Archaeologia Volume 3 Section XLIII

Archaeologia Volume 3 Section XLIII is in Archaeologia Volume 3.

An Account of the Body of King Edward the First, as it appeared on opening his Tomb in the Year 1774. By Sir Joseph Ayloffe (age 66), Bart. V. P. S. A. and F. R. S. Read at the Society of Antiquaries, May 12, 1774.

The royal warrants repeatedly issued by King Edward the Third, and his two immediate successors, directed to the treasurer and chamberlains of their exchequer, De cera reno evanda circa corpus regis Edwardi primi; and the total silence of all our historians, and public records, as to a similar attention having been paid to the corpse of any other of our deceased monarchs are circumstances, that not only indicate the high veneration in which King Edward the First was held during a long series of years after his decease; but when considered, together with the strong injunctions under which, it is said, that king in his last moments laid his son, to send his heart to the Holy Land, attended by 140 knights, and to carry his remains along with the army until Scotland was reduced to obedience, gave rise to an opinion, that upon his decease a more than ordinary care was taken to preserve his body from putrefaction; and that, in ssubsequent times, the utmost endeavours were used for preventing its decay.

At this distant period, it became difficult to ascertain how far such an opinion may be founded on truth; more especially, as the historians, who flourished in the reigns of his son and grandson, Edward the Second and Edward the Third, afford very little information on the subject; and as there are not now remaining, either in official books, or elsewhere, any memoranda of the particular manner in which the corpse of King Edward the First was treated previous to its being laid in the sepulchre.

Weever, who is the earliest of our English writers that take notice of the before-mentioned instruments, De cera renovanda, appears to have made some enquiry into the purpose for which they were issued. That author, speaking of the death of King Edward the First, says — "Such was the care of his succeffors to keep his corpse from corruption, that the searecloth, wherein his embalmed body was enwrapt, was often renewed, as doth appear upon recorda." Mons. Rapin, relying on the same authority with Weever, asserts, that the body of King Edward the First was done over with waxb. And Mr. Dart speaks of it nearly in the words of Weever, whose book he refers toc.

Note a. Funeral Monuments, p. 462.

Note b. Hist. of England, Vol. I. p. 385.

Note c. Hist. and Antiq. of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminfter, Vol. II. p. 3i.

In the year 1770, our worthy and truly respectable member the Honourable Daines Barrington (age 57), whose incessant literary pursuits are confessedly employed for the emolument as well as the edification of the public, stated to the Society the above circumstances, together with his sentiments thereon. At the same time, he expressed his ardent wishies, that the corpse of Edward the First, as entombed in the collegiate church of St. Peter at Westminster, might be inspected, in order to examine the state of preservation in which it then was; and whether any remains of the composition, supposed to have been used to prevent its decay, were discoverabled. His zeal for obtaining such inspection did not however rest satisfied with having barely propounded his wishes to the Society, he frequently applied to the Reverend Dr. John Thomas (age 62), the dean of Westminstere by means of his learned friend Dr. Blair, one of the prebendaries of that church, for leave to open the royal tomb.

Note d. In three letters read at the Society of Antiquaries on the 25th of January, and 1st of February, 1770.

Note e. Now bishop of Rochester.

The application, extremely delicate in itself, was received by the dean with that becoming and natural politeness which renders him peculiarly amiable to all his acquaintance, and attended to by him in a manner which evinced his desire to oblige, fo far as might be confident with the importance of the favour asked, and a strict observance of the duty of his immediate station. After having maturely confidered the request, and taken every imaginable precaution for preventing any injury being done, either to the sarcophagus, or its royal contents, the dean fixed the second day of this month for its being opened ; which was accordingly done, in the presence of himself and two of the prebendaries.

The tomb of King Edward the First, built in the form of an altar-table, stands at the West end of the North side of the Confessor’s chapel, and at the head of his father King Henry the Third’s monument, from which it is separated by the stair-case and entrance, leading from the ambulatory into the chapel. It is in length, from out to out, nine feet seven inches; in height, from the floor of the chapel to the upper edge of the cover-stone, three feet seven inches; and is composed of only five slabs of Purbeck marble, each of them three inches in thickness. Two of these slabs form the sides, two the ends, and one the cover.

