14th century monument to Sir Thomas de Berkeley of Coberley (1289-d.1365) and his wife Joan Lady de Berkeley nee Archer d. 1369. The small monument besides the Berkeley monument is that commemorating a heart burial belonging to an unknown female. St Giles’ Church, Coberley, Gloucestershire. Photo C B Newham Church Monuments Society
The large monument in Coberley Church shown above commemorates Sir Thomas de Berkeley (1289-d.1365) and his wife Joan Lady de Berkeley (d.1369). Joan remarried after Thomas’ death and would therefore have died elsewhere, possibly at Pauntley, the family home of her second husband William Whittington, so possibly the tomb and effigies may have been commissioned prior to Sir Thomas’ death. Alternatively it’s also possible Joan may have requested burial next to her first husband and the monument was then commissioned by their son, another Thomas (1351-1405). However moving on – Sir Thomas – depicted in armour and who fought at the Battle of Crecy on the 26 August 1346 – was the son of Sir Giles de Berkeley (1240-1294) who fought in the Crusades. Joan was the daughter and heir of Geoffrey Archer of Stoke Orchard also known as Stoke Archer. You could be forgiven for thinking that the photo shows the monuments to a family – the parents on a joint tomb and a separate monument commemorating their small, unnamed daughter and indeed you would not be alone as its erroneously stated in numerous accounts that this is the case. This would be understandable bearing in mind that there are examples of childrens effigies from that period showing them wearing adult dress as is the figure in the effigy. See for example the children of Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault who were interred in the Chapel of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. Their effigies display them in the adult fashions of the time despite the fact that William of Windsor who was born in 1348 did not make it to his first birthday and his sister Blanche of the Tower, born in 1342 also lived for only a short while.
William of Windsor and Blanche of the Tower. Children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainalt. St Edward the Confessor’s chapel, Westminster Abbey. Photo Westminster Abbey.org.
However the small effigy in St Giles’ Church is that of an adult female commemorating the burial of her heart. The clue, as well as the size of the effigy, is that her right hand is pulling aside her bodice and pointing to her heart while the left holds what appears to be a glove, rather than the usual hands clasped together in prayer.
The effigy of the unknown lady. 14th century heart burial. Could this heart have once belonged to the wife of Sir Giles de Berkeley whose heart was interred in St Giles church, Coberley. Photo C B Newham Church Monuments Society
Unknown as she is – although the Church Monuments society have suggested she was a member of the Berkeley family – we will never know why this lady had requested that her heart be buried in a separate place to her body. However – having had a lightbulb moment – I do wonder if the heart buried was that of Sir Giles’ wife who perhaps had opted for her heart to be interred in the same place as that of her husband’s while both their bodies would be interred at St Giles Priory, Little Malvern? I will return to Sir Gile’s heart burial later. Certainly her costume is that of an earlier era to the period of the costumes of Sir Thomas and Joan which again is another reason for debunking the chances that this was their daughter. Still as per usual let not facts get in the way of a heart rendering story that brings tears to the eyes of the unwary onlooker.
As mentioned above after Thomas’ death in 1365 Joan would marry William Whittington of Pauntley the elder brother of the famous Richard Whittington who went on to be Lord Mayor of London (be careful not to get our Joan muddled up with her mother-in-law, Joan Maunsel, something I have seen repeatedly while researching this post OR even our Joan being the mother of her brothers-in-law – sigh). This second marriage was of short duration though with Joan dying in 1369 (1)
Stone effigy of Joan Lady Berkeley. After Thomas’ death in 1365 Joan would marry William Whittington of Pauntley the elder brother of the famous Richard Whittington who went on to become Lord Mayor of London as well as a fabulously rich man and a great benefactor to Londoners.
In an aside to this story in 2012 an attempt was made to steal the small female effigy. I will let Sally Strachey of Historic Conservation take up the story : ‘Thieves had quite boldly wandered into the open church with tools for the job and attempted to lift the monument. In doing so, the effigy had been uprooted and the stone edges have been damaged where a crowbar had been used on it. Luckily, I think they probably gave up when they attempted to handle the deceptively heavy girl and looked back down the hundred meter walk back to the car park!’ (2). The monument has since been made, hopefully, thief/idiot proof.
The small effigy is not the only monument commemorating a heart burial in St Giles’ church. A second one in the form of a wall memorial, commemorating Sir Thomas’ father, Sir Giles de Berkeley (1240-1294) can be found opposite the monument to his son. Sir Giles is portrayed holding a large heart over his shield. He fought in the Crusades and while he was buried in St Giles Priory, Little Malvern his heart was returned to the family home at Coberley in Gloucestershire. His favourite charger, Lombard, is said to be buried in the churchyard , a story which is confirmed on a plaque beneath the wall monument (3). Another known horse burial in a churchyard occurred over a century later – this time the owner of the horse, Ranulph Lord Dacre, was buried with his horse and not in the church after the Battle of Towton on the 29th March 1461 This might imply that the owners of horses that perhaps had accompanied them into battle and were well loved had their steeds buried in churchyards more than we think.
