The Oldest Memorials

Joanna here, talking about the battle memorials our Regency Folks would have known.

The oldest ones . . .

SilburyHill wiki We don't know what sort of memorials were raised to fallen soldiers in Britain in the very earliest days.  I like to think Silbury Hill might be one of them.  Silbury Hill is a huge mound of earth — chalk and clay — built on the Salisbury plain near Stonehenge four thousand years ago.  I've always wondered if it was homage and memory of some prehistoric leader. 

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Monuments we can date with some certainty go back to the 800s. 

Here to the right is the back of a Pictish Stone at Aberlemno Churchyard in Angus, Scotland.  We see men wearing helmets, carrying spears, shields and swords battle on foot and on horseback.   Sueno's_Stone 1861 drawing from wiki


Another stone, on the left here, is the Suenos Stone, in Forres, Scotland.  It was one of a pair of obelisks described on maps as late as 1789 as "two curiously carved pillars". This to the left is a drawing made in 1861 of the surviving stone.  Below is a close view of the side.  We see the sinuous vine patterns similar to those found in the Book of Kells.

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Panels on the back, so much worn the detail is all but gone,  show battle scenes of horsemen and foot soldiers and, possibly, men playing long straight musical pipes.

What battles do the stones tell of?  Who fought?  Viking, Pict, Gael, or  Northumbrians?  We can't be sure. But the Suenos Stone and the Aberlemno stones were carved with all the art of their time and raised in the honor of those long ago warriors.


Travellers in 1800 would have seen these and other carved standing stones scattered across the British Isles.  They'd have talked to the local people, hearing old stories.  "Oh, King Sil is buried under Silbury hill," they'd hear.  "Riding on a horse of gold."  The Suenos Stones were said to hold the spirits of the witches from MacBeth.  
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In another custom even more ancient than these carved stones — this goes time out of mind — cairns were raised on the  battlefield to mark the the fallen.  Drum's Cairn, for instance, was raised on the spot Sir Alexander Irvine fell at the