The Beauchamp Chapel, in the parish church of St Mary’s in Warwick, is a superb example of the architecture of the late middle ages, with its soaring fan vaulting and exquisite stone tracery. It is also a monument to the medieval belief in purgatory and the efficacy of Masses for the dead – its function originally being to benefit the soul of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.
However, the significance of the Chapel did not end with the Reformation – instead, it was the focus of the Dudley family’s bid for power and influence in the Midlands of England. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland’s, maternal descent from the Beauchamp family was a matter of immense pride, and explains the grant to him of the earldom of Warwick. His surviving sons, Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and Robert, Earl of Leicester, were equally eager to promote recognition of their noble heritage. Consequently, Ambrose and Robert saw the Beauchamp Chapel as the appropriate place for their own interments, flanking the tomb of their 4 x great-grandfather, the aforementioned 13th earl. Robert’s wife, Lettice Knollys, lies beside him, despite having remarried and outlived him by nearly fifty years, and the tomb of their son, Lord Denbigh, ‘the noble impe’, is also there.
Faire and Goodly Built: An incomplete history of St Mary's, Warwick, written by Tim Clark, tells the story of the church, including the Beauchamp Chapel, to 1704, after the rebuilding of the nave and tower.
Tim is the church historian and volunteer guide at St Mary's, Warwick.
Faire and Goodly Built can be purchased from St Mary's, Warwick, independent bookshops and directly from the publisher, Brewin Books.