Sir John Marmion is buried in West Tanfield church near Ripon alongside his wife Elizabeth St Quentin. They feature in most guides to “must do” churches because of the wrought ironwork above their monument. Apparently the frame with its candle holders is a rare survival of a medieval hearse – which simply meant a portable frame- which was used to cover the coffin with a cloth prior to burial when it stood in front of the altar. Goodall explains that the rite of cloth and candles would be re-enacted on an annual basis as it was regarded as of benefit to souls in purgatory. Marmion’s lady wife had the foresight to ensure they had a permanent hearse at hand for the anniversary ritual – and don’t ask me how the cloth and seven candles would have worked together without causing a small inferno – I am merely rehearsing my reading of Goodall. What makes the whole thing even more odd is that given that Marmion died in Spain it seems unlikely that his mortal remains ever ended up under a pall in West Tanfield perhaps making the prayers for his soul all the more important.
Sir John Marmion’s father was John Grey 2nd baron of Rotherfield. Grey’s second wife was Avice Marmion and Sir John was their eldest son. He was born in 1343 and assumed the name Marmion when his uncle Robert died without heirs. John Marmion had an older half-brother who would inherit the Grey name and property. He also appears to have inherited the Marmion loyalty to the house of Lancaster. Certainly Bean’s analysis of Gaunt’s record of indentures identifies the fact that Marmion was one of the group of men that Gaunt bound closely to him not only during times of war but also during times of peace. It is evident from the records that Marmion was a key figure in Gaunt’s retinue. He was personally retained by Gaunt. This seems to be somewhat confirmed by the alabaster monument in West Tanfield. Sir John’s effigy is wearing a livery collar of interlinked s’s. This is associated with Gaunt according to the Heraldry Society. He was afterall an important man in John of Gaunt’s household holding the office of chamberlain.
He was also sufficiently trusted in the wider world to be one of the men called upon to take depositions in the case of the blue shield with the bend d’or armorial bearings in Scrope V Grosvenor case that I have previously posted about. At the time Gaunt’s army was assembling in Plymouth to sail to Spain in order for Gaunt to make his claim on the Castilian throne by right of his marriage to Constance of Castile.
It was at this time that Marmion also showed his mettle as an independent and valued commander. He completely refused to consider Thomas de Evese de Wysewell as a soldier in his company for the Spanish venture. Goodman suggests that it might have been because the double-barrelled gentleman was prone to scarpering when the going got tough (Goodman: 212)
Marmion died on 25th February 1387 whilst in Spain. The army was plagued by disease brought on by starvation as well as the usual perils of charging around battle fields and besieging castles/towns. It appears as though Marmion fell victim at the same time as eleven barons, eighty knights and two hundred squires – making it one of Gaunt’s least successful adventures abroad in terms of loss of manpower.
Marmion’s name appears in Gaunt’s records the following year when it was ordered that a payment of £342 be made in respect of wages owed to Marmion and his own body of men (Goodman:122).
Goodall, John.(2015) Parish Church Treasures: The Nation’s Greatest Art Collection London: Bloomsbury
Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman
Bean, John Malcolm William. (1989) From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Image of Sir John Marmion and his wife from the review of St Nicholas Church posted on the Silvertraveladvisor. Click on the image to open a new window and visit the page.