This tomb, which is quite plain, except that the under edge of the cover-stone is chamfered, or sloped off diagonally towards its upper edge, is railed upon a basement of free-stone, which, extending every way near two feet beyond the tomb itself, forms an ascent to it of two steps above the pavement of the chapel. Each of these steps is six inches in height. On the South side, and at each end, it stands open to the chapel: but on the North side it is defended from the ambulatory by a grating of strong iron-work. The smaller upright bars of this grating terminate at the height of five feet, in a fleur de lis; and the two standards, or end bars, finish in a small busto of an elderly man with a long visage. A like busto is also placed in the front part of the frame of the baldoquin, or canopy, built over the tomb. The workmanship of each of these busto’s is very rude. And yet they have so much resemblance of the face of King Edward the First, as exhibited on his coins, broad seal, and statue at Caernarvon castle, that there is not much room to doubt of their having originally been intended to represent that monarch.

The inscription, EDWARDVS PRIMVS SCOTORVM MALLEVS HIC EST. PACTVM SERVA. 1308. mentioned by several hiftorians, as being placed on the North side of the tomb, is now greatly defaced, but not so much as to render it altogether illegible.

The form of the letters in this inscription, and the date 1308, put, as is supported, by mistake, instead of 1307, the year in which the king died, are urged as reasons for imagining that the inscription was not placed on the tomb until many years after the king’s decease.

But, on the other hand, it is to be observed, that the letters of the inscription placed round the monument of King Edward the Confessor, which was erased in the reign of King Henry the Third, are exactly similar to those of the inscription here spoken of; those of both inscriptions being manifestly Roman capitals.

On opening the tomb, the cover-stone was found to be uncemented to the end and side slabs; and towards the upper edge of the latter were observed some small chasms, or holes, which seemed to have been made by the insertion of an iron crow, or some such instrument, and to have been afterwards filled up with fine plaister. The joint between the top and sides, although made extremely close, was also drawn with the same material. As soon as the two ends of the cover-stone were raised upon three courses of blockings prepared for that purpose, there appeared within the tomb a plain coffin of Purbeck marble, laid on a bed of rubble stone, which had been built up to such a height from the floor, as was necessary for bringing the upper slde of the coffin-lid into contact with the under slde of the covering stone of the tomb. This coffin, from out to out, is in length six feet feven inches, and in depth one foot and four inches. The breadth, at the shoulders, is two feet feven inches; in the middle, two feet three inches ; and at the feet, one foot and ten inches. The thickness of each side of this coffin, as also that of its lid, which is cut out of a block of Purbeck marble, is three inches. The lid hath not ever been cemented to the sides of the coffin, but appeared to be so clofely and neatly fitted to them, that scarce any dust could penetrate through the crevice. The outside of this coffin is stained with a yellowish paint, or varnish, and is much smoother than the outside of the tomb, partly owing to its having been less expofed to the air, and partly owing to the imposition of the varnish. On lifting up the lid, the royal corpse was found wrapped up within a large square mantle, of strong, coarse, and thick linen cloth, diaper’d, of a dull, pale, yellowish brown colour, and waxed on its under side.

The head and face were entirely covered with a fudarium or face-cloth, of crimson sarcenet, the substance whereof was so much perished, as to have a cobweb-like feel, and the appearance of fine lint. This fudarium was formed into three folds, probably in imitation of the napkin wherewith our Saviour is said to have wiped his face when led to his crucifixion, and which, the Romish church positively assures us, confided of the like number of folds, on each of which the resemblance of his countenance was then instantly impressed.

When the folds of the external wrapper were thrown back, and the fudarium removed, the corpse was discovered richly habited, adorned with ensigns of royalty, and almost intire, notwithstanding the length of time that it had been entombed.

Its innermost covering seemed to have been a very fine linen cerecloth, dressed close to every part of the body, and superinduced with such accuracy and exactness, that the fingers and thumbs of both the hands had each of them a separate and distinct envelope of that material. The face, which had a similar covering closely fitted thereto, retained its exact form, although part of the flesh appeared to be somewhat wasted.

It was of a dark-brown, or chocolate colour, approaching to black ; and so were the hands and fingers. The chin and lips were intire, but without any beard ; and a sinking or dip, between the chin and under lip, was very confpicuous. Both the lips were prominent ; the nose short, as if shrunk ; but the apertures of the nostrils were visible. There was an unusual fall, or cavity, on that part of the bridge of the nose which separates the orbits of the eyes; and some globular substance, possibly the fleshy part of the eye-balls, was moveable in their sockets under the envelope. Below the chin and under jaw was lodged a quantity of black dust, which had neither smell nor coherence ; but whether the same had been flesh, or spices, could not bee ascertained.

