Hidden London by Jan Collie

Shakespeare's London
Dickens' London
The American Connection
Museums & Historic Houses
Churches with Character
All Hallows, Barking
St. Andrew -by-the-Wardrobe
St. Bride's, Fleet Street
St. Dunstan -in-the-West
St. Giles -in-the-Fields
St. Mary le Bow
St. Sepulchre's
Southwark Cathedral
Wandering Wheels

The Abbey Treasures - Detail

Until the death of Henry V, the practice at royal funerals had been to carry the embalmed body of the monarch through the streets of London to Westminster Abbey with its face uncovered. It is not clear why representations were substituted at this time, but it may have been because Henry V died in France and was brought home in his coffin. The effigy of Henry, made of leather, coloured, crowned and robed, was the first of its kind and started a new tradition. Later funeral figures were made of wood and thereafter of wax.

Of the surviving pieces to be seen in Westminster Abbey Museum, those interested in historical detail may like to note the following.
  • The figure of Charles II robed in red velvet with lace collars and ruffles. Until 1815, this effigy stood over his grave in Henry VII's Chapel and served as his monument. According to the diarist John Evelyn, the King was buried: 'without any manner of pomp and soon forgotten'. Probably to avoid disputes over which religion he died in.
  • The figure of Nelson, which was made as a counter-attraction to his tomb in the rival church of St Paul's. Apart from the coat, the clothes are his own.
  • The effigy of Elizabeth I, which is a restoration made in 1760 of the original which had fallen to pieces a few years before. The original was carried from Whitehall at her funeral on April 28, 1603. It is amusing to think that only a year previously, at the age of 69, the wily old Queen had 'accidentally' let the Scottish ambassador see her dancing to prove that she was is excellent health! (The only statue of Elizabeth I remaining in London can be found at the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, EC4.)
  • Mary II and William III. The figure of Mary stands almost six feet tall and it is known that she was much taller than her husband. The effigy was cast from her face after death.
  • Queen Anne, her long hair flowing down beneath her crown. The figure was carried on her coffin and it still the only sepulchral memorial of her. The unfortunate Queen's many children, who died in infancy, lie in a vault nearby.
  • The Duchess of Richmond (La Belle Stuart) dressed in the robes she wore at Queen Anne's coronation and with her favourite parrot by her side. The stuffed bird is the only one consigned to fame in Westminster Abbey.
  • Catherine, Duchess of Buckinghamshire and that of her son, Edmund Sheffield, Duke of Buckinghamshire, who died in Rome in 1735. Both used to stand by her grave in Henry VII's chapel

  • Copyright Jan Collie 2002
    Published by permission of the author.
    All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.