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.

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Review: The RSC’s “The Mirror and the Light”

I was lucky enough to get tickets to one of the first matinee performance of teh RSC’s “The Mirror and the Light” as a birthday present this year, and I thought that I would jot down some of my thoughts about the play.

Spoiler warning: I am going to try not to give too much away but there will be some small spoilers for the production (and historical events) beyond this point…

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Tomb: Edward Stafford, earl of Wiltshire

Who was Edward Stafford?

One of the lesser known Tudor noblemen, Edward Stafford was well-connected by birth but made little mark on the political scene and died before he was thirty. His father, John Stafford was the third son of Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham (d. 1460 at the Battle of Northampton) and Ann Neville, daughter of the earl of Westmorland. His mother, Constance Greene, was the only daughter and heiress of Henry Green of Drayton, a Warwickshire based gentleman. From the Greenes, Edward would inherit extensive lands in Northamptonshire.

Edward was born on 7 April 1470; his father died in May 1473 and his mother in March 1474/5 leaving him orphaned at just four years of age. Responisbility for his governance and tuition was given to his grandmother Anne, dowager duchess of Buckingham. He was present at the coronations of both Richard III in 1483, where he carried the Queen’s crown, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth of York in 1487. He helped defeat the rebel army at the Battle of Blackheath on 17 June 1497 and hosted Henry VII at Drayton in 1498, but otherwise his career seems to have been undistinguished. He secured a suitable marriage to Margaret Grey, daughter of Viscount Lisle, but they had no surviving children. Edward died in March 1498/9, at the age of 29.

Where is he buried?

Exterior view of the chapel where Edward Stafford’s tomb is located

Despite being part of the prominent Stafford family and having his education entrusted to his Neville relatives, Edward Stafford’s will states that he wishes to be buried in the Lady Aisle of the church of St Peter in Lowick by his “grantfader Grene” where he also wants his executors to erect a tomb. His wishes were clearly followed as his tomb can be found in a chapel in Lowick church, near to the tombs of Henry Greene and another ancestor, Ralph Greene.

What does the tomb look like?

The tomb is a large alabaster chest tomb with an alabaster effigy of Edward Stafford. Around the sides of the chest are blank shields (the detail of coat of arms has been lost; they may have been painted on) each of which is ringed with a cord of Stafford knots (used by the Staffords as a badge since the 14th century) alternating with cart naves (the hub of a cart wheel; used as a badge by Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham).

Blank shield with the cord of Stafford knots and cart naves around it

The earl is depicted in armour with a carved heraldic surcoat and is wearing the Lancastrian collar of ‘S’s. His head, with his flowing shoulder length hair, is resting on his helmet with mantling and crest. His feet rest on a muzzled beast (likely a bear) and, kneeling beneath the soles of his shoes are keeling bedesmen with rosary beads. A Latin inscription is carved in relief around the top edge of the chest, the words divided by vines.

There has been some damage to the tomb, the bottom of the sword has broken off as has some of the crest attached to his helmet. However, the mantling has survived well as has the relief detail of his surcoat and collar. The effigy has been graffitied over the years.

Tomb: Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk

Who was the 3rd duke of Norfolk?

The eldest son of Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, and his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney, the 3rd duke of Norfolk is one of the more prominent of the supporting cast of political figures at the Tudor royal court. Like his father he was long lived (1473-1554) but he is most associated with the reign of Henry VIII. During his career he was a soldier, royal councillor and, after his father’s death, duke. The royal offices that he held included Lord Admiral, Lord Treasurer, and Lord Steward. He came close to death in 1545 when he and his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, were arrested for treason and attainted by statute (declared guilty without trial). Surrey was executed whilst Norfolk was saved only by Henry VIII’s death and spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London. His lands in Norfolk were given to Princess Mary Tudor and, when Lady Jane Grey declared herself queen, members of Norfolk’s affinity were among the first to give their support to Mary. On her accession, Queen Mary released and pardoned Norfolk, however, he enjoyed his freedom for just a year before his death.

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Tomb: John, Lord Cheyney (Cheyne/Cheney)

View across the nave of Salisbury Cathedral looking north-west. The Cheyney tomb is on far right of the image.

Where is the tomb?

It is located in Salisbury Cathedral, under the arcade on the north side of the nave and just west of the crossing.

Was it always in this location?

No. The tomb was originally placed in the Beauchamp chantry chapel (constructed in the 15th century for Bishop Richard Beauchamp). Between 1789 and 1792 the cathedral was closed and James Wyatt employed to demolish the remains of the bell tower, level the churchyard, demolish two porches, and remove the medieval chantry chapels from the east end. Inside, medieval stained glass was removed; the medieval wall paintings and vaulting decoration either removed or whitewashed over; the east end cleared and levelled; and the medieval memorials were relocated from the Lady, Beauchamp and Hungerford chapels – most of them were neatly lined up under the nave arcades.

