A Memento Mori in an English Church | A Mysterious Family Connection

Originally thought to symbolize the Black Death, this 15thC wall painting of skeleton posing as a sexton, complete with pick and shovel, is now identified as a Memento Mori. With the other half of the memorial still yet to be restored, this life-size painting is by the door in the Church of the Blessed Virgin and St. Leodegarius, Ashby St. Ledger. I came face-to-face with him after I’d just discovered the concealed brasses of William Catesby and his wife Margaret Zouche, ancestors to me and kin to Elysabeth St.John Scrope, the main character in The Godmother’s Secret. Already feeling a bit guilty for (very carefully) pulling up the carpet by the altar to find their brasses, Mr Bones here reminded me of the inevitability of death.
Where the mystery lies is that William Catesby, who was Richard III’s right-hand man, was executed by Henry VII on this day in 1485, after being captured at the Battle of Bosworth. They had already killed Richard, the battle won by Henry, aided by Sir Thomas Stanley. Stay with me on this…Elysabeth’s half-sister Margaret Beaufort was married to Sir Thomas Stanley – and was also the mother of Henry VII. William left a cryptic clause in his hastily written will, which some scholars have interpreted as saying that he expected Stanley to spare him. And with his wife and mother-in-law so closely related to Henry VII, it’s not surprising poor William thought blood would be thicker than water. The other twist? There are a number of wall paintings, yet to be fully restored, indicating connections with the Battle of Bosworth – including one that carries the Beaufort portcullis, the emblem of both Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII. Perhaps Margaret Beaufort took pity on William Cateseby and wanted him to be at least be memorialised in his church, if she couldn’t spare his life.

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