all photos copyright of their photographer

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