In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew, Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison. I happened by chance on this lovely monument some years ago. I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave. Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted. Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”. Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’. English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.
Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.
Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and was the youngest daughter of the lst Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward II. He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward. Roger was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story. Blanche was married to Peter Grandison. He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral. Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous care, craftsmanship and attention to detail lavished on the design and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day. Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.
The tomb chest with its displays of the Mortimer blue and gold heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.
Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s tomb in Hereford Cathedral
But that is not the end of the story for Blanche. For while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest. This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault. It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were placed inside the tomb chest itself. After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection. The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.
Blanche’s lead coffin
Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.
St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’
Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged, still lying at her feet..
And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.