Richard de Beauchamp in Warwick Church © Robin Stevenson (Wikipedia)

Princely Reburials in the 15th century

Designated chapels for reburials became a fashionable trend in the 15th century. Recently a text was discovered outlining the liturgy used for the re-interment of Richard Beauchamp in 1475

The trend to re-bury ancestors in new and splendid chapels and surround them with both material and immaterial memorials grew to unsurpassed heights in 15th century Europe. New research explores this trend in an English context. In connection with this work a hitherto lost description of the rites performed in connection with the reburial of Richard, Earl of Warwick in 1475 has been discovered and presented. This rite is also debated in connection with the reburial of Richard III, to which the medievalist, Alexandra Buckle is a consultant.

‘Entumbid Right Princely’: The Re-Interment of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and a Lost Rite
By Alexandra Buckle
In: In the Yorkist Age: Proceedings of the 2011 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. by Hannes Kleineke and Christian Steer.
Donington 2013


Medieval royals and nobles lived itinerant lives and accordingly faced death in far-flung places. Often this resulted in a second burial or re-burial in designated churches. Such reburials are known of from the Early Middle Ages.

However, in Late Medieval England (as elsewhere in Europe) an explosion in the construction of designated chapels, new foundations of chantries, perpetual masses etc. was the result of a steadily growing preoccupation with the justification through amassing indulgencies. Often these reburials and foundations were costly, while construction of the appropriate setting took a long time to carry through.

Currently this trend is explored by Alexandra Buckle, who recently recovered a hitherto forgotten text with the rite, which was used at the reburial of Richard, Earl of Warwick in 1475.

Richard De Beauchamp (1382–1439), the13th earl of Warwick, was a high-ranking English Nobleman and military commander. He saw his first military action at the age of 21 in Wales, where he was made knight of the Garter after the battle at Shrewsbury.

In 1408 he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, returning back through Russia and Eastern Europe. During these travels he gained a reputation for chivalry by vigorously taking part in sportive events on the continent. After his homecoming in 1410 he was appointed a member of the royal council. The following years saw him heaping a series of honours, foremost his role as guardian of the infant Henry VI of England. Later life was filled with fighting in France in the Hundred Years’ War. In 1437 he was appointed lieutenant of France and Normandy, which caused him to spend his last two years of his life in France. He died in Rouen in April. However, according to his will, he had endowed the Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick with money to pay for the construction of a new chapel. In 1437 his body was transferred back from Rouen and reburied there, while the building went under way. For a series of reasons it took 39 years before he was finally laid to rest in an alabaster tomb, embellished with a spectacular bronze effigy sculpted by William Austen of London and gilded and engraved by Bartholomew Lambespring, A Dutch Goldsmith.

The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary's Church  Warwick © YM Pictures
The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick © YM Pictures

At his reburial a specific rite was followed. Alexandra Buckle, who has written a detailed exposé on the liturgy involved, recently discovered the written text outlining this. According to her research the reburial took place on the 27th of December 1475 at the same time as the consecration of the new chapel. It is plausible that the reburial took place with the Duke of Clarence and his sister-in-law, the queen in attendance. Whether the royal family as a whole spent Christmas at Warwick that year needs further study.

At the re-interment the bones were first lifted from the grave and placed in a container. Probably standing in the nave where they were sprinkled, censed, covered with a pall and carried into the choir. At this point it is not quite known, whether the casket was kept there for the night attended by a vigil (until the 28th of December) or whether the reburial took place immediately afterwards. This is the most reasonable timetable, since the events were taking place during Christmas and the chapel had to be consecrated before it could receive the remains of the earl. (This was in itself a long and complicated rite).

Whatever the schedule, the text provides rubrics for ten prayers “plus seven psalms, six antiphons, and various choral items, such as the Kyrie Eleison”, writes Alexandra Buckle (p. 408). Unfortunately no music notation is found.

This reburial rite was obviously a long service, but even so it cannot have been the only liturgical undertaking that day. Alexandra Buckle presents two different timetables for these events and lets the reader make the choice. Whatever the exact schedule, it appears the procession, requiem and actual burial must have been squeezed into a day otherwise heavily packed with Christmas celebrations. The 27th is in the Julian Calendar the day for the celebration of the feast for St. John the Evangelist as well as the commemoration of the martyred St. Stephen. The 28th was the day commemorating the Holy Innocents (the children murdered in Bethlehem).

Both days were thus already packed with a series of daily as well as festive services and masses.

No wonder they needed a bishop to supervise the solemnities.


 Alexandra Buckle is Lecturer in Music at St Anne’s College and St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She is currently on the committee for the reburial of Richard III.


Fit for a King? The Architecture of the Beauchamp Chapel
By Linda Monckton.
In: Architectural History 2004, Vol. 47, pp. 25-52

‘Fit for a king’: music and iconography in Richard Beauchamp’s chantry chapel
By Alexandra Buckle
In: Early Music, 2010, Vol. 1: pp. 3 – 20

Richard Beauchamp’s Funeral Car
By Julian Munby
In: Journal of the British Archaeological Association 2002 , Vol. 155 No. 1, pp. 278-287

The Medieval Chantry Chapel: An Archaeology
By Simon Rufey
Boydell Press 2007