William Congreve
Died: 19 Jan, 1729
Field: Writer
Location in the Abbey: Nave
Type of memorial: Grave; sarcophagus
Type of material: Marble

William Congreve, dramatist, has a memorial near his grave in the south aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey. The marble monument is by sculptor Francis Bird and consists of a sarcophagus with various scattered books, theatrical masks etc. with a large oval medallion in a black marble frame containing a half length portrait of Congreve, based on Sir Godfrey Kneller's painting of him. The insciption reads:

"Mr WILLIAM CONGREVE, dyed Jan ye 19th 1728 aged 56 and was buried near this place. To whose most valueable memory this monument is sett up by HENRIETTA, Dutchess of MARLBOROUGH as a mark of hos dearly she remembers the happiness and honour she enjoyed in the sincere friendshipp of so worthy and honest a man, whose virtue, candour and wit gained him the love and esteem of the present age and whose writings will be the admiration of the future."

The date is given in Old Style dating, now called 1729. Horace Walpole wrote of the erection of the monument "When the younger Duchess exposed herself by placing a monument and silly epitaph of her own composing and bad spelling to Congreve...her mother, quoting the words, said 'I know not what pleasure she might have had in his company but I am sure it was no honour'.

He was born in Yorkshire in January 1670, a son of William (died 1708) and his wife Mary (Bright). The family moved to London and then to Ireland where Congreve senior managed the estates of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork. He was educated at Kilkenny College and Trinity College Dublin. Moving back to London he studied law and had already started writing. His play The Old Batchelor opened in 1693. He was unmarried but had alliances with actress Anne Bracegirdle (who is buried in the Abbey cloisters) and Henrietta Godolphin, later 2nd Duchess of Marlborough. His most successful plays were probably Love for Love, The Mourning Bride and The Way of the World. In September 1728 he had an accident when his coach overturned and he may have died from an injury sustained at this time. He left his fortune to Henrietta and she arranged his funeral. His body lay overnight in Jerusalem Chamber, part of the Deanery.

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

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.