Heraldry on Graves and Tombs

Chichester Cathedral tombHeraldry played a very important part in marking the last resting place of the deceased from an early date. In the church at Boxgrove near Chichester in Sussex southern England can be seen numerous instances of the Coats of Arms of medieval persons who are entombed there. In Chichester Cathedral itself there are many other examples of Heraldry, including the tomb of Bishop Robert Sherburne, image above, indeed it would be hard to find a church or cathedral dating prior to 1800 where no arms appear. At Speldurst in Kent, the burial place of the great Waller family there is a collective memorial to the Wallers with their Coats of Arms, showing the shield in miniature hanging from the walnut tree crest, the shield being decorated with fleur-de-lis in allusion to the capture of the Duke of Orleans at the Battle of Agincourt  in 1415   by a member of the family. In Worcester Cathedral the Arms of bishops are so numerous that they overpowered those of laymen. In Bath Abbey, there are few memorials prior to 1500 but of the numerous monuments since that date most are with Coats of Arms. The church of St. Peter Port in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, between England and France has many Coat of Arms of local families of importance. In the church at the end of Princes St., Edinburgh, Scotland there are numerous decorative shields, and in churches and cemeteries throughout Europe you will find Coats of Arms on the graves and tombs of the dead.

Heraldic hatchmentAnother use of the Coats of Arms of the deceased was in connection with what were called hatchments. These were wooden boards which were decorated with the arms of the deceased and then put up outside his or her house for some time during the funeral and mourning period.These do not only belong to the Middle Ages, in a collection of 1,500 hatchments which the Bath Heraldic Society were able to list, 250 of them dated from the 19th Century and 25 of them from the 20th Century. Among those from the 20th Century include at Oxford on the death of the head of a college and at Ashburnham House, Sussex, where the arms of the family were shown over the main door of the empty house after the death of the last of the family ( Lady Catherine Ashburnham). The Bath Heraldic Society had in  the middle of the last century a record of over 2,000 hatchments in England over the previous 400 years.

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