Saturday, April 13, 2013

A True Medieval Sleeping Beauty

by Anne O'Brien

The Welsh Marches where I live is Mortimer country.  This little post is in honour of Blanche Mortimer.

Blanche Mortimer was a daughter of the powerful Roger Mortimer, First Earl of March, and Joan de Geneville.  They produced a large family and it is believed that Blanche might have been the youngest, born somewhere between 1314 and 1322, probably at Wigmore Castle.  Blanche married Sir Piers de Grandison, one of the Herefordshire aristocracy, and some records show her to have had seven children, the youngest, Mabel, born in 1341.

But is not for her life that I have made this post.  It is for her remarkable tomb in the church of St Bartholomew in the village of Much Markle, Herefordshire.  There are eighteen tombs in the county belonging solely to medieval women of importance, but only two of them can be identified.  This is one of them.

So relatively little known of her life.  So lovely a monument.

A canopied tomb, it is considered to be one of the finest carvings for this period, of highest quality and attention to detail.  The face of Blanche with its transparent veiling and pearly stone is quite lovely.

As is the exquisite demarcation of the folds of her dress, with the overhang of the material of her gown over the tomb chest.  In one hand she holds a delicate rosary.  The decorated cords that fasten her cloak are beautifully carved.  For those who study historical costume, this is a superb example, showing the close fitting gown with a trailing hem and long tight-buttoned sleeves which women wore in 1347 when Blanche died.

Simon Jenkins in his survey of English churches, describes Blanche as 'an image as lovely as any bequeathed to us by a medieval church.'
Sadly the little dog at her feet has lost its head.
Interestingly Sir Piers is not buried next to his wife, but in the  chancel in Hereford Cathedral.

It is not a visit to be missed (although the first time I arrived to see Blanche, she had been removed for restoration and the tomb was covered with scaffolding and tarpaulins.  The official in charge was not prepared to allow me even to peek underneath!)

As a post script, for anyone interested and well-heeled, Wigmore Castle is still for sale for a cool half million pounds.  For this the buyer would become the proud owner of the ruined castle, woodland, a jousting-field, a stream-side orchard and pasture that could be turned into a castle lawn, all set in 32 magnificent acres.  It is out of my league.  Sigh ...
The only item it does not have is a house to live in ...

This is the view over towards Ludlow.  Perhaps it would even be worth living in a tent to wake up to this.


Anne O'Brien is the author of several best-selling historical novels, which includes her most recently published work, The Forbidden Queen.  She lives in Wales.


  1. Hopefully, the site of the castle will not be purchased to build houses on, or be turned into an exclusive hotel!

  2. I was born not too far away from Ludlow - a place called Tenbury Wells, so I know the area quite well

  3. Thank you, Anne! I've now added a visit to Blanche's tomb to the places I want to go to next time I am in England.

  4. Gorgeous! How I'd love to buy that property, and build a home on it :)

  5. I'd love to have the money to restore the castle.

  6. I like that thought too Cathleen. And if all the Historical writers put in inagine the retreats we could have... pipe dreams :) ahhhhhh

  7. Such a beautiful tomb! I sigh over the thought of owning property like that too.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. That really is a wonderful tomb & if Blanche actually looked like her image on the it, then she was a beautiful woman.
    It would be great to purchase the castle restore it - when I win the lottery!
    Thanks for this post,I found it really interesting & that church is now on my list of places to visit next time I'm in the WelshMarches.

  9. Much Marcle with a C, I believe


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