Henry I’s heart was buried in England while the rest of him was interred in Normandy. During the Crusades it became fashionable, if you died and were sufficiently wealthy, to send bits of your body home for burial – welcome to the age of the heart burial. Most people were buried as soon as possible after they died. For the medieval elite it was rather different. Bodies could be transported very long distances and it made sense to remove the internal organs before the journey – cooks and butchers were often summoned to perform the grisly operation. The viscera were then buried near where the person popped their clogs. Alternatively, as it was expensive and often rather difficult to send the entire body home, the heart was sent in a nice box surrounded by herbs and spices so it didn’t go off on the journey.
Richard the Lionheart’s entrails ( a rarer form of burial) were interred in Chalus; his body was sent to Fontevraud Abbey and his heart was embalmed and buried in Rouen. Embalming does of course provide the clue – transporting bodies was expensive and not something you would volunteer to do in the middle of summer (or at any other time of the year come to think of it). Eleanor of Castile, Edward I’s beloved wife, died near Lincoln. Her entrails were buried in Lincoln after she was embalmed, her heart at Charing Cross as she requested and the rest of her was buried in Westminster Abbey. Robert the Bruce’s heart went on crusade to Grenada before eventually being buried in Melrose Abbey.
In 1299 Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull attacking embalming and transporting bodies hundred of miles – although he was quite happy that the bodies should be dug up and moved at a later date.
Why did it become a thing? Well, It was handy if you had links with more than one monastic house as well. Tombs could be erected in all the places where the body was scattered; endowments made for prayers in the different locations and voila a speedy exit from Purgatory in the direction of eternal salvation.
And why exactly have I gone down this avenue? Isabel de Clare was buried at Tintern Abbey as was her right as the Countess of Striguil. She was buried in the quire next to her mother Aoife of Leinster. This is a possibility though, that her heart lies at Kilkenny.
The daughter of Earl Richard ‘Strongbow’ Earl of Pembroke and Striguil and Lord of Leinster and Aoife of Leinster, Isabel grew up as part of the powerful de Clare family and following her brother Gilbert’s death became one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom. She was placed by King Henry II, who did not trust Strongbow, in the care of Ranulf de Glanville, justiciar of England.
In 1189 her marriage was arranged by Richard the Lionheart to William Marshal. The couple were happily married despite a twenty-six year age gap and never having met before their wedding in August that year. Isabel travelled by her husband’s side, took part in the management of their estates and issued writs. They went to Ireland in 1200 and she may have ruled Leinster in his absence. She continued to demonstrate her capacities when, Marshal was placed under arrest in 1207, she led a campaign against the province’s rebel barons. She was pregnant at the time. She gave William ten children, five boys and five girls. Marshal recognised that his power and his wealth came from his wife, honoured, loved and respected her intelligence. In Leinster her presence in Marshal’s life gave his rule legitimacy – she was after all the grand daughter of the last king of Leinster.
Isabel managed her husband’s affairs in his absence and following his death she took control of her own inheritance corresponding with the justiciar of England, with the papal legate and with King Philip II of France. After thirty years of marriage, William died. One of the last things he did was to join the Templars – forgoing the company of his wife and daughters in his final days. Isabel was devastated by Marshal’s death but she worked closely with her family to preserve her inheritance. She died ten months after her beloved husband. Her earldom did not survive her children. All five of the couples’ sons died without heirs.
Isabel was buried in Tintern Abbey next to her mother.
Richard was born sometime around 1130. He inherited his father’s estates in 1149 becoming Earl of Pembroke and Strigul but was rather extravagant and fell out of favour with King Henry II. So he had to go and seek his fortune. He did this when he went to Ireland to help Dermot MacMurrough make his claim to the kingdom of Leinster.
Dermot showered Richard with lands and the hand of his daughter Eva which rang alarm bells with King Henry as Richard was looking increasingly powerful and ordered that there should be no further campaigning in Ireland until he was present but de Clare had his army and went to Normandy to gain the approval of Henry II which was given albeit reluctantly. It was a gamble but one which paid dividends for de Clare. He went on to capture Dublin and on Dermot’s death, Strongbow took the throne of Leinster and began a campaign against the Irish with the assistance of Raymond le Gros who eventually became Strongbow’s brother-in-law. Henry, as might be expected, was not terribly amused by Richard de Clare’s elevation and Richard hurried to England to offer his homage and protestations of loyalty to the king. Henry II accepted Richard’s oath and also Dublin as well as the other seaports that Richard had captured during his campaign.
Strongbow may have had a reputation but the Irish continued to make life difficult for him even when Henry II recognised his role in Ireland and gave him an official title. By 1177 he was dead as a result of an on-going illness having established himself as a man of power. His son Gilbert died eight years later without attaining his majority. Strongbow’s daughter, Isabel, became the wife of William Marshall.