The care of the royal tombs in English cathedrals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the case of the effigy of King John at Worcester

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The medieval history of the celebrated tomb of King John at Worcester is now well known. The works of Charles Alfred Stothard at the beginning of the nineteenth century, of William St John Hope in the early years of the twentieth century, and that of Jane Martindale at the end of that century, are highlights along the road of our understanding of the royal effigy in its medieval context. But all the while this work of comprehension was going on, those who had a duty of care over the tomb were engaged in a battle to offload that responsibility. The authorities at Worcester were not alone in wondering who should carry the burden of caring for royal monuments in English cathedrals. As early as 1841, the question of the care of royal tombs in Westminster Abbey had come under Parliamentary scrutiny. The deans and chapters at Canterbury and at Gloucester also sought government subvention for the care of the royal tombs in their cathedrals. The history of this debate about the care of royal sepulchral monuments forms the wider framework for the main theme of this article, which is an examination in detail of the ways in which King John’s tomb at Worcester was treated between 1872 and 1930. It reveals a remarkable story in which a catalogue of disastrous decisions came to give us the tomb and effigy as we have them today. The article concludes with a short discussion of the introduction of the 1990 Care of Cathedrals Measure which established the structures that currently exist (with subsequent amendments) for the preservation of Anglican cathedral churches in use.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Antiquaries Journal
Publication statusPublished - May 2009

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