|White boar pendant on a chain of suns and roses|
Following the news that the remains of Richard III will most likely
be buried in Leicester (though I'm sure the arguing in this is far from over despite the results of the judicial review) there's some speculation as to what his eventual tomb will look like - the next set of plans are due to be unleashed on the public within the next few weeks, previous suggestions have left something to be desired. Inspired by this we thought we'd spend the day looking at genuine medieval tomb with a Richard connection. The tomb in question belonged to Sir Ralph Fitzherbert and his wife Elizabeth and is in Norbury church near Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
It's a beautiful church that you find with luck and a sat nav tucked away amongst a maze of single track roads buried in deep embankments and cow parsley (so basically very easy to miss) and turns out to have not only the tomb of Ralph and Elizabeth Fitzherbert, but Nicholas Fitzherbert - all of them have very fine effigies. There are also the remains of a couple of carved Saxon crosses which suggest the site had a much earlier church than the one currently standing (the oldest bits of this one date from around 1300), a really bizarre alabaster slab with an incised effigy of a woman in her shroud (it looks like a body in a sack) which represents Benedicta the disgraced wife of a Tudor Fitzherbert (he said she had a vile and lewd character and went off where it pleased her, he clearly didn't please her at all) and some stunning medieval stained glass.
|detail of a Bedesman with a rosary at Sir Ralph's feet|
Ralph Fitzherbert's tomb is significant in connection with Richard III because it's the only one remaining to show a knight wearing a white boar pendant, his armour is also interesting (he died 2 years before the battle of Bosworth) it's been reproduced as a fully functioning suit (to be fair I'm more interested in the idea that somebody somewhere has this thing to dress up in than the actual details of how it's buckled on and the like). Coincidentally it's also probable that it's made from exactly the same stone as the lost tomb of Richard III's would have been as Derbyshire was the local source for alabaster.
The tombs are interesting, definitely as good as any I've seen and certainly live up to the claim of being amongst the finest in the country but what I wasn't expecting and was therefore even more impressed by were the windows. So much medieval stained glass has been lost either through being deliberately smashed or just through general wear and tear that seeing a whole lot of it is something of a treat. The Norbury windows are extraordinary, the very helpful church warden said that some pieces were only 2 millimetres thick (English heritage have done a rescue job and double glazed the lot so it's safe) it's survival really is remarkable.
From a distance the grisaille stained glass doesn't look particularly special (actually it looks a bit grubby) but close up it's exquisite and has the added bonus of flooding the church with light, even on a grey rainy day. Stepping inside a church like this is a markedly different experience to the Victorian Methodist and Presbyterian churches that failed to impress me as a child, I can only imagine the effect it had on the average villager back in the 15th century - even more because they would have got the whole lot in glorious technicolour. There were still traces of paint on the alabaster figures that surrounded the tombs, but any plaster the church interior once had was long gone and the ceiling was plain as well, though that too may well have originally been painted.
The Norbury church website is here
How exciting (and beautiful)! Those stained glass windows took my breath away. You all in England have such riches in historical sites.ReplyDelete
We do, but we don't always appreciate it as much as we might (though Norbury church clearly is loved and appreciated). The windows are extraordinary as are the efforts to preserve them. We're in a church mood now as well so more visits to local gems seem likely.ReplyDelete
What a beautiful church! I love the bedesman at Sir Ralph's feet: is he saying prayers for the knight's soul? He certainly looks a little bored from this angle.ReplyDelete
He does look bored and he is meant to be saying prayers, he once had a friend on the other side but all that was left of him was some feet and the hint of a rear end. I guess eternity as a single bedesman might be a bit dull.Delete
There's a wonderful tomb at a church in Suffolk, sadly I can't remember which one. It's of a medieval knight with his little dog under his feet, and a fabulous epitaph which states that he..."was a comely knight, till he was mangl'd in battle". That says it all for me about medieval warfare.ReplyDelete
It does indeed say it all. There's something undeniably compelling about those glimpses of a past world.Delete
Thank you. Your comments on the church and tombs (and even getting lost on the way) exactly mirrors our own experience. And it took us an hour to find someone with the key! The alabaster carving is amazing, and I'm not surprised there's a plaster cast of the tombs in the V&A.ReplyDelete
At Elmley Castle, a Worcestershire village, there's a rather late (post-Reformation) tomb of the Savage family. Three figures on the tomb; four very large weepers at the foot. Good gilding. Superb detailing and sculpture. Hope you'll find it one day.