Thursday, 24 June 2010

Knights on Tombs

Earl of Arundel in Chichester Cathedral, 1375
Many a Sussex church contains a tomb of a knight in armour, recalling days of chivalry when war was waged for faith and honour. In theory at least.
Many legends have grown up around these effigies. Some say that if his legs are crossed below the knee he went on a Crusade, and that if they are crossed at the knee he went twice.
Others claim that a knight holding a drawn sword died in battle.
Sullington, 13th century
Unfortunately it seems that it is all nonsense. Crossed legs are a common feature of effigies dating from the time of the Crusades, but they continue well into the 14th century, long after the fighting had finished. One of the few cross-legged effigies that can be positively identified, that of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, in the Temple church in London, never went to Palestine which seems to contradict the theory. It seems that sculptors just liked the impression of vitality and movement the crossed legs gives to the monument.
The same is probably true of the drawn sword - it may be more symbolic of fighting the spiritual fight as St Paul describes.
The figure of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in Chichester Cathedral dates from about 1375. It was originally placed in Lewes Priory but moved when it was dissolved. He is shown with his legs stiff and uncrossed, his feet on a lion suitable for an aristocrat. He holds his wife Eleanor's hand, a touching gesture. She has her feet on a dog, a symbol of fidelity.
At Sullington church a badly mutilated but very fine image of a knight in chain mail is shown cross-legged. He dates from the 13th century.
Sir Anthony St Leger, Slindon, d1539
Sir John de Ifield, Ifield, d1317 
The effigy of Sir Anthony St Leger at Slindon is unusual in being made of wood in 1539. It is a beautiful image, his hands together in prayer but his head slightly to one side in a very lifelike pose.
John Apsley, Thakeham, 1527
Ifield church contains the superb images of Sir John de Ifield, who died in 1317 but is portrayed in the armour of twenty years later - keeping up with the latest fashions even in death?
Small fragments of the original paint can still be seen, showing how vividly coloured it must have been when it was first unveiled.
Thakeham has a most unusual tomb, an alabaster slab incised with the figure of John Apsley, who died in 1527. The lines were filled with pitch. By this time, armour was mainly ceremonial.