Shrouded effigies at Fenny Bentley

thomas beresford fenny bentlyThomas Beresford died some ten years after his wife, Agnes. They were buried in St Edmund’s  Church, Fenny Bentley opposite their home in Fenny Bentley Old Hall.  Their tomb tells us quite a bit  about the couple – they had sixteen sons and five daughters – all of them in their shrouds, as indeed are Thomas and Agnes.

The Beresfords provided a troop of horsemen for Henry V and Thomas’s sons took part in the Wars of the Roses fighting on the side of Lancaster.  This is perhaps not unexpected as the Beresfords are listed as part of the Lancaster Affinity.  Having said that John Beresford managed to get on the wrong side of Henry IV when he refused to go to France.  The screen in the church was given by the Beresfords in the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses – presumably in grateful thanks for surviving.

Interesting as that may be it doesn’t explain why Thomas and his wife are chiselled as top knotted bundles.  The reason that is often given is that Thomas, who fought at Agincourt, and his wife died in 1473 and 1463 respectively but that the tomb was carved during the Tudor period meaning that no one knew what Thomas and Agnes looked like so the mason was forced to come up with his own solution to the problem of how they might have appeared.

A more plausible alternative is that the shroud tomb is a cheaper alternative to the cadaver tomb – this was a late fifteenth century fad to have your life like “before” effigy on the top of the tomb and a cadaver “after” effigy directly underneath complete with bones, worms, rigor mortis and a spot of light torment depending on the mason’s preferences. As if the fact that the monument wasn’t enough of a reminder of death the so called “trans” of cadaver tombs were designed to remind folk how transient life and its achievements really are. The shroud tomb is the model down from the full on skeleton.  If you couldn’t afford a full length alabaster likeness of your loved one in their shroud – or even your own likeness- there was always a shroud brass.

In Thomas Beresford’s case there is also the promise of salvation because there’s a painted ceiling above the tomb showing the Beresford coat of arms and winged angels. Except if course that the ceiling is rather later – being made from aluminium and being added in 1895.


There is always the third option, if the first two don’t appeal, that the sculptor wasn’t much good at faces which accounts for why the whole family are decked out like sacks of spuds.

And yes for regular followers of the History Jar – this means that the season of  ecclesiastical peregrinations has commenced!

8 thoughts on “Shrouded effigies at Fenny Bentley

  1. As a stone carver I’ve done many marble monuments and it’s not easy doing a likeness in marble. This would have been so much easier and you could use this design for many different people with a variation in size and nobody would say it didn’t look exactly like them! Hilarious!

    • I couldn’t even produce the shape of the head let alone a likeness but I do love the idea of a mason covering an inability to do faces with a shroud….

    • I’ve certainly never seen a tomb like it before! I’m not sure whether I like it or not. What I do love is taking photographs and bringing the colour out. It is so easy to think that medieval effigies were stone coloured but actually they must have been rather vibrant. The Reformation seems to have leached colour from churches in unexpected ways. I got hooked on photographing “invisible” colours when we visited Harewood Church. I shall have a read, thank you for the direction. I think he summer may be spent chasing down various Chaddesdon alabaster effigies so it will be interesting to find out how many are lifelike and how many are transi.

  2. Hello, I’m looking fo a picture of this ceiling and I would like to know if you would be OK.
    It is for the 40th anniversary of the European Aluminium Association for which I’m currently making a website. This picture should shown in a section of architecture that has used aluminium as a material. May thanks in advance, Best regards.

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