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.
- 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
- 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.
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