Monumental Industry: the Production of Tomb Monuments in England and Wales in the Long Fourteenth Century

Sally Badham & Sophie Oosterwijk (eds), xiv+274pp; 114 illus, mostly in colour; Shaun Tyas, ISBN 978-I-907730-00-9; hbk; £35.

Another superb book by the specialist publisher Shaun Tyas, consisting of eight informative essays (plus an introductory chapter) focusing on the production of church monuments, mostly carved effigies, in the ‘long fourteenth century’. Edited by two distinguished members of the Church Monuments Society, the book also has much of incidental interest to stained glass historians. Many of the discoveries and questions it raises will resonate with readers of this magazine. Two useful appendices, a helpful glossary of technical terms and a comprehensive bibliography, add to the book’s value. A final pleasure is that it also includes some excellent illustrations by the architectural photographer, C.B. Newham, and the contributing authors [Fig. 1].

Monumental Industry, published by Shaun Tyas

Fig. 1. Monumental Industry, published by Shaun Tyas

Traditionally most studies of monuments have understandably concentrated on the patrons and their motives, spiritual and earthly, for commissioning expensive tombs, incised slabs or engraved brasses. This book does something different and applies itself to a much tougher set of questions; who carved the monuments, where did the carvers operate; what other artefacts did they make, what did patrons and artists expect of one another?

Sally Badham’s opening essay sets the standard by discussing the intriguing issue of workshops and where they were based in the late Middle Ages. Apart from London, it has been often assumed that that must have been a network of such workshops in other important urban centres such as York and Exeter but careful use of petrology (the analysis of stone) and other evidence provides a more complicated picture. Many seem to have been based at major ecclesiastical sites or quarries rather than in towns. In some cases carvers appear to have travelled to sites and made the monuments at or near their intended destination, thus avoiding possible mishaps in transit such as when a monument for one of the abbots of Scarborough (North Yorkshire) slipped overboard during its shipping. The example of the de la More effigies at the parish church of St Denys at Northmoor (Oxfordshire) is cited as a case in point. Stylistically the figures belong to the same group as some effigies at Winterbourne, near Gloucester, but petrological analysis reveals that they were made from a local stone found in the Windrush valley which runs through the nearby towns of Burford and Witney. As it is unlikely that the stone was first quarried in Oxfordshire and then carted to a workshop in Bristol or Gloucester before being brought back again, logic suggests that the carver came to the stone rather than the other way round.

Aleksandra McClain contributes a detailed study of cross-slab monuments in Yorkshire. Although not as eye-pleasing as sculptured effigies or engraved brasses, the slabs are important social documents in their own right and seem to have been produced by small and highly localised workshops, quite different to their grander cousins.

Mark Downing is an expert on military effigies. Years of looking have enabled him to transcend county boundaries and identify the product of workshops, even when they seem to be far from ‘home’. Much the same, of course, is true of stained glass. In this instance the author breaks new ground by grouping five early fourteenth-century military effigies in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire as the product of a single high-status workshop operating in eastern England c.1295 – 1350. An appendix lists forty-eight effigies attributed to this workshop, whose total production over fifty years must have run into the hundreds as it would have included figures of clerics and civilians not covered in his study.

Robin Emmerson examines the nine fourteenth-century effigies in the parish church of St Mary at Aldworth in Berkshire. Identified as members of the de la Breche family, of whom Sir Philip was Sheriff of Berkshire in 1330, the author argues that the effigies were carved from locally sourced stone by travelling carvers from Exeter where seated figures on the west ‘screen’ front of the Cathedral share stylistic similarities with the Aldworth monuments. He also suggests that the arrangement of the effigies was carefully graded; that closest to the Rood may have been intended to represent one of the sleeping soldiers at Christ’s tomb awoken by the Resurrection.

By contrast with England, Welsh monuments have received less attention from scholars, a weakness repaired by Rhianydd Biebrach’s essay on patronage, production and plague in fourteenth-century Glamorgan (South Wales). Forty monuments are considered, and even accounting for losses during the reformation and other upheavals, it is unlikely that the total number was much higher. Over seventy-five per cent were made before the ravages of the Black Death in 1348, an event which the author blames for the ‘near total collapse in the patronage and production of memorial sculpture’ in the county after the middle of the century. While some scholars have disputed the effects of this calamity, Mark Downing’s earlier essay on military effigies lends some support for this conclusion, as he too blamed plague deaths for the demise of the English eastern counties workshop whose output he studied. Nor was the great pestilence the only upset to hit Wales. A rebellion against English rule in 1400 led by Owain Gln Dŵr again disrupted normal life and it was not until the 1420s that the production of memorial sculpture resumed.

