Sunday, March 08, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? - Part 8 Isolated Alabasters

  As promised, this posting will be on the wonderful collection of alabaster effigy tombs in Harewood, Yorkshire. However, if you were expecting a simple cornucopia of eye candy alabasterporn, you may be disappointed. There is a bit to think about how these particular tombs have been preserved and restored and what this can tell us about the valuation of these works in one particular social environment. Harewood is a very particular type of place.
  The former parish church of Harewood is located inside the grounds of the huge country estate of the same name, home to the very grand mansion of Harewood House. Located close to Leeds and Harrogate, the grounds are something of a playground for city dwelling northerners. It is privately owned, and pays for its upkeep by hosting visitors to the house and a range of modern type social activities in the grounds. Read all about it on their official website here.
  The church, a somewhat unspectacular structure, is isolated from the village of Harewood because the village was bodily removed from the park and a new village built outside its border in the late 18th century. That should mean there is a deserted medieval village in there somewhere, and it is noted, but not described on the Hull University Beresford's Lost Villages website. A 19th century antiquarian claimed that there are, in fact, five extinct villages in the manor and township of Harewood. (John Jones 1859 History and Antiquities of Harewood: London, from which the next two pictures are taken.) Harewood held a market and fair from 1209, so was a market town rather than a village.

  There was a market cross standing in the village until 1804, but by then it was a relic of glories past.
  If you travel by road from Leeds towards Harrogate and points north on the A61, the road turns abruptly left around the northeastern corner of the Harewood estate. On the left in a very jungly and isolated corner of the estate you can catch a glimpse of a ruined manor house, Harewood Castle, constructed in the late 14th century and abandoned some time in the early to mid 17th century.

  It was not accessible to visitors to the estate, hidden out of sight in dense forest, but since some recent conservation work is evidently occasionally able to be visited by tour parties. It is just another sign of how a living medieval landscape has been converted to a private estate.
  The first time I visited Harewood church was in 1979, when they informed me that the church was currently closed as the monuments were being renovated, but I was told I could come and photograph them, just ask at the porter's lodge in the gatehouse. One of the tombs was dismantled with the effigies lying on the ground beside packing cases. The second time I visited was in 1998, when the renovations had been complete. It was a public holiday and there was some kind of public festivity going on in the grounds. We still had to enquire at the gatehouse to get the church unlocked, but they were very nice about it and didn't charge us to enter the estate like the other holidaymakers. The caretaker seemed quite bemused that we wanted to poke around a deserted old church full of creepy tombs rather than joining in the fun and frolic outside. There is a separate entrance to the church via the village, but the church is now redundant, under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

  The interior of the church is spare, stripped and empty. The tombs would presumably once have all been in the chapel in the north aisle of the chancel, but they have evidently been moved several times, to the detriment of the condition of some of them. There are six tombs, each containing a male and a female effigy, dating from the early 15th century to the early 16th. The above photograph was taken in 1998, after the restoration. Two of the tombs can be seen to be almost jammed under arches. They were recorded as being in these positions in the early 19th century, but it is probably not where they started out. The tomb in the foreground is in the north aisle, but it has recently been moved back to that position from the south aisle. The current position is where it was in 1816, but more than likely not where it was originally.

  One tomb was jammed into a corner, as seen in a 1979 photograph, squashed against a wall niche where it clearly doesn't fit. It had been there since at least the early 19th century.

  That one is now removed from its spot against the wall, so that you can see the lion foot supporter for the knight and the little dogs at the lady's feet, but some of the panelling of the tomb with weepers under canopies has disappeared, presumably when it was first poked into its corner.

  The fancy 18th century wall memorial in the background is the only large post-medieval tomb or commemoration within the church. It is in the south aisle. The tombs would originally have been coloured and gilded, but have been stripped back to their natural alabaster colour, conforming to the Victorian monochrome aesthetic. Actually, the Victorians were not particularly devoted to monochrome with their own productions, but thought it was the proper look for medieval buildings and sculptures. 
  So what was probably a crowded and colourful assortment of tombs in an enclosed chapel in a corner of a church containing all the paraphernalia of medieval religion has been spread out to turn the whole church into a pale and empty mausoleum; a monument to the ancestors (biological or social) of the owners of the estate. This did not happen abruptly at the last restoration; it has evolved in this direction over the centuries.

 The earliest tomb in the church is that to Sir Willian Gascoigne (d.1419) and wife Elizabeth Mowbray. This was shown in the previous post in this series as an example of a prestige tomb featuring a person in civilian dress. This is a different image showing his sword as a symbol of his knightly status, even though his dress is that of a judge. This allows him to be positively identified, which is not true of the other tombs in the church. The history of the manor of Harewood is well documented, and the list of contenders for the identity of the other effigies is known, but the precise assignment of particular identities for each tomb has changed over time. These are the ancestors and the validating authority for the lordship of the estate, but the identities of individuals are contested.
  In this posting, and in the Flickr tour of the village and the church monuments, I have used the identities as they were presented within the church when I last saw it in 1998. They have been re-assessed several times.  Why is there a problem with identifying the individuals on the monuments? Firstly, the tombs have no surviving inscriptions. Secondly, while the tombs have many places in which heraldic symbolism has been deployed, mostly it has not been carved in three dimensions but painted on to flat surfaces, and therefore lost when the tombs lost their colour.

