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On February 10 Derek Cutts, chairman of the Medieval Antiquities Society, gave a fascinating illustrated talk to Glendale Local History Society on the Grey Tomb in Chillingham Church with reference to other 15th century alabaster monuments.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 22 February, 2016, 08:00

This extensively decorated, elaborately carved tomb is that of Ralph and Elizabeth Grey, with their animals at their feet. It lies in Chillingham Church, in the south chapel of Our Lady. It is unusual in that the effigies are alabaster, while the tomb chest is sandstone.

The remains of Ralph Grey lie in a vault beneath the tomb. The headboard features angels lifting the souls of Ralph and Elizabeth to heaven. The fine canopy work features military themes, with family heraldic badges. There are also images of saints.

Ralph Grey lived from 1406-1443. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Fitzhugh, who was born at Ravensworth, Yorkshire, in 1410 and died in 1445.

At the bottom of the tomb a late 16th century obelisk sits on a blank space where it is thought that vertical columns likely supported a canopy.

Lord Fitzhugh of Ravensworth was a close companion of Henry V, who made him a member of the Order of the Garter. The Greys also had royal connections.

Ralph’s father Thomas Grey (1384-1415) was born in the middle gatehouse of Alnwick Castle. He became Sheriff of Northumberland from 1408-09 and Constable of Bamburgh. In 1408, he was granted a papal license to enlarge the chapel in his castle at Heaton, or build a new one. He married before February 20, 1408, Alice Neville, daughter of Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland, 4th Lord Neville of Raby (descendant of King John), by his first wife, Margaret (descendant of King Henry II), daughter of Hugh de Stafford, 2nd Earl of Stafford (descendant of King Edward I).

Ralph held considerable land in North Northumberland, including Wark Castle, manor and town, the towns of Coupland in Kirknewton, Learmouth and Presson in Carham, the manor and town of Doddington, and the manor of Wooler, with a total value of £21.15s, but he made much of his income from service.

He became Keeper of Roxburgh Castle from 1439-1440 before leaving with Richard, Duke of York, for France in 1441. He was held captive by the garrison at Nantes and died in 1443. Most of his remains probably stayed in France, although his bones were returned to Alnwick.

Elizabeth married again and is probably buried near the seat of her second husband in Gloucestershire. None of her remains were found in the Chillingham tomb.

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He was succeeded by his son Ralph Grey II (1429-1464) who was the first of the Greys to live in Chillingham. He became a Knight of the Shire for Northumberland in 1449 and was elected an MP at Westminster Palace in 1454. He was Sheriff of Northumberland from 1455-56 and 1459-60, and Keeper of Roxburgh Castle between 1454 and 1458.

He transferred his allegiances between the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides on several occasions. In 1462 he assisted in the capture of Alnwick for the Yorkists and was made Constable, and also assisted in the taking of Dunstanburgh in the same year. In 1463 he changed sides and surrendered Alnwick to Queen Margaret. He fled to Dunstanburgh in 1464 where he was taken prisoner. He was brought before Edward IV, and executed.

Ralph I’s brother was William Grey, who was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and later became Chancellor of the university. He was Treasurer of the Exchequer and became Bishop of Ely on St Cuthbert’s Day, March 20, 1458. He was buried in Ely in 1478.

The tomb was probably arranged by Ralph Grey II between 1448 and 1462. It is likely that William Grey was also involved. It was probably constructed in two phases, firstly the alabaster effigies and later the tomb chest.

Such tombs were often constructed to remind the family to pray for your soul so it would not remain in purgatory. The burning of candles also helped. It was also important that the incumbent should have paid off his debts or made such provision in his will.

The angels flanking the headboard of the tomb are portrayed carrying the souls of Ralph and Elizabeth up to heaven.

Tombs can be dated by reference to the headgear of the effigies. Prior to 1400 the males wore helmets. Female heads were normally shown supported by cushions. This tomb is unusual in that Ralph’s head is also on cushions.

The church at Chillingham is open seven days a week for anyone interested in visiting.