Tuesday 24 July 2018

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS: Some kingly effigies and burials by Elizabeth Chadwick

I've had a couple of food for thought moments this week that I thought I'd share with you.  Putting together historical facts is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing and some that have more than one piece for the same slot, and thus the ability to change the picture

Moment Number 1.
Checking my twitter feed a couple of days ago I came across a comment by Historian Marc Morris, quoting fellow historian John Gillingham concerning the effigies of King Henry II and King Richard the Lionheart at Fontevraud Abbey in France.  Gillingham said: "I do not know on what evidence if any (apart from later tradition) one effigy is identified as Henry II's and one as Richard's."

I have always believed - because it's what I've always read - that this effigy, clean shaven is identified as King Henry II

And this one, bearded, is Richard the Lionheart.

I have often pondered about the effigies of these two Angevin kings.  In an era when beards were a powerful symbol of masculinity and authority, how come Henry II's effigy doesn't have one?  The more so because we know he was bearded in life.  Chronicler Gerald of Wales drew an impression of him. Gerald was well acquainted with his appearance. Of course, that doesn't stop him from shaving off his beard on another occasion and whether bearded or not, it's no proof as to who the bearded effigy is representing.
Impression of Henry II by Gerald of Wales

It is highly likely that the effigies of Henry II and Richard were commissioned by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who spent her later years at Fontevraud in semi retirement.  I often wondered if she chose to emasculate Henry by depicting him without a beard, and giving Richard one in order to subtly (or not so subtly) hint at who was the greater man.  But now it seems that there are no solid markers beyond tradition to nail down who is actually who.

The effigies themselves have suffered from the vagaries of time and politics.  Originally they (including an effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine by a different sculptor) stood in the choir. but the extent of the choir in the late 12th century and the effigies' exact location is not known. The effigies are made from tuffeau limestone that comes from the Loire valley.  Historian Kathleen Nolan in her article on the tombs 'The Queen's Choice'  in Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady edited by John Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, (A tremendous book of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine and well worth the read) suggests that Henry and Richard are dressed as kings lying in funereal state and in their coronation robes.  The bearded effigy, usually presumed to be Richard has dark hair, but we know that both he and his father were red-heads.  I am assuming that later restorations are responsible for that one.

Richard has a second tomb in Rouen Cathedral where his heart is buried, but that effigy too is a matter of more questions than answers.  The current effigy has a 19th century look about it, but is thought to be a representation of the earlier medieval one as drawn in 1730 by Bernard de Montfaucon, sometimes called the father of modern archaeology.
Here in black and white is the current clean-shaven depiction of Richard in Rouen Cathedral and below it, de Montfaucon's 1730 sketches. One is of the bearded effigy that Montfaucon identifies as  Richard at Fontevraud. He doesn't say why he identifies the bearded one as Richard, only that it is him. The effigy drawing to the right of the bearded Fontevraud Richard is clean shaven and made by Montfaucon at Rouen. This tells us that the identification of who was believed to be who (rightly or wrongly) dates back at least to 1730.  I do not know at this stage if anyone can date the tradition earlier than that.   Montfaucon's work is titled 'Les Monumens de la Monarchie Francoise qui Comprennent L'Histoire de France ave les Figures de Chaque Regns.'  It's Vol 2.
Richard I's current effigy at Rouen Cathedral. Possibly dating to the 19th century or else the original
with 19th century restorations.   When excavated in the 19th century it was discovered that the hands
and face had been damaged by cement, by time, and the effects of a hammer.  (see Albert Way
Observations on the Monumental effigy of Richard I king of England disinterred on the south side
of the choir in the Cathedral of Rouen July 30th 1838)
Bernard de Montfaucon's  illustrations of Fontevraud Richard (Left with the beard) and to the top right, the Rouen
 clean shaven version of Richard as observed in 1730.  Montfaucon  in 1730 believed  the bearded Fontevraud effigy
to be Richard and not Henry.   There is further confusion because the current Richard effigy in the black
and white photograph  above this drawing is actually posed as Montfaucon's sketch of the Young King, not Richard.

