John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
Born: 08 Sep, 1647
Died: 24 Feb, 1721
Field: Statesman
Location in the Abbey: Lady chapel
Type of memorial: Statue; vault
Type of material: Marble

A large marble monument to John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham stands in the north eastern chapel of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. He, his wife Catherine and their four children lie in the vault in this chapel. The monument was designed by Denis Plumiere and sculpted by Laurent Delvaux and Peter Scheemakers. A sarcophagus stands on the base, between two pedestals which support the architectural background, with a round headed arch and an unpainted coat of arms. The life size figure of the duke, dressed in Roman armour holding a baton, reclines on a mattress, while a figure of his wife mourns, seated on the right hand side.

A figure of Time carries away medallion relief portraits of three of the children (all of whom were moved to the Abbey from St Margaret's church Westminster where they were originally buried) Sophia (died 1706), John, Marquis of Normanby (died 1710) and Henrietta Maria (born 1713, died 20 December 1717). A medallion of Robert, Marquis of Normanby (born 2 December 1711, died 1 February 1714/15) is at his feet ( his body was also removed from St Margaret's at the time of his father's burial). On either side are military trophies, among them armour, standards, a battering-ram and a helmet with a sphinx as a crest.


Originally on the ledge of the tomb was the inscription "Catherine Duchess of Buckingham, much afflicted, gave orders to erect this monument Anno.1722". On the edge, beneath the Duke's effigy is inscribed, in Latin, "Often for the king, always for the public good" and behind the effigy "I lived doubtful, not dissolute; I die unresolved, not unresigned; Ignorance and error are incident to human nature. I trust in an Almighty and All-good God. O thou Being of Beings have compassion on me"

The main inscription can be translated:

"Sacred to the memory of John Sheffyld, of the illustrious race of the Sheffylds, who from the reign of King Henry III have by a direct succession of male heirs preserved its name even to this day: Duke of Buckinghamshire, Duke and Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, Baron Sheffyld of Botterwick, and Knight of the noble Order of the Garter. He first married Ursula, Countess of Conway. His second lady was Catherine, Countess of Gainsborough. His third, Catherine, Countess of Anglesey, daughter of King James II and Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, who bore him 1. Sophia, 2. John, 3.Robert, 4 Henrietta-Maria (all now resting in the bosom of Time) 5. Edmund, the now only comfort of his afflicted mother.

In the reign of King Charles II he was General of the Dutch troop of horse, Governor of Kingston Castle upon Hull, and first Gentleman of the Bedchamber. After which, in the reign of King James II, he was made Lord Chamberlain; and in the reign of Queen Anne Lord Privy Seal and President of the Council. In his management of the public affairs in the House of Lords for the space of 54 years, it is doubted whether was more, his graceful elocution or ready application; his vigour of body declining, he preserved that of his mind to his last breath. At last his strength gently decreasing, he lay down under his burthen the 24 day of February, and went to rest in the 75th year of his age, and of our Redemption Anno.1720"

The date of his death is given in Old Style Dating, now given as 1721.

His life and career.

John was born on 8 September 1647 the only son of Edmund Sheffield, 2nd Earl of Mulgrave (1611-58) one of Cromwell's councillors, and his wife Elizabeth (Cranfield). He joined the navy and served on Prince Rupert's flagship fighting against the Dutch. He was also a volunteer at the battle of Solebay, and later commander of the Captain.  He was also a man of letters, the friend of poets Pope and Dryden, to whom he erected a monument in Poets' Corner. His own productions earned him a place in Dr Johnson's Lives of the Poets, where, however, he is spoken of as 'a writer that sometimes glimmers but rarely shines'. He succeeded his father as 3rd Earl of Mulgrave and became Marquis (Marquess) of Normanby. In 1703 he was created 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. He built Buckingham House, on the site of the present Buckingham Palace.

He had no children by his first two wives. His second wife Catherine died 7 February 1704 and was buried in a vault at the east end of Henry VII's chapel. All the children were by his last wife.

Catherine, Duchess of Buckingham

Catherine Darnley was the illegitimate daughter of James II by Catherine Sedley and she always insisted on being treated with royal state. (Her infant brother James was buried in Henry VII's chapel "in the middle between the stalls" on 26 April 1685). She was married firstly to the Earl of Anglesey and married John at St Martin in the Fields church in London in 1706. Her ladies were made to promise that if she should become insensbile at the last they would stand up in her presence until she was actually dead.

She was buried in the Abbey on 8 April 1743 aged 61. A wax effigy which had been made in her lifetime and dressed under her supervision in coronation robes, was carried at her funeral and stood by her grave. Later this was moved to the upper Islip chapel and after the last war to the Abbey Museum.  This is 5 feet 9 inches high and the face is intended as a portrait. Alongside her is the small wax effigy of her son Robert, Marquis of Normanby, dressed in clothes thought to have belonged to him. This is 3 feet 3 inches high. By his figure is a small painted wooden unicorn, one of the supporters on the family coat of arms.

Edmund Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham

Edmund, who succeeded his father as 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was baptised at St Margaret's Westminster on 29 January 1716 and served in Germany with his uncle. He died of consumption in Rome on 30 October 1735 and his body was returned to the Abbey for burial in the family vault on 31 January 1736. He had a magnificent funeral and the recumbent wax effigy carried at his funeral still survives in the Abbey collection on its coffin board and in its original showcase. This is unique for late wax effigies in that it is recumbent. The face is based on a death mask and his eyes are closed. The effigy is 5 feet 4 inches. At his feet is a wooden wild boar. He died unmarried and his title became extinct.

Photos of the monument and the three wax effigies can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

The wax figures will be on view in the new Jubilee Galleries from June 2018.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey edited by Anthony Harvey & Richard Mortimer, revised edition 2003.

An account of Edmund's funeral appears in "The Old Whig" Feb. 5 1735/6

Click on the images to enlarge

John Sheffield monument

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