5 difficult to access Tudor tombs (and how to find out more about them)

Parish churches across England house a wealth of historic memorials. Most of these can be freely accessed by visitors (although, it is advisable to check in advance whether the church is unlocked on a daily basis! This is especially important at the moment as some churches remain closed due to Covid-19). However, some memorials are, for various reasons, harder to access. So, here are 5 Tudor memorials that present more of a challenge for members of the public…

5 – Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire

The memorial to Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire (and mother of Anne, Mary and George Boleyn) is not too hard to get access to but you do have to know where it is! It was only recently rediscovered under a carpet meaning that its location is not yet as widely known as other Tudor memorial. It is also fairly easy to miss as it is a large but non-descript floor ledger that refers to her by her maiden name.

If you want to view the memorial to Queen Elizabeth I’s grandmother in person, you will need to go to the Garden Museum in Lambeth. Since its rediscovery, it has been set in the floor of the museum shop alongside two other ledgers. The ledger has been broken into three pieces at some point and the repairs have damaged the inscription, however, the name “Howard” is clearly legible, and “Elizabeth” can be made out fairly well. The full inscription reads “Here lyeth the Lady Elizabeth Howard sumtime Countess of Wiltshire”.

Natalie Grueninger of On the Tudor Trail has written about the re-discovery of the memorial here.

4 – William FitzAlan, 16th or 9th earl of Arundel and Joan Neville

When William FitzAlan, 16th or 9th earl of Arudel (depending how you count the descent of the title!) died in 1487, he was buried in the collegiate chapel of the Holy Trinity founded in the chancel of the church of St Nicholas in Arundel (the parish used the nave). A tomb was erected there for the earl and his wife, Joan Neville, daughter of the earl of Salisbury. After the collegiate foundation was dissolved, the chapel passed into the private ownership of the FitzAlan family, and the Howard family. It continued in use as a private mausoleum for the earls of Arundel and dukes of Norfolk. As the Howards have famously remained a largely Catholic family, this gave rise to the curiosity of a private Catholic chapel attached to a Church of England parish church. An attempt by the vicar to claim the chapel for the church in the 1870s failed and the chapel was subsequently screened off with a brick wall, now replaced with a glazed screen.

The chapel remains the property of the dukes of Norfolk and cannot be accessed from the parish church side. As a result, whilst there is public access to the tomb of William and Joan, and the tombs of their ancestors and descendants, it is only during the opening hours of Arundel Castle and as part of the admission to the castle. Note that the castle closes over the winter months.

The castle website sadly provides little information about the chapel. Some of the history of the chapel can be read here. There are some photos online of the the 16th/9th earls tomb, and particularly of the effigies which have been preserved separately in a protective case. However, care should be taken when doing an images search as many of the results are in fact pictures of the cadaver tomb of John FitzAlan, 14th or 7th earl of Arundel (d. 1435) or the tomb of Thomas FitzAlan, 12th or 4th earl of Arundel (d. 1415) and his wife Beatrice, daughter of King John of Portugal.

(Many royal tombs are also “pay to visit” ie: Westminster Abbey, St George’s Chapel Windsor, Sudeley Castle. However, it is generally easier to find photographs online! It is also often possible to visit the churches for services)

3 – Gregory Cromwell, Lord Cromwell

The only son of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, Gregory Cromwell is buried in the chapel of Launde Abbey. The Augustinian Abbey was obtained by Thomas Cromwell shortly before his death; although Thomas never lived there, Gregory restored some of the monastic buildings and lived there until his death in 1551. He was buried in the chapel where there is a large memorial against the north wall of the sanctuary.

Today, Launde Abbey is a Christian Retreat House and Conference Centre. Priority for access to the medieval chapel is given to residential guests on their retreats, particularly during Quiet Retreats. The Abbey has a cafe open to non residents and allows access to the Chapel when it is not in use by their retreats – it it is always advisable to contact them in advance if you are visiting specifically for the chapel. Note that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, only residential guests are currently allowed to visit the chapel.

Launde Abbey do provide a brief history of the chapel, including a photo with the Cromwell monument visible, here. Online image searches do also turn up some additional photos.

2 – John Russell, earl of Bedford

Like the earls of Arundel, John Russell, 1st earl of Bedford, and his descendants were buried in a private chapel. The chapel was constructed in 1556 by the earl’s wife, Anne, and is attached to the parish church of St Michael’s in Chenies, Buckinghamshire – it was further enlarged in the early-20th century. An iron grille divides the chapel from the main church. The chapel is managed by the Bedford Estate and the family are now based at Woburn Abbey. Unlike at Arundel, there is no public access to the chapel.

Unsurprisingly, given the lack of public access, there is very little information online about the memorials, except for the antiquary and listing texts. The tombs are described in the Pevsner guide to Buckinghamshire. Otherwise, the best source is probably the RHCME Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Buckinghamshire, Vol 1, South which in available online here. As well as a description of the monuments, there are a couple of black and white plates which have been digitized.

1 – William Parr, Lord Parr of Horton

William Parr was the uncle of Queen Katherine Parr and was given the title of Lord Parr of Horton a few months after his niece married Henry VIII. He died in 1547 and was buried in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Horton, Northamptonshire. An alabaster tomb with effigies representing Parr and his wife, Mary Salisbury, was erected in the church and is believed to be the work of Richard Parker. It is worth noting that the tomb may be an earlier memorial repurposed for the Parrs (possibly taken from a dissolved religious house) so William and Mary may not have looked like their effigies.

St Mary Magdalene church, Horton, Northamptonshire

The church of St Mary Magdalene was closed for public worship in 2012 and the building passed into the hands of the Church Commissioners. It remains vacant and has been identified as Historic England as a listed building at risk due to slow decay with no agreed solution. In 2019, a draft scheme was put forward to sell the building and associated land for office and/or residential use. A number of representations against the proposals were received and, as a result of Covid-19 there has been a delay in making a final decision.

Members of the Church Monument Society were able to visit the church in February 2020 and their notes, plus a number of photos of the memorial can be found here. (The photos are worth looking at just for the male effigy’s fab beard!) When it became apparent that the church would be put up for sale, Jon Bayliss wrote an article describing the tomb and discussing its history. This was published in vol XXVIII (2013) of Church Monuments which can be purchased here.

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