Behind the Scenes | Royal Funeral Effigies in Westminster Abbey


Fifty feet above the floor of Westminster Abbey, within the medieval Triforium, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries house an extraordinary collection of the Abbey’s treasures.
When researching my novel The Godmother’s Secret, I was fortunate to spend time in the Abbey and Galleries while it was closed, with no one else around. The atmosphere was palpable, and when I reached the repository of the funeral and wax effigies, I was entranced.
Mostly cast from death masks, these mesmerising likenesses impose an extraordinary feeling of meeting history face to face. Generally created close to the physical dimensions of the person it represented, the effigy accompanied the coffin in the funeral cortege and remained on display after the body was interred, often in full coronation robes.
But there are also the captivating personal details. Queen Mary, desperate for a child, carved in wood with a swollen stomach. Was it a phantom pregnancy or a cankerous tumour? Close by, her sister Elizabeth’s corset, surviving from 1603, was from her own now-lost effigy. Her impossibly small waist provides a stinging contrast of fashion and beauty to Mary.
More photos and details are in my January 18th “Behind the Scenes” newsletter – sign up is over to the right!

2 Comments

  1. Unforgettable. Between the atmosphere in an empty gallery and knowing these life-size effigies were inspired by their corpses, it was extraordinarily moving.

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