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Katherine of Aragon and the Battle of Flodden

The Battle of Flodden was fought between the armies of England and Scotland on 9th September 1513. The English army was led by Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (future 2nd duke of Norfolk), with support from Lord Admiral Sir Thomas Howard (future 3rd duke of Norfolk), Sir Edmund Howard, Lord Dacre and Sir Edward Stanley. However, although Surrey had been entrusted with the military defence of the realm, it was Katherine of Aragon who had been appointed Regent while Henry VIII was campaigning in France. She had the authority to raise an army and a council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The TV Series Spanish Princess depicted a pregnant Katherine taking to the battlefield. Whilst this is a complete fabrication, what was the extent of her involvement with the battle? Was she just a passive figurehead or did she play an active role as Regent?

Check out snippets of Katherine in action on the battlefield in the Spanish Princess series 2 trailer
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‘Tabulae’ or tables – the medieval precursors to heritage interpretation

Visit any historic site or town today and you can reasonably expect to find some form of heritage interpretation board. But you might not realise that visitors and pilgrims to the churches of medieval Europe would have found historical information displayed in a similar manner.

Interpretation boards inside Carfax Tower, Oxford

Normally referred to as tabulae or ‘tables’, these were texts written on parchment and attached to boards that were then placed around the church. They were intended to be read by literate visitors or used as an aide memoire by members of the religious community when showing people around the church. A popular topic for these boards was the history of the church or monastery – many of these were of course foundation myths! An example of this time of tabula is the Magna tabula Glastoniensis which is held in the collections of the Bodleian Library – catalogue entry here. It consists of six parchments leaves mounted on a wooden frame and recounts extracts of the history of Glastonbury and the saints said to be buried there.

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Tombs: Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk

Unlike some of the noblemen I have written about, we don’t actually have a surviving tomb for Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk. However, we know quite a bit about two tombs that were erected to him, and a third tomb that he designed before his death.

Who was Thomas Howard?

Thomas Howard was one of the leading political figures of late-15th and early-16th century England (with a slight hiatus when he was imprisoned after the Battle of Bosworth). He was born in 1443 and lived under the rule of six kings. The most notable single event in his career was probably the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when he led the English army that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scots, killing King James IV and most of the leading Scottish nobility. He has tended to be overshadowed by his more famous son, Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and by his granddaughters – Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard. I recently wrote a biography of the 2nd duke which was published by Pen & Sword.

Tomb number 1

We know from Thomas Howard’s will (dated May 1520) that he had drawn up an indenture for a tomb on 31 August 1516. This was most likely him setting his affairs in order when he was suffering from a severe bout of illness in the summer of 1516. A letter written to the earl of Suffolk on 31 May had said that the Duke of Norfolk ‘was not likely to continue long.’ Norfolk set aside £133 6s 8d for the making of tomb which was to be placed before the high altar at Thetford Priory. Designs for the tomb, which was to include images of Norfolk and his second wife. Agnes Tilney, had been produced by the duke, Master Clerk (Larke) the master of the King’s works at Cambridge and, Wastell, a freemason of Bury, Norfolk. However, despite Norfolk’s carefully laid plans, this tomb was never erected.

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Review: Gold and Glory Exhibition, Hampton Court Palace

A wide open path leads towards the main entrance to Hampton Court Palace. In the distance, three people walk along the path.

Last Friday, I took the opportunity of being in the vicinity of Richmond to visit the Hampton Court Palace and, in particular, the Gold and Glory exhibition (running until 5 September 2021). Originally due to take place in 2020 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold, it was postponed to this year due to Covid.

The exhibition is divided across six rooms – those used by Cardinal Wolsey when he stayed at the palace – and takes the visitor from c. 1513 through the Treaty of Universal Peace, to the preparations for the meeting between Henry VIII and France I, and on to the Field of Cloth of Gold. In the first room are portraits of the key figures – Henry VIII and Francis I – alongside paintings of the Battle of the Spurs, and the meeting of Henry VIII and Maximilian I; and a small display about Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. I felt that this was the least successful of the rooms. Setting the international scene for the Field of Cloth of Gold in a concise and accessible fashion is always going to be difficult but the small number of items on display seemed to serve as interesting vignettes rather than hanging together to tell a coherent story of the 1510s. The second room was devoted to the display of a copy of the Treaty of Universal Peace (some of the most beautiful handwriting I have seen!) and a number of items relating to Cardinal Wolsey, including his hat and the early-15th century Book of Hours gifted to him by Cardinal Campeggio.

Above (L-R): Sign marking the Gold and Glory exhibition; portraits of Henry VIII and Francis I on display in the first room; interpretation banners

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