13th century wall monument commemorating Sir Giles de Berkeley. Photos RexHarris @ Flikr.
Plaque below Sir Giles de Berkeley’s monument noting the burial in the churchyard of Lombard – his favourite charger. Unknown photographer.
Sometimes hearts were buried separately due to the owner dying very far from home. However in the case of Robert the Bruce it would be the reverse with Robert being buried in Dunfermline Abbey but requesting that his heart be buried in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This did not go according to plan. It’s a great story and has been told elsewhere but as this post is about heart burials it’s too good not to give it a mention here. Briefly the faithful James Douglas set out for the Holy Land in fulfilment of his oath to the dying King, taking the Bruce’s heart with him in a silver casket. However during a ferocious battle that was going badly for him Douglas threw the heart of the Bruce deep into the melee, biding it “Go first as thou hast always done.” Douglas himself was killed in the ensuing fighting. The casket containing the heart of the Bruce and Douglas’ body were both retrieved and carried back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston and the heart finally interred at the Abbey of Melrose.
Another famous heart burial was that of Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) wife to Edward lst. Her body was interred in a fabulous tomb in Edward the Confessor’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, her heart was buried at the Dominican priory at Blackfriars next to her son Alphonso who had died at II years old and her viscera interred at Lincoln Cathedral.
While researching this post I have discovered that heart burials were not as rare as I first thought. I’ve found several others besides the more famous ones of Eleanor and the Bruce in Frederick Crossley’s wonderful book English Church Monuments. Printed in 1921 this book is an absolute wealth of information on church monuments.
Monument commemorating the heart burial of Bishop Aymer de Valence c.1261. Winchester Cathedral. Shown in Crossley’s English Church Memorials p.48. Photo with thanks to 1066.co.nz.
Monument to a heart burial said to be dedicated to either Robert de Roos, 1st Baron de Ros, 1285 or according, to the Crossley book – English Church Monuments p.179 – to William de Albini/d’Aubigné c.1280. St Mary’s Bottesford, Leicestershire. Photo with thanks to jmc4 Church Explorer.
Originally this small monument – only 16′ tall- was at Croxton Abbey – where King John’s heart was buried – from whence it was brought to St Mary’s at the Dissolution. The figure clad in chainmail appears to be holding a heart. The plaque below, which is thought to have once lain over Robert’s heart, was also brought back with the monument but it’s impossible to say if the heart accompanied them. Hopefully it did. Robert was married to William de Albini’s daughter and heir Isabella which is where the confusion may have arisen.
“Here lies the heart of Lord Robert de Roos
Whose body is buried at Kirkham
Who died the 13th of the Kalends of June AD 1285
Isabella Lady de Roos Wife of the said
Robert de Roos lies at a new place near Stamford who died AD 1301“
(Photo with thanks to J.Hannan-Briggs)
So keep that in mind dear reader in your wanderings… it may well be that you come across a small effigy in a church somewhere and your eyes moisten at the thought of a dear lost child. It may not be what it appears to be…
- BERKELEY, Thomas (1351-1405) of Coberley and Stoke Orchard, Glos., Chilcote, Derbys and Elsersfield, Worcs. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993. Author L S Woodger.
- The attempted theft of the unknown girl St Giles Church, Coberley.
- Church leaflet John Williams also The King’s England – Gloucestershire Arthur Mee.
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Ranulph Lord Dacre of Gilsland – The Lord who was buried with his horse
RICHARD WHITTINGTON c.1350-1423. MERCER, MAYOR AND A MOST BENEVOLENT CITIZEN OF LONDON
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THE MONUMENTAL EFFIGIES OF GREAT BRITAIN : CHARLES A STOTHARD
AVELINE de FORZ – AN EARLY PLANTAGENET BRIDE & HER TOMB IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY
One thought on “The de Berkeley Heart Burials St Giles Church , Coberley”
That’s interesting, as I have a Joan Mansel ( also spelt Maunsel), 1330-1359, born Oxwich Castle, Wales & dying at Pauntley, Glos., as the wife of William Whittington V, 1310-1359 . They are the parents of Sir Richard Whittington (Dick Whittington)
Joan is the daughter of William Mansel II, 1300- & Johanna de Bello/ de Bello Campo, 1305-
Have I got it all wrong?
Joan Mansel is my 20th great grandmother through Dick’s brother Sir Robert, 1355-1423
Robert & Dick also had 2 other brothers; William, d 1398 & Giles, b 1357
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