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Edward IV’s Will of 1475: “Bury Me Low in the Ground, with the Figure of Death”

In 1475, before embarking for his campaign to (re)conquer French lands for England, Edward IV wrote a will stating that, in the event of his death, he desired to be buried at the Royal Chapel of St. George’s at Windsor Castle. He wanted to be placed under the ground with an effigy of a corpse on top. The book by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor” (Richard III Society, 2005), provides the actual text from Edward IV’s will. After naming Richard Beauchamp, bishop of Salisbury (Sarum) his executor, the king goes on to address what to do with his body:

“… and oure body to bee buried in the Church of the Collage of Saint George within oure Castell of Wyndesore by us begonnne of newe to bee buylded, in the place of the same Church by us limited and appointed and declared to the Reverende Fader in God oure trusty and welbeloved the Bisshop of Sarum, where we will oure body be buried lowe in the grownde, and upon the same a stone to bee laied and wrought with the figure of Dethe with scochyne of oure Armer and writings convenient aboute the bordures of the same remembring the day and yere of oure decease, and that in the same place or nere to it an Autre bee made metely for the rome as herafter we shall devise and declare.”

Such tombs were common in the 15th century, and were called “memento mori” tombs: designed to remind the living that, no matter one’s station in life, we all become food for worms. Yes, a little morbid, but for a King to communicate this message was a profound spiritual statement. We are all equal in death.

The photo below is of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel – showing a slightly different arrangement – with an effigy of the living man on top, with the effigy of his corpse below. Credit: “Arundel4” by Lampman – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arundel4.JPG…

Arundel4

The effigy of the deceased “in death” could get rather visceral, showing rats gnawing at the flesh or the sad, but nonetheless, inevitability of the corruption of the body, as depicted in this gruesomely accurate depiction from 16th century Belgium:

corpse

Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, photographer.

It does raise a question about why Richard III’s will has never been located, either as Duke of Gloucester or King. Would he have followed his brother’s example and have ordered a “momento mori” for his tomb?

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3 thoughts on “Edward IV’s Will of 1475: “Bury Me Low in the Ground, with the Figure of Death”

  1. Probably destroyed because it had information in it that the next regime didn’t wish to honor or to be generally known.

    Liked by 1 person

    • martha martin on said:

      I believe Edward’s tomb was never completed as specified in the 1475 will. I believe I have an image of the design on a cameo brooch ring. The cadaver effigy is armored and wears the cap of maintenance. He is facing an armored knight with his helm covering his face. The two figures are conjoined at the hip. Above them is a fully armored winged horse unfurling it’s wings in preparation to transports his charges.

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  2. white lily on said:

    Thank you for your comment. I think many people believe Richard’s will was destroyed, consistent with Henry VII’s attempt to eradicate all copies of Titulus Regius. Whether it was intentional destruction or something less, perhaps a clerk saying “oh, here’s Old Dick’s Will… we don’t need that anymore, do we?” … I guess we’ll never know for sure. Sutton and Visser-Fuchs do mention in their “Royal Funerals” text that a lot of records went missing from the herald’s library at Cold Harbour when Henry VII transferred it to the possession of his mother.

    On a related note, it is interesting to see that the will of another deposed king – Richard II – still exists. He, like Edward IV, wrote it before embarking on a war that took him overseas (in 1399, to Ireland). Richard II’s will is notable for the incredible detail it provides for his prospective funeral ceremonies and burial. He wanted to be buried in St Peter’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey. But, I guess the wills of deposed kings were not considered binding, and Richard II was instead buried at Kings Langley. (It wasn’t until the reign of Henry V that his remains were re-interred at Westminster.)

    I think it highly unlikely that Richard would have never written a will. In 1475, he had come into a collection of estates from the attainted Kingmaker, had just gotten married, and likely was hoping for the birth of an heir. It would seem rather careless for him not to draw one up at that time, and inconsistent with his known reputation for being legally prudent and proactive.

    Liked by 1 person

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