Thomas Shadwell
Died: 19 Nov, 1692
Field: Writer; playwright
Location in the Abbey: South transept, poets corner
Type of memorial: Bust
Type of material: Marble

Thomas Shadwell, dramatist and writer of comedies and operas, has a black and white marble monument in the east aisle of Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. This consists of a wreathed bust with drapery and is by sculptor Francis Bird. This was in place by 1711 and is one of the earliest memorials in the church commemorating someone who is buried elsewhere.

The Latin inscription can be translated:

"Sacred to the memory of Thomas Shadwell Esq. descended from an ancient family in Staffordshire, Poet Laureate and Historiographer in the reign of William III and Mary. Died the 20th of November 1692 aged 55. John Shadwell M.D. has placed this monument in memory of his father. Perpetual piety".

Originally there was also an urn. His coat of arms shows "per pale or and azure, on a chevron between three annulets, four escallops, all counterchanged of the field".

An inscription which had been written for the monument by John was suppressed by the Dean of Westminster apparently because some of the clergy took exception to it as being "too great an Encomium upon Plays to be set up in a Church". But it was printed in J.Crull's guide to the Abbey of 1722 and can be translated "Sacred to the pious memory of Thomas Shadwell, Gent., born of an ancient family in the county of Staffordshire who, amongst other gifts of learning, felicitously applied his mind to writing. This talent set before him (the task of) composing poetry, so that the popular poems that he wrote both lacked absurdities and also corrected dissolute habits, in such a way that they gave pleasure and profit at the same time. He reckoned it a greater glory to be considered a good citizen, than to be numbered among the chief of poets. Hence, during the reign of William III he gained and adorned the titles of Poet Laureate and Historiographer to the King. He died 19th November aged 52".

Thomas was born in Norfolk, a son of John, a lawyer, and his wife Sarah. He was educated at Bury St Edmunds and Gonville and Caius College Cambridge. He was a rival to John Dryden and succeeded him as Poet Laureate. Thomas also composed songs and worked with composers such as Henry Purcell.

He married Anne Gibbs (d.1705) who acted in several of his plays. Their children were George, William, Anne, Charles (who also became a playwright) and Sir John (d.1747) who became physician to Queen Anne and was buried in Bath Abbey. Thomas died of opium eating, taken to relieve his gout, and is buried at St Luke's church, Chelsea in London.

A photo of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading for Thomas and sons John and Charles:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

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