Above: Montfaucon's sketch of the effigy of King Henry II's eldest son Henry the Young King, which has actually been taken as the model for the current tomb sculpture of Richard the Lionheart, (black and white photo). It's the top right effigy on the sculpture sketch above this one with a different hand position that Montfaucon identifies as Richard in his book.  Labelled number 5.  To further muddy the water, Albert Way in his work on the excavation of the tomb of Richard 1, identfies Richard's effigy representation as the one now in situ as Richard.  (which all adds to the confusion!).  

It's also interesting to note that a manuscript illustration showing Richard being captured on his return from crusade shows him as clean shaven on his travels. Whether or not this is an indicator for the Fontevraud depiction is another matter.   If one switches one's notion of who is who on the Fontevraud effigies and ascribes Henry II the beard, then all the ducks line up in the known illustrations and Richard then appears clean shaven at Fontevraud, at Rouen and in the pilgrim manuscript.  However, from this point so far away in time we're never going to know.  You pay your money and you choose what you want to believe. 
A clean shaven Richard I  about to be captured on his way home from crusade.
Moment number 2 

Now onto my next food for thought item this week.
 Not so long ago, the search was on for the tomb of Henry I at Reading Abbey with archaeological explorations of the vicinity being much in the news. For example The Guardian on the Reading Abbey remains of Henry I
I was reading through a History Girls blog I'd written some time ago about the death of Henry I A Surfeit of Lampreys and reading down to the end of the comments came to one by Dunkit42 who remarked on a letter in The Times of London in December of 1785 commenting on the discovery and subsequent destruction of Henry I's tomb.  While we don't know it for certain, again because of the passage of time and lack of recording, it seems a decent possibility.  Strange that there's been no mention in the modern press, not a even a qualifier or disclaimer.   I looked up the article and here it is.

From The Times.  Thursday 8th of December 1785.

"It lately happened that the workmen employed in digging a foundation for the erection of a house of correction at Reading in Berkshire on the spot where the old abbey stood, that diverse bones were thrown up.  This being the burial place of Henry I, each bone was seized as a kind of treasure, contemplating it as one of the King's, till at length a vault was discovered, the only one there, and which was of curious workmanship.  In the vault was a lead coffin almost devoured by time.  A perfect skeleton was contained therein, and which undoubtedly was the King's, who died at the castle of Lyons in Rouen on the 2nd September 1133 (they have the wrong date, it was November, but that's newspapers for you!), was then embalmed, and sent from thence according to is own desire to be interred in the Abbey of Reading.  Antiquaries have frequently inquired where this monarch's remains might be found but time has effaced every possible mark, though it must be presumed heretofore, the spot had been royally and peculiarly distinguished.  After a series of 650 years, and upwards, it was hardly probable anything but dust could remain; but the distinguished appearance of the coffin and the vault in which it was interred, put it out of doubt.  The account given us in Rapin of the King's death, and embalming the body, further justifies the presumption that this coffin was the King's, especially  as he says, his body was cut in pieces, after the rude manner of those days, and embalmed. And Gervase of Canterbury, confirms this account by saying they cut great gashes in his body with knives, and then powdering it well with salt, they wrapped it up in tanned ox hides, to avoid the stench, which was so great and infectious that a man who was hired to open the head, died presently after.  The gentleman to whom I am obliged for this account adds, that fragments of rotten leather were found in the coffin.  His curiosity was great, and so was that of the persons assembled insomuch that the bones were divided among the spectators, but the coffin was sold to a plumber.  The under jaw bone has been sent to me, and a small piece of the leaden coffin.  The jaw contains sixteen teeth, perfect and sound; even the enamel of them is preserved."

Yes or no?  I remain on the fence, ruminating the information and thinking very possible, but again no absolute proof. 
 I do love a good delve into the past. We think we know things but we don't!

Elizabeth Chadwick is a best selling author of 24 historical novels.  Her latest book, Templar Silks, looks at what the great William Marshal might have done with his time in the Holy Land. She will be lecturing on that subject at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre  on the 18th of August from 2:45 pm - 3:15 pm

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