An Arundel Tomb

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The monument in Chichester Cathedral

"An Arundel Tomb" is a c. 1956 poem by Philip Larkin[1] published in 1964 in his collection The Whitsun Weddings. It describes the poet's emotional response to seeing a pair of recumbent medieval tomb effigies, with their hands joined, in Chichester Cathedral. The poem comprises 7 verses of 6 lines each, each rhyming abbcac.

The monument[edit]

Full length view

The effigies in Chichester Cathedral are now widely (but not quite certainly) identified as those of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel (d. 1376) and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (d. 1372).[2][3][4][5] The couple were buried in the chapter house of Lewes Priory, and their monument may have been fashioned by the master mason Henry Yevele: documentary evidence survives relating to the shipping of two "marble" tombs for them in January 1375 from Poole Harbour to London at Yevele's behest.[6][7][4] Having first been erected at Lewes Priory, the effigies were probably moved to Chichester following the priory's dissolution in 1537. The earliest certain record of their presence in the cathedral dates from 1635.[2][3]

The male figure is in armour, and bears a lion rampant (the arms of the FitzAlan family) on his coat armour, and a lion's head couped as a crest on the helm beneath his head.[5] The female figure wears a veil, wimple, a long gown (beneath which her legs are crossed) and a mantle, all characteristic dress of the 14th century. In a feature common to many English tombs of this period, he has a lion at his feet, while she has a dog: the lion may indicate valour and nobility, the dog loyalty. He has his right hand ungloved, and her right hand rests lightly upon his.

The hand-joining pose is unusual, but by no means unparalleled in England in this period. Three near-contemporary examples were the alabaster effigies of Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick (d. 1369) and Katherine Mortimer (d. 1369) in St Mary's Church, Warwick; the alabaster effigies of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (d.1399) and Blanche of Lancaster (d. 1368) in St Paul's Cathedral, London (now lost); and the brass to Sir Miles de Stapleton (d. 1364) and Joan de Ingham at Ingham, Norfolk (also lost).[8] There were close connections between these patrons – Eleanor and Blanche of Lancaster, for example, were aunt and niece – and it is likely that all were fully aware of one another's burial choices.[8] It is also possible that all four monuments were the products of Yevele's workshop: Gaunt's monument was certainly Yevele's work, the Arundel monument may well have been, and the Stapleton brass was in a style closely associated with him.[8] Slightly later example of the pose, which may have been inspired by the Arundel monument, include two commemorating two of the Earl and Countess's grandchildren: a brass to Sir William Arundel (d.1400) and his wife Agnes (d. c. 1401) in Rochester Cathedral; and an effigial monument to Elizabeth Fitzalan (d. 1425) and Sir Robert Goushill (d. 1403) at Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire.[8] Although many modern observers have – like Larkin – read the linking of hands as a sign of romantic love and affection, it seems more likely that the gesture was originally intended to suggest the formal and legal bonds of matrimony.[8]

By the 19th century, the Arundel effigies had become badly mutilated, and also separated from one another, being placed against the north wall of the northern outer aisle of the Cathedral, with the woman at the feet of the man.[3] In 1843 Edward Richardson (1812–1869) was commissioned to restore them.[2][3] It was Richardson who was responsible not merely for reuniting them side by side, but also for carving the present joined hands, the original hands having been lost. Nevertheless, his research was conscientious, and the evidence would suggest that his restoration was reasonably faithful to the original.[3][4]

The monument bears no inscription, and it is likely that Larkin's reference to "the Latin names around the base" was actually inspired by a card label placed by the cathedral authorities (which probably, in accordance with the thinking of the time, misidentified the couple as Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel (d.1397) and his countess).[2]

The poem[edit]

Another view of the monument

Larkin is believed to have visited Chichester Cathedral in 1955.[9] In an audio recording of the poem, he stated that the effigies were unlike any he had ever seen before, and that he found them "extremely affecting".[10]

Larkin draws inspiration from this scene to muse on time, mortality and the nature of earthly love.

The poem begins:

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,

and concludes:

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

The poem was one of the three read at Larkin's memorial service.[citation needed]

Its final line is among the most quoted of all of Larkin's work. When cited out of context, it may be taken as "sentimental" endorsement of "love enduring beyond the grave", while the poem as a whole is much more sceptical, and dedicated to challenging the simple romantic notion, even if in the end it is conceded to have "an inevitable ring of truth – if only because we want so much to hear it".[1]

The final lines of the poem are inscribed on the memorial stone to Larkin that was unveiled on 2 December 2016 at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.[11]

Larkin later told his friend Anthony Thwaite that he never really cared for the poem, because he had muddled up his hands and gauntlets (he implies that the Earl is using his left hand, rather than his right, to clasp his wife's hand), and because the monument itself was a Victorian restoration.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jeremy Axelrod (2012), Philip Larkin: "An Arundel Tomb" – Does a notoriously grumpy poet believe in everlasting love? (
  2. ^ a b c d Trevor Brighton, "An Arundel Tomb: the monument", in Foster, Brighton & Garland 1987, pp. 14–21.
  3. ^ a b c d e Tummers 1988, pp. 31–36.
  4. ^ a b c Tummers 1994, p. 211.
  5. ^ a b Downing, Mark (2013). Military Effigies of England and Wales: Somerset–Sussex. 6. Shrewsbury: Monumental Books. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-9537065-6-3.
  6. ^ Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward III: 1374–1377. 14. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. 1913. pp. 59–60.(subscription required)
  7. ^ Lankester, Philip (1989). "Notes and queries on a mediaeval tomb at Chichester". Church Monuments Society Newsletter. 5 (1): 15–18.
  8. ^ a b c d e Harris, Oliver D. (2010). "'Une tresriche sepulture': the tomb and chantry of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London". Church Monuments. 25: 7–35 ("Appendix: The hand-joining attitude" at pp. 24–29).
  9. ^ Paul Foster, "An Arundel Tomb: the poem", in Foster, Brighton & Garland 1987, pp. 9–12, and 27 n.1.
  10. ^ "Philip Larkin – An Arundel Tomb". YouTube. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Westminster Poets' Corner memorial for Philip Larkin". BBC News. BBC. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  12. ^ Patrick Garland, "An Enormous Yes: a memoir of the poet", in Foster, Brighton & Garland 1987, pp. 23–25.

Further reading[edit]

  • Foster, Paul; Brighton, Trevor; Garland, Patrick (1987). An Arundel Tomb. Otter Memorial Paper. 1. Chichester: Bishop Otter College Trustees. ISBN 0-948765-29-1.
  • Tummers, Harry (1988). "The medieval effigial tombs in Chichester Cathedral". Church Monuments. 3: 3–41 (31–36).
  • Tummers, H. A. (1994). "Church monuments". In Hobbs, Mary. Chichester Cathedral: an historical survey. Chichester: Phillimore. pp. 203–224 (211).