Who cares for our historic memorials and tomb monuments?

You don’t have to spend long in a Church of England parish church to see that the condition of many of the older memorial and monuments within them is deteriorating: cracks, spalling/flaked surface, loss of paint/gilding, lost elements. Some of this damage is the result of iconoclasm, the deliberate destruction of religious imagery, particularly during the 1540s and 1640s. Other damage is simply caused by the passage of time.

Empty niches on the tomb of Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland, Beverley Minster. The statues were most likely destroyed by iconoclasts

So, who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of memorials in our parish churches and churchyards? And what repair are they allowed to do?

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Tomb: Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland

The tomb of Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland in Beverley Minster

Who was Henry Percy?

The only son of Henry Percy, 3rd the earl of Northumberland and Eleanor Poynings, the 4th earl is (in)famous for not joining the battle of Bosworth – an act that many have credited with contributing to Richard III’s defeat.

Earlier in the Wars of the Roses, his father had died fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton (1461). Initially imprisoned by Edward IV, the young Henry Percy did homage to the Yorkist king in 1469 and Edward restored him to the earldom of Northumberland in March 1470. He remained in England during Edward IV’s exile of 1470-1 and was crucial to Edward’s retaking of the throne – when Edward landed at Ravenspur to retake the throne, the 4th earl of Northumberland made no move to stop him, allowing Edward to recruit supporters and march south without major opposition.

During Edward IV’s reign of 1471-83, Northumberland’s power in the north of England was challenged by the influence of Richard, duke of Gloucester. The two men appear to have initially had a good relationship, and Northumberland’s army helped back Richard’s claim to the throne in 1483. However, rather than rewarding Northumberland with increased power in the north, Richard chose to retain direct control of the area and to continue to build his own following. This is generally believed to have motivated Northumberland’s decision to keep his army on the sidelines at Bosworth (though poor communication and positioning may also have made it difficult for him to join the battle!). In the immediate aftermath of the battle, he was imprisoned but was soon released to help control the north for Henry VII.

Why was his death controversial?

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Two tombs to Thomas, Lord Wharton (d. 1568)

Above: Tomb of Thomas Wharton and his wives – Eleanor and Anne – in St John the Baptist church, Healaugh

Where is the tomb?

The tomb pictured above is located in St John the Baptist church, Healaugh, North Yorkshire. However, Lord Wharton had two tombs erected to his memory – the second is located in St Stephen’s church, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria.

Who was Thomas Wharton?

Thomas Wharton was a member of longstanding gentry family based in the Westmorland/Cumberland area. He rose to prominence during Henry VIII’s reign – first through service to the Clifford and Percy familes, and then through royal service. Although he was an MP and administrator, his greatest claim to fame was as a military leader. In November 1542, he defeated a Scottish army at Solway Moss – he had just 3,000 men to 18,000 Scots. As a result of this victory he was created Lord Wharton in 1544. He had an extensive spy network in Scotland, led frequent raids across the border in the 1540s, and was responsible for keeping garrisons supplied during the English campaigns against Scotland in 1547-1550.

Although a successful soldier, Wharton seems to have been widely hated by contemporaries. The list of people he quarreled/feuded with included the Cliffords (his former patrons); William Grey, Lord Wilton; Robert, Lord Maxwell; his subordinate officials; and his tenants!

He married Eleanor Stapleton and Anne Talbot.

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The wooden tomb of Henry Neville, earl of Westmorland

Tomb of Henry Neville, 5th earl of Westmorland and his first two wives, Anne Manners and Jane Cholmeley

Recently, I rediscovered photos of the tomb of Henry Neville, 5th earl of Westmorland (and his first two wives) taken while I was researching my PhD. Of all the tombs I visited during my research, this one stood out as the only one made of wood. I posted a couple of the photos on Twitter but I wanted to write a bit more about the tomb!

Starting with… Who was Henry Neville?

Henry was the eldest of the 18(!) children on Ralph Neville, 4th earl of Westmorland and Katherine Stafford, daughter of the duke of Buckingham. His career could perhaps be described as chequered… Married for the first time at the age of 11 or 12, he would go on to remarry twice – controversially, his 3rd side was the sister of his 2nd wife. In 1546, he was arrested for gambling debts and for planning to kill his first wife and his father. He admitted neglecting his wife and ‘naughty living’. He was arrested again in 1552 for plotting to rob his mother and seize treasure from Middleham Castle. His political career, in contrast, was of little note, though he was a relatively early supporter of Mary Tudor’s claim to the throne in 1553. He died in February 1564 at approximately 40 years of age.

Where is his tomb?

His tomb was erected in the church of St Mary in Staindrop, near to Raby Castle, the ancestral home of his family. His father and other relatives were also buried in the same church (although not all have surviving tombs).

Effigy of Henry Neville, 5th earl of Westmorland

How rare are wooden tombs?

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