Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Drawing of effigies of Katherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp

  • Title: Tomb of Katherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This image shows the tomb effigies of Katherine Mortimer, Countess of Warwick (1314-1369) and Thomas de Beauchamp, eleventh Earl of Warwick (1313/14-1369). In the sculpture, Katherine and Thomas are lying on their backs with heads on pillows that are supported by small figures. Katherine, to the viewer’s left, is wearing a fashionable dress and elaborate fretwork veil befitting her status as an elite married woman. Thomas wears armor and is holding the hilt of a sword in his left hand. His right hand reaches out to hold Katherine’s right hand, which is drawn across her body. Her left hand was originally resting near the center of her chest. Their feet rest upon animals, Thomas with a bear (unlike here in the Warwick family badge it wears a muzzle) and Katherine with a lamb. This may be an Agnus Dei in reference to her religious devotion to Christ as the lamb of God. The sides of the tomb depict male and female mourners in a variety of fashionable clothing. Windows nearby presented the couple's nine daughters and their five sons. The two windows were destroyed during the English Civil War, but Dugdale includes drawings of the daughters in his Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656)(page 320).

    The tomb is located before the high altar in the chancel of the Warwick Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick, England. It dates to shortly after 1369 and was commissioned by Thomas de Beauchamp, the twelfth Earl of Warwick, eldest surviving son of Katherine and Thomas. The double tomb was sculpted from two pieces of alabaster, joined at Thomas’s wrist. The choice of alabaster is typical of English nobility at the time. Popularized by the tomb of King Edward II, it held a special appeal for high status memorials. The unpainted stone was valued for its translucence and purity, which gave the faces of tomb effigies a spiritual luminosity. At the same time, clothing and decoration, often painted, were faithfully rendered in durable detail. These properties are shared by the marble used for effigy tombs in France but unlike marble, alabaster is a fairly common English stone.

    As is the case for most examples of double tombs, Katherine and Thomas were a married couple. In 1314, the infants were pledged for marriage by their fathers, Roger Mortimer V and Guy de Beauchamp. This agreement was in part motivated to end a dispute between the two families over the manor of Elvel in Wales. Katherine and Thomas’s tomb is notable as the first known double tomb made for members of the high nobility in England. The effigies of Katherine and Thomas serve as their lasting representations on Earth, commemorating the most important aspects of their lives and personhood, such as success in military leadership represented by Thomas's sword and armor. With the double tomb, the marriage of Thomas and Katherine is memorialized, because it calls viewers to remember them together rather than separately. Tombs and memorials also helped garner prayers for the deceased, which was believed to help decrease the amount of time souls would spend in Purgatory before ascending to Heaven. By having a double tomb, prayers would likely be said both for Katherine and Thomas, linking the fates of their souls. In this sense, the memorial contradicts the idea that marriage vows only last "til death do us part."

    The importance and lasting nature of Katherine and Thomas’ marriage is heightened further because they are holding hands. Hands being held, and more specifically clasped right hands, is a gesture which symbolizes marriage in medieval imagery. This is because holding right hands was an important part of the marriage ceremony, as it was a physical element in the exchange of vows. The presence of this imagery on a tomb is associated with a deeply felt marital bond and strengthens the emphasis on a couple's marriage more than a double tomb alone. Their tomb is the oldest known example of hand holding in a three-dimensional monument. A common feature of most hand-holding monuments is that the woman is to the man’s right, as seen in Katherine and Thomas’ tomb. This is a reversal of the standard pose, where the man is to the woman’s right. However, this switch lets the husband easily hold his wife’s right hand in his own. This makes the man the active figure of the memorial, albeit at the sacrifice of the more honorable position at the viewer’s left. Another frequent feature of hand-holding monuments is that the woman brought property or wealth into the marriage. However, this is not the case in the marriage of Katherine and Thomas. She did not have any dowry for the marriage, but this is likely because her father held the right to Thomas's marriage through royal favor.

  • Source: Memorial tomb of Thomas Beauchamp cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Philip Halling - geograph.org.uk/p/6066520 (Image #1)
    Wikimedia Commons (Image #2)
  • Rights: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (Image #1)
    public domain (Image #2)
  • Subject (See Also): Beauchamp, Thomas, Earl of Warwick Burials Death Marriage Mortimer, Katherine, Countess of Warwick Noble Men Noble Women Tomb Effigies Wives in Art
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1369- 1380
  • Related Work: Side view of the tomb of Catherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp, including mourners. Photograph by Philip Halling.
    of the tomb effigies and mourners, tomb of Catherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp.
    Chancel of the Warwick Collegiate Church, with the tombs of Katherine and Thomas de Beauchamp.
    Tomb of Edward II, Gloucester Cathedral, 1330-1335.
    Tomb of Katherine Clifton and Ralph Green, 1419-20, Lowick, Church of St Peter. The effigies of the wife and husband are holding hands.
  • Current Location: Warwick, Collegiate Church of St. Mary, chancel
  • Original Location: Warwick, Collegiate Church of St. Mary, chancel
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Alabaster; Iron
  • Donor: Layman ; Thomas de Beauchamp, the twelfth Earl of Warwick, eldest surviving son of Katherine and Thomas
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    Barfield, Sebastian. "The Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, 1268-1369." PhD diss., University of Birmingham, 1997.

    Barker, Jessica. Stone Fidelity: Marriage and Emotion in Medieval Tomb Sculpture Boydell Press, 2020.

    Dressler, Rachel. " Identity, Status, and Material: Medieval Alabaster Effigies in England." Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture 5, 2 (2015): 65-96. Available open access.

    Dugdale, William. The Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated from Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombes, and Armes: Beautified with Maps, Prospects and Portraictures Printed by Thomas Warren, 1656.

    Gilchrist, Roberta. Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course. Boydell & Brewer, 2012.

    Tuck, Anthony. "Beauchamp, Thomas, Eleventh Earl of Warwick (1313/14-1369), Soldier and Magnate." Oxford Dictionary of National Bibography Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Woods, Kim W. Cut in Alabaster: A Material of Sculpture and Its European Traditions 1330–1530. Harvey Miller, 2018.