- Tomb Destruction and Scholarship: Medieval Monuments in Early Modern England
In Tomb Destruction and Scholarship, Phillip Lindley, reader in the history of art department of the University of Leicester, deals with the destruction of medieval tomb monuments in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The study, which resulted from Lindley’s 2007 Leverhulme Research Fellowship, offers new insight into the mechanisms of earlymodern iconoclasm in England. At the same time, Lindley points to the side effects of destruction—that is, the increasing number of cultural tourists visiting tomb monuments as well as the growing historical scholarship.
In his first chapter, Lindley recounts the fate of funerary monuments during the sixteenth century. Often parts of tombs were sold for the sake of the material. However, Lindley is able to show that tomb defacement was nothing more than “collateral damage” under King Henry VIII and that active defacement of tombs started only under King Edward VI. Now, images of saints as well as phrases requesting prayers for the dead or—for the most zealous reformers—representations of clergy in their traditional vestments were regarded as offensive. These attacks also influenced the design of new monuments. We might think of the ensuing concentration on the virtues of the deceased and the celebration of his bloodline through the display of heraldry.
Lindley is convinced that it was the sixteenth-century experience of the fragility of material heritage that created a particularly strong desire to study and document tomb monuments. Chapter 2 thus analyzes the genesis and development of Tudor antiquarianism, which differs from late-medieval antiquarian attempts in various aspects: the introduction of formalized networks (Society of Antiquaries), a more critical evaluation of historical sources, and the wider dissemination through printed records. Many quotations from the works of authors such as John Leland, Sampson Erdeswick, or Ralph Brooke give a sense of the discussed antiquarian writings and point to the scholarly debates going on at the time. A good example of such debates is the argument between Camden and Brooke, which demonstrated that the knowledge of heraldry had to be supplemented by a knowledge of the stylistic development of tomb monuments as well as by archival research. Consequently, the preservation of medieval texts and the inclusion of illustrations in antiquarian works was afforded more and more importance. Significant examples such as Sir Robert Cotton’s library and John Weever’s Ancient Funerall Monuments (1631) are discussed in chapter 3.Weever’s publication was the first nationwide collection of epitaphs. The inclusion of illustrations in this work shows an awareness of the fact that images possess an authority distinct from that of texts. Chapter 3 further deals with the fate of tomb monuments during the Civil War, when Parliament actively encouraged iconoclasm. The Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing even kept a journal of the destructions he carried out in various churches between 1643 and 1644. [End Page 613]
The first three chapters, which offer a broad overview of the attacks from the time of Henry VIII to the 1640s, are followed by three chapters with detailed case studies: Lindley employs antiquarian accounts to reconstruct the appearance of King Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury (chapter 4), to draw conclusions about the original functions of the Percy tomb in Beverley Minster (chapter 5), and to analyze the attacks and reconstructions of the Herbert monuments at Abergavenny (chapter 6).
However, considering that this is a book dealing with the development of research into tomb monuments, it is disappointing that the book does not include an overall bibliography of the large number of primary and secondary sources consulted.
In his conclusion, Lindley concedes that he might have exaggerated the extent of tomb destruction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed, many scholars have already shown that a lot of damage was inflicted only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Still, Lindley has achieved his aim—namely, to show that early-modern attacks were endorsed by national authorities on a scale unprecedented in Western Europe...