One of the joints of the middle finger of the right hand was loose ; but thofe of the left hand were quite perfect.

Next above the before-mentioned cerecloth was a dalmatic, or tunic, of red silk damask ; upon which lay a stole of thick white tissue, about three inches in breadth, eroded over the breast:, and extending on each side downwards, nearly as low as the wrist, where both ends were brought to cross each otherf. On this stole were placed, at about the distance of six inches from each other, quatrefoils, of philligree work, in metal gilt with gold, elegantly chased in figure, and ornamented with five pieces or beautiful transparent glass, or paste, some cut, and others rough, set in railed sockets. The larged of these pieces is in the centre of the quatrefoil ; and each of the other four is fixed near to the angle: so that all of them together form the figure of a quincunx. These false stones differ in colour. Some are ruby ; others a deep amethyst: some again are sapphire ; others white ; and some a sky-blue.

Note f. Walsingham, in his account of the coronation of Richard II, mentions, that the king was invested with a stole; primo tunica Sti Edwardi, et post ejusdem Dalmaticâ, projecta circa collum ejus stola.

In the coronation ceremonies of Henry VII, and VIII, the armylls are described to be made in the form of a stole woven with gold, set with precious stones.

Henry VI. is said to have been arrayed, at the time of his coronation, as a bishop that should ssing Mass, with a dalmatic like a tunic, and a stole about his neck. Ms. W. Y. in the College of Arms.

The investing with a white stole, in modum crucis in pectlore, is particularly mentioned in several foreign ceremonials. Goldastus in the Constitutiones Imperiales, vol. I. p. 95. speaking of Maximilian king of the Romans, says, inducbatur cum sandaliis, et stola alba in modum crucis in pectore; and other ceremonials, printed in Martene, have the same words.

The intervals between the quatrefoils on the stole are powdered with an immense quantity of very small white beads, resembling pearlsg, drilled, and tacked down very near each other, so as to compose an embroidery of most elegant form, and not much unlike that which is commonly called The True-lover’s Knot.

These beads, or pearls, are all of the same size, and equal to that of the largest pin’s head. They are of a shining silver white hue; but not so pellucid as necklace-beads and mock pearls usually are.

Note g. Several of the gentlemen present at opening of the coffin thought them to be real seed pearls; but all of them being exactly of the same size, hue, and shape, militate against that opinion.

Over these habits is the royal mantle, or pall, of rich crimson sattin, fastened on the left shoulder with a magnificent fibula of metal gilt with gold, and composed of two joints pinned together by a moveable acus, and resembling a cross garnet hinge. This fibula is four inches in length, richly chased, and ornamented with four pieces of red, and four of blue transparent paste, similar to those on the quatrefoils, and twenty-two beads or mock-pearls. Each of these pastes and mock-pearls is set in a raised and chased socket. The head of the acus is formed by a long piece of uncut transparent blue paste, s like an acorn, and fixed in a chased socket.

The lower joint of this fibula appears to be connected with the stole, as well as with the chlamys ; so that the upper part of each of the lappets or straps of the stole, being thereby brought nearly into contact with the edge of the royal mantle, those straps form, in appearance, a guard or border thereto.

The corpse, from the waist downward, is covered with a large piece of rich figured cloth of gold, which lies loose over the lower part of the tunic, thighs, legs, and feet, and is tucked down behind the soles of the latter. There did not remain any appearance of gloves: but on the back of each hand, and just below the knuckle of the middle finger, lies a quatrefoil, of the same metal as those on the stole, and like them ornamented with five pieces of transparent paste ; with this difference, however, that the centre-piece in each quatrefoil is larger, and seemingly of a more beautiful blue, than those on any of the quatrefoils on the hole.

Between the two fore-fingers and the thumb of the right hand, the king holds a scepter with the cross made of copper gilt. This scepter is two feet six inches in length, and of most elegant workmanship. Its upper part extends unto, and refts on, the king’s right shoulder.

Between the two fore-fingers and the thumb of his lefthand, he holds the rod or scepter with the dove, which, passing over his left shoulder, reaches up as high as his ear. This rod is five feet and half an inch in length. The stalk is divided into two equal parts, by a knob or fillet, and at its bottom is a flat ferule.