Medieval tombs weren’t commenced at the time of death….


According to this article about the tomb of Edward of Woodstock, the “Black Prince”, at Canterbury: “….The study also re-dates the effigy to a decade after Edward’s death, suggesting that although Richard II faithfully followed his father’s instructions, it did not happen immediately….”

Perhaps it should be remembered that Richard II was only ten when his father died. But at the same time, it has to be borne in mind that the Black Prince had years of failing health in which to attend to the effigy’s preparation himself. This statement isn’t as outlandish as may seem.

Many effigies weren’t completed until some time after the death of the tomb’s occupant, as a friend has pointed out: “….Richard Beauchamp‘s tomb was not completed until years after his death. Mary de Bohun only got a proper tomb when her son became king, as Bolingbroke never got round to it. Even the kneeling knight chapel at Tewkesbury dates from the 1390s, though Edward Despenser d 1375….”

However, not only were some tombs and effigies finalised years after the death of the tomb’s occupant/s, but it was also a fact that many tombs and effigies were prepared long before the death of the intended occupant/s. One famous example of this is the tomb of the Black Prince’s brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. As you will see from this paper there is a record of Gaunt’s first payment toward his own monument on 18th June 1374. This was six years after the death of his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, whom he seems to have loved very much. It was completed in 1380. Gaunt himself didn’t die until 1399, so he prepared well in advance! The tomb was destroyed, along with Old St Paul’s, in 1666 in the Great Fire, but below is a drawing of it as it had been. “….The Duke and Duchess were represented by two alabaster effigies lying atop a tomb chest decorated with an arcade of paired trefoil niches, the whole ensemble surmounted by a freestone canopy with numerous pinnacles and tabernacles for devotional statues….”

William Sedgwick, ink-and-wash drawing of the monument to John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster (June 1641). British Library Additional MS 71474, fol. 183

So it has to be said that the fact that the Black Prince’s tomb wasn’t completed “on time” is hardly noteworthy. More likely it was par for the course. But the fact that this delay hasn’t been discovered until now is surprising.

You can read more about the new investigations at the Black Prince’s tomb here.

1 comment

  1. Gaunt’s daughter Joan Beaufort, however, seems to have planned her tomb well in advance and after the death of her mother Katherine Swynford. Joan’s hand is clearly seen in her epitaph stating something to the effect that the whole nation mourned her death. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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