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Coffin surprises memorial restorers

07 February 2014

RESTORERS working on a 14th-century church memorial to the daughter of a significant figure in English medieval history were stunned when they discovered her coffin inside.

Michael Eastham, a conservator of sculpture, had been working for two years on the memorial to Blanche Mortimer in St Bartholomew's, Much Marcle, in Herefordshire, when a coffin was discovered jammed inside the structure. "We could not work out what it was when we first took the stone panels from the front," he said. "We thought it might be a layer of slate, but as we explored further we realised it was a lead coffin."

Until this discovery, it was believed that memorials were built above, or close to, where the body was buried.

At first, Mr Eastham thought that the coffin might have been hidden during the memorial's construction, or inserted at a later date. Now, however, he is convinced that it is that of Blanche Mortimer. Born in 1316, she was the youngest of 11 children of Sir Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. In 1322, Mortimer was imprisoned in the Tower of London after leading a revolt against Edward II.

He escaped to France, where he plotted the King's overthrow with Edward's queen consort, Isabella. After a successful invasion in 1327, Mortimer allegedly had Edward killed at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and, for the next three years, ruled England in all but name. He was eventually deposed by Edward's eldest son, Edward III, and hanged in 1330.

His daughter Blanche married Sir Peter Grandison, a Herefordshire nobleman, who, on her death in 1347, created a memorial topped with her effigy, which today is regarded as one of the finest in the country.

The coffin has been returned to the memorial on stainless-steel supports, and further work is being filmed, the Archdeacon of Hereford, the Ven. Paddy Benson, said.


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