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Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester

Eleanor was a daughter and co-heir of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton (1342-1373) and his wife Joan, daughter of Richard (Fitzalan), Earl of Arundel. She was aged 7 at her father's death and she and her younger sister Mary inherited his large estates.

In 1385 Eleanor married Thomas (of Woodstock), Duke of Gloucester (1355-1397), youngest son of Edward III. Thomas was accused of conspiring against Richard II and was arrested, taken to Calais and murdered by being smothered in a feather bed. He was brought back to Westminster Abbey and buried in St Edmund's chapel but was later moved to the chapel of St Edward the Confessor to be near his father Edward by order of Henry IV. Thomas's brass no longer survives. (The white tomb slab next to Eleanor's which has Thomas's name on it is to Mary Countess of Stafford not to Thomas - see below).

Their only son Humphrey, Earl of Buckingham, died in 1399 and Eleanor is said to have died of grief soon after. They had four daughters: Anne married firstly the Earl of Stafford and secondly Sir William Bourchier, Joan died unmarried in 1400, Isabel entered a nunnery and Philippa died young. Eleanor's sister Mary de Bohun (d.1394) married Henry of Lancaster, the future Henry IV.

Burial

Eleanor was buried in the chapel of St Edmund in the Abbey and a fine brass to her memory remains on top of a low free-standing marble altar tomb. It shows her standing beneath an elaborate triple canopy wearing a widow's veil, her head resting on two embroidered cushions. Above her head is the Bohun emblem of a swan. The inscription around the rim is in French and can be translated:

Here lies Eleanor de Bohun, daughter and co-heir of the honourable knight Sir Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton, and Constable of England, wife of the mighty and noble prince Thomas of Woodstock, son of the excellent and mighty prince Edward, King of England, the Third since the Conquest, Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Essex and Buckingham, and Constable of England, who died 3 October in the year of grace 1399.

Five out of six of the coats of arms still remain to the sides of the effigy -top left shows the arms of Thomas of Woodstock, top right those of Woodstock impaling Humphrey de Bohun and Milo Earl of Hereford, mid left de Bohun (azure, a bend argent cotised between six lions rampant or), mid right Bohun impaling FitzAlan and Warren and lower left Milo, Earl of Hereford.

Mary Countess of Stafford and her son Henry

Next to Eleanor's tomb is one for a descendant Mary Countess of Stafford. The Latin on her white marble altar tomb can be translated:

Mary Countess of Stafford, wife of William, Viscount Stafford, descended from the royal stock of Thomas of Woodstock and Eleanor de Bohun, Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and from the barons and earls of Stafford and a daughter and heir of the house of the dukes of Buckingham, lies buried near the ashes of her ancestor. She died on the Ides of January in the 74 year of her age, and of our Redemption 1693.

On the wall nearby is a monument and this inscription can be translated:

This monument was erected by order of the Most Honourable Henry, Earl of Stafford, in memory of his beloved mother, Mary Countess of Stafford, who body lies buried near this spot in this chapel; so also is deposited here the body of the aforesaid Henry, Earl of Stafford who died 27th day of April, year of Our Lord 1719 in his 72nd year.

He had an unhappy marriage with Claude-Charlotta, daughter of the Count of Gramont. In his will he was scathing about them both and just left her "the worst of women" enough money to buy a pullet for her supper.

Hugh and Mary de Bohun

These two infant children of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Constable of England, and his wife Princess Elizabeth daughter of King Edward I, were buried in a small Purbeck marble tomb in 1304 and 1305 respectively. The tomb had been in St Nicholas's chapel but was moved to St John the Baptist's chapel sometime between 1532 and 1600. It's possible that it was originally in the chapel of St Edward and displaced by Richard II when he wished to place his tomb there. No inscription remains. The tomb was opened in 1937.

The rubbing of Abbey brasses is not permitted.

Further reading

Les Seigneurs de Bohon by Jean Le Melletier, 1978

On some recent discoveries in Westminster Abbey (tomb of the Bohun children described)

Photos of the coffins are in the Abbey collection

Died

3rd October 1399

Location

Shrine; Chapel of St Edmund

Memorial Type

Tomb

Material Type

Brass

Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester
Engraving of Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester
Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

It’s very hard not to be enthusiastic working at the Abbey. If this place doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what will.

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Valerie - Foundation Director

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