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William and Aymer de Valence

William de Valence, Lord of Pembroke and Wexford was a half brother of Henry III, being the son of Hugh de Lusignan, Comte de la Marche and Isabella of Angouleme, widow of King John. Valence near Lusignan in France was probably his birthplace. In 1247 William and two of his brothers, Guy and Aymer, and his sister Alice came to England at the invitation of Henry III. In addition to his French lands William acquired vast estates in England and Ireland by his marriage, on 13th August 1247, with Joan, daughter of Warin de Munchensy, Lord of Swanscombe. Warin’s first wife was a co-heir of the Marshals, Earls of Pembroke but William was never created Earl of Pembroke. He went on Crusade with Prince Edward and brought back a jewelled cross which his daughter in law Mary later bequeathed to Westminster Abbey (it no longer remains). He died at his manor in Kent on 16th May 1296.

His tomb

It is thought his tomb may have originally been in St Edward the Confessor's chapel near the grave of his children but was moved when Queen Philippa of Hainault's was put in and he was then buried in St Edmund's chapel in the Abbey. His tomb has the only existing example in England of Limoges champlevé enamel-work on a monument. The effigy and the tomb chest are of oak on a stone base on which are carved the arms of England, Valence and Valence with Clermont-Néelle.

The effigy is still covered with decorated copper plates but decoration on the tomb chest has mostly disappeared except for five small shields (now grouped together and preserved under glass), and some enamelling between the legs of the effigy. His head rests on a cushion decorated in enamel with rosettes and his coat of arms. He is dressed in a coat of mail with an enamelled sword belt but only three of the small shields on his surcoat now remain. The large shield he carries is very fine (the arms are "barry of ten, argent and azure with an orle of martlets gules" ie. alternate silver and blue horizontal bars with red birds around the edge).

The Latin inscription no longer remains but it was recorded by William Camden in his guide to the Abbey published in 1600 and can be translated:

All England, thou weepest, for the royal progeny with which thou wert accustomed to bloom is dead. William, whom the humblest tomb contains, shows forth an illustrious name, Valence, a noble surname, such as he ought to claim for himself. Valiant, he prevailed, victorious by virtue and valour; and, peaceful, gave pleasure with his vigour of mind and of character; generous, capable, steadfast; eagerly prosecuting wars, competent and modest, faithful, striving for distinction. In 1300 less four years in the month of May death, with his own sword, struck him down. Thou who readest these words remember how full of fear is the way, and see how both thou and I shall die, all unknowing of the hour. O merciful Christ, let him, I pray, enter Heaven, and let him see nothing melancholy; for he excelled in all these ways.

The effigy is 1.82m in length.

Margaret and John de Valence

William’s young children Margaret (d.1276) and John (d.1277) were buried in one grave in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor in the Abbey but the few remaining letters of the inscription are now partly covered by Henry V’s chantry.

His other children were William (d.1282), Aymer, Isabel who married John Hastings, Agnes who married three times, and Joan who married John Comyn.

Aymer de Valence

William's son Aymer was born about 1270 and was a cousin to Edward I. He was concerned in the wars with Scotland, where in 1306 he defeated King Robert I and captured his brother Nigel Bruce. By inheritance and marriage he was lord of many estates in France, England, Wales and Ireland. On the death of his mother (1307) he was given the title of Earl of Pembroke. His first wife was Beatrice, daughter of Raoul de Clermont, who died in 1320. He married secondly, on 5th July 1321, Mary de St Pol, daughter of Guy de Chatillon, Count of St Pol. He only had one son Henry (d.1322) who was illegitimate. Aymer died suddenly in France (possibly of a broken blood-vessel) on 23rd June 1324 while on an embassy to Charles IV.

His body was returned to the Abbey and buried on the north side of the High Altar where his widow erected a magnificent tomb for him. The sculptor was possibly Richard of Reading. Aymer's tomb effigy wears mail and his surcoat is painted with the variant of the Lusignan arms which his father assumed and his feet rest on a lion. The shield he carried has disappeared, as has the tomb tester, and there is no remaining inscription.

The sixteen small figures around the tomb base represent members of his family and the shields below identify them - on the south side Marie de Bretagne, Henry Earl of Lancaster, Isabelle de St Pol, William Sire of Coucy, Mahaut de St Pol, Charles de France, Marie de St Pol and Guy or Jean de Chatillon and on the north Atholl, John or Laurence Hastings, Blanche de Bretagne, Robert d'Artois, Beatrice de St Pol, Jean de Flandre, Marie de St Pol and Jean or Arthur, duke of Brittany.

On the richly carved tomb canopy Aymer is represented fully armed and galloping on his horse. The tomb was in danger of being removed to make way for General Wolfe’s monument in the 18th century as the Dean of Westminster mistakenly thought Aymer was one of the Knights Templars whom he considered to be "a very wicked set of people". When he found out that Aymer was not one of these he allowed the tomb to remain. The tomb was restored in the early 19th century.

Tomb dimensions: 10 feet (3.048m) wide and 17 feet (5.181m) high.

Mary Countess of Pembroke

Mary de St Pol, Aymer’s wife, survived him for over fifty years and is buried at Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire, which she founded. In 1992 (even though the memorial gives an earlier year) a memorial was placed for her on a pillar in the north ambulatory opposite Aymer’s monument. The slate and stone memorial is partly gilded and was designed by Donald Buttress, the Abbey Surveyor. The centre inscription reads

MARY DE ST POL COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE 1304 AD 1377.

The painted shield shows the Valence and Chatillon arms. Below on a small brass plate is the inscription:

Placed here in 1991 at the wish of Bryan Earle King 1906-1987 from St Kitts, Fellow of Pembroke College Cambridge to commemorate the Countess’ generosity to the Abbey and to the College that bears her name.

Her benefactions to the Abbey included an alabaster statue of the Virgin Mary and several vestments (none of which now remain).

Count Robert d'Artois was buried in old St Paul's cathedral.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for William and Aymer

"Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke" by J.R.S. Phillips, 1972

"Gothic tombs of kinship" by Anne Morganstern, 2000

Died

16th May 1296

Field

Soldier; philanthropist

Location

North Ambulatory; Sacrarium; Chapel of St Edmund

Memorial Type

Tomb; plaque

Material Type

Stone

William and Aymer de Valence
William de Valence effigy

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

William and Aymer de Valence
William de Valence tomb

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

William and Aymer de Valence
Aymer de Valence tomb

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

William and Aymer de Valence
Mary de St Pol memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

William and Aymer de Valence
Aymer de Valence effigy

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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