Friday, 31 October 2008

An Effigy in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire

Dorchester, Oxfordshire
In the south chancel chapel in the former Augustinian abbey at Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire is a plain tomb chest, which supports one of the finest medieval miltary effigies in England. The effigy shows a recumbent man dressed in top to two in chainmail, with his legs crossed, drawing his sword. It is an extremely accomplished piece of sculpture. It has a fluidity about it that achieves a lively sense of movement and strength. Originally the monument was placed in the position of honour in the monastic chancel of the church, only to be moved in the nineteenth century. The tomb chest may not be original and it is plausible that the effigy had a rather more elaborate setting originally. Both the high quality of the piece and its original position suggest it was was commissioned to cover the tomb of an extremely important individual. So who was that individual?
Dorchester, Oxfordshire
In the 1980s Philip J. Lankester suggested that the effigy was that of William de Valence the younger, a professional soldier who died in battle in Wales in 1282 and was buried in Dorchester Abbey. William de Valence the younger was from an extremely powerful family, who could easily afford such a commission. William was the second son of William de Valence (1225-96) a prominent French courtier of Henry III, who was created Earl of Pembroke. Had the younger de Valence survived he would in fact have inherited his father's titles, instead they passed to his younger brother Aymer de Valence. He might also have been buried in Westminster abbey, for the monuments of his father and brother can still be seen there.

Dorchester, Oxfordshire
Bibliography
P. J. Lankester, 'A military effigy in Dorchester Abbey, Oxon.' in Oxoniensia 52 (1987), pp. 145-172.

6 comments:

BillyD said...

I don't think I've ever seen a tomb effigy that wasn't just - well, lying there.

Roger Mortimer said...

I have seen the effigy but missed, until now, what a wonderful piece of work the lion is.

tenthmedieval said...

I agree with you about the quality of the sculpture! A strange choice of depiction, though, don't you think, as it suggests anything but a peaceful rest?

Allan Barton said...

Not at all peaceful is it, he still appears to be in the thick of the battle. Perhaps an apt monument for a man who died in his prime.

johnj said...

I am very interested in the symbology shown by certain features on tomb effigies, such as Crossed legs (said to indicate a crusader ?. Dog at the feet ( fidelity or peaceful death at home)Lion at the feet (High status ?) hand on sword hilt, (Died or wounded in battle) Sword held vertically on chest (?). Can you provide some valid references for these features.?

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