Jane Crease earned her PhD for a study of late-medieval alabaster tombs in Yorkshire and her essay on the output of a northern workshop in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries is full of interesting information. Examples include the sending of six cartloads of such stone from a quarry at Tutbury to London for the making of a tomb at St Paul’s cathedral for John of Gaunt’s (1340 -1399) first wife Blanche (1345 –1369). Other technical issues considered include the erection of monuments in churches and their painting and gilding. She also explores the production of smaller carved alabaster artefacts made by, or alongside, monument carvers. Documentary evidence is cited relating to Walter Hylton, twice mayor of Nottingham in the 1480s, who seems to have made tombs and other objects, perhaps even some of the well-known Nottingham alabasters, small panels which were often produced as altarpieces. She also shows that a number of tombs in Yorkshire were decorated with similar smaller figures.

The tomb of Edward the Black Prince (1330 –76) at Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most famous medieval monuments in England. It consists of a copper-alloy effigy of the prince resting on a Purbeck marble tomb chest with a painted wooden tester above him depicting the Holy Trinity. In recent years the tester has been the subject of a major conservation programme and the contribution by Marie Louise Suaerberg, Ray Marchant and Lucy Wrapson describes the materials and techniques employed in this sumptuous monument.

An important feature of the tomb is the context of its setting. Originally the Prince was supposed to be buried in the crypt of the Cathedral; in the event his tomb was set on the south side of the Trinity Chapel at the far eastern end of the church, only ten feet from the shrine of St Thomas Becket. Although we cannot be certain, it is possible that one of the factors influencing its relocation may have been the rich luminosity the tomb would have enjoyed when seen in the low lighting of the thirteenth-century stained glass windows.

Sir Ralph and Katherine Greene. Copyright CB Newham

Fig. 2. Tomb of Sir Ralph Greene (d. 1417) and his wife Katherine. Copyright CB Newham

The final essay is by Sally Badham and Sophie Oosterwijk. After a short introduction it introduces the reader to seven surviving contracts made between patrons and monument makers, the first time this body of extant documentary evidence has been published in a single volume. They include contracts for the tombs of Richard II and, lower down the social scale, Sir Ralph Greene at Lowick (Northants). Each entry consists of the original text, a translation and comments on the both the monument and its makers. Credit is given to Jerome Bertram and others for their help in this undertaking. The documents provide important information about how soon after death a monument was expected to be in place. They suggest that the belief that this had to be done within a year is unsupported by the evidence; a finding of possible relevance to stained glass historians beset with similar unanswered questions [Fig. 2].

Medieval monuments are a major field of interest in their own right. This book adds considerably to our knowledge of this subject while also shedding light on what is often called Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork, in which monuments, stained glass, wall paintings, architecture and woodwork are conceived as a unified whole. Its authors are to be congratulated on both counts.

Roger Rosewell


For more information about the Church Monuments Society visit their website.

Name that Roundel Solution

This month’s roundel shows ‘The Triumph of Chastity’, a popular subject in late medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Name that roundel!

Name that roundel!

The panel was almost certainly once part of a series of six scenes based on a poem called the Trionfi (Triumphs), written by the fourteenth-century Italian poet, Francesco Petrarca (1304 –1374), better known in English as Petrarch. In this scene, the allegorical figure of Chastity has fought and vanquished Love (Cupid and Venus) and is on her way to the temple to claim the victory palm. She rides a unicorn, a legendary symbol of chastity. Thereafter Chastity succumbs to Death and Death falls to Fame before Time overcomes Fame and finally Faith or Divinity prevails over all.

Similar roundels can be seen at St Mary, Wilton (Wiltshire); St Mary, Boynton (Wiltshire) and at St James, Fulmer, (Buckinghamshire). Another is in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. In these examples the woman rides from left to right.

The Antwerp artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) designed a series of roundels depicting the Triumphs, two of which together with one design, are in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. For more details, visit the museum’s website.

The Cambridge roundel is from this series and was either produced by the van Aelst workshop or by a glass painter influenced by him. At one time it belonged to Dr C.A. Ralegh Radford, FSA and had been in the possession of the vendor’s father at Bradninch Manor (Devon) from at least 1918-21 until his death in 1925


W. Cole. A Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 1, Oxford, 1993, cat. Item 2546, p. 325

T. B. Husband, The Luminous Image, Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480-1560, New York, 1995, pp. 160-1

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