Volume 40, 2019
Alabaster and Agency
The Tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral
The Tomb of Edward II is an imposing monument with a striking tiered, gabled superstructure and an alabaster effigy of the king. The elaborate nature of this memorial is unexpected when one contemplates the difficult course of Edward’s reign and, especially, its termination in his deposition and death. Equally surprising is the use of alabaster for his figure, as this material had never previously been used for an effigy and was not at the time a particularly valued stone. This essay considers what might have been the response to this tomb and to the alabaster figure of the king within the context of his grim end. Alabaster had a longstanding lapidary tradition that associated it with preserving the dead, and was mentioned in the Bible in relation to the life of Christ. These associations, when coupled with alabaster’s whiteness and luminosity, may have worked to sanctify the former ruler, thus camouflaging the turbulence at the end of his life and legitimating the succession of his son Edward III to the throne.