  The tomb now designated to be that of Sir William Ryther (d.c.1425) and wife Sybil Aldburgh, like most of the rest, has heraldic shields as part of its design, but they are now devoid of information. The weepers or saints in the niches along the side of the table tomb have also been despoiled.
  Clues can be obtained from details in the carving of the effigies. The tombs of knights, as mentioned in an earlier post, tend to reflect very contemporary fashions and events. Heraldic devices are also incorporated into other details of the designs.

  The tomb designated as that of Sir Richard Redmayne (d.c.1425) contains two clues; the crest of his helm, on which his head is resting, is the head of a horse: a rebus on his name Redmayne. No doubt it had a red mane at one time. The other is that he is wearing a Lancastrian SS collar, which would suggest a certain time period.

  The effigy on the tomb designated as that of Sir William Gascoigne (d.1465) is wearing a suns and roses collar,symbol of Yorkist affiliations. This was not in use before 1461. The effigy also displays some traces of colour and gilding, giving just a hint of a more gaudy appearance for the tomb in its heyday. This is the tomb shown earlier which has been moved away from an ill fitting wall niche.

  The most recent effigy in the church is ascribed to Sir Edward Redmayne (d.1510). He bears the horse head family crest on his helm. He is also wearing a livery collar, this time a Tudor collar with Ss and roses The incumbents of the Harewood estate evidently preferred to go with the flow.
  The loss of individual identity of the various tombs is intriguing, especially as they appear to be set up so as to celebrate the lineage of the estate. The tombs have been damaged and rearranged. This doesn't seem to be attributable to a simple wave of Protestant fervour, followed by a late renovation in the interests of heritage. It doesn't seem as if the damage to many of the tombs has been directed at the symbolism decried at the Reformation.

  Angels supporting pillows still have their heads intact. Knocking the heads off pillow angels was a way of removing the symbolism of purgatory while still preserving the ancestral effigies, but it seems nobody policed it here. The praying hands have not been broken off. This is the tomb ascribed to Sir Richard Redmayne (d.c.1425) and his wife Elizabeth Aldburgh. The effigies are particularly handsome. The lady is absolutely the height of fashion of the day. Yet this tomb has apparently been squeezed into an archway where it doesn't quite fit, losing the carvings at the head and foot of the tomb chest in the process.

  Saints and angels have survived, along with secular weepers, along the sides of the chests. I'm not too sure about the originality of the heads in this example, but they have all their recognisable attributes: St Lawrence with his gridiron, The John the Evangelist with his cup of poison, St James the Great with his pilgrim bag and St Michael the Archangel weighing souls with a little demon trying to cheat by clinging to the basket. This is from the tomb attributed to Sir William Gascoigne (d.1487) and wife Margaret Percy.

  The most exquisite little detail comes from the tomb of Sir Edward Redmayne (d.1510). Kneeling on his foot supporter lion, a tiny monk, or bedesman, says his rosary for the soul of the dead man. His expression and posture suggest that he thinks purgatory could go on for along time. He is still there.
  As with most alabaster tombs, the effigies are not personalised depictions, but generic types represented with the latest fashions, armour and heraldic appurtenances, not to mention livery collars. They embody all the standard reminders of liminality and purgatory, with open eyes and praying hands, angels and saints and weepers. Neither dead, nor alive, they await their final fate. 
  Over the centuries, the message has lost its immediacy, with the tombs being damaged, faded, moved multiple times and even losing their individual identity. Possibly there never was an expectation that each individual tomb would last in all its glory forever. Each generation might move aside its predecessors to a place of lesser importance while placing the most recent tomb in a place of honour. The collecting of them all together, renovation and conservation according to the aesthetic principles of a different age, and setting them up again in splendour even while not being entirely sure who they are, is a reaffirmation of the ancestral privileges of the owners of the estate; a celebration of genealogy in a broader, general sense, rather than the celebration of specific individuals.
  To explore each individual tomb in detail, with before and after renovation pictures and lots more visual detail, visit the Tour of Harewood Flickr album. I don't think I can include this in the Leland project as he didn't go there, or perhaps there is a story in that. I will add some more details to the whole story in the Flickr album.
  The tombs are described in detail, including the reasons for the identification of individuals, in P.E. Routh1976 Medieval Effigial Alabaster Tombs in Yorkshire: Boydell Press, Ipswich.

1 comment:

Dianne said...

Beg pardon. I have made a couple of corrections to this post, having got confused with my north and south. Problems with wandering tombs.