The embalmed body of Prince John of Eltham was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13 January 1337. He was born at Eltham manor in Kent in August 1316 and took his surname from his birthplace. He was the second son of King Edward II (d.1327) and his wife Queen Isabella of France (d.1358). In 1328 John was created Earl of Cornwall by his elder brother King Edward III. When Edward was abroad John was Regent or Guardian of the Realm, despite his youth. He fought against the Scots who were raiding England’s northern border and died in Perth on 13 September 1336, possibly of fever. Edward was devastated and ordered 900 masses to be said for John’s soul. The rumour that Edward murdered his brother has been discounted.
Edward III erected a fine white alabaster monument for his brother in St Edmund’s chapel, designed by mason William Ramsay III. The recumbent effigy has a moustache and is wearing mixed mail and plate armour with a sword and a shield with John’s coat of arms carved on it (the three lions of England with a border of fleurs de lys) and his legs are crossed (contrary to popular belief this does not mean he was a Crusader). The angels who support the head cushions are ready to bear his soul to Heaven. A lion lies at his feet, a symbol of strength and loyalty. No inscription ever seems to have been put on the monument. Around the tomb base are small figures or “weepers” of kings and queens, probably representing members of John’s family. The best preserved weepers are on the north side as they are protected by the chapel screen. There are no coats of arms remaining below the figures so they cannot be identified. There was originally an elaborate canopy over the tomb but this was broken at a funeral in 1776 and later removed.
Edward III is buried just to the north of John’s tomb, in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor.
Beside John’s monument is a small tomb with miniature effigies of William of Windsor and Blanche, infant children of Edward III. This has no inscription.
Photographs of the tomb can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
“The Perfect King. The Life of Edward III” by Ian Mortimer, 2006.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
Click on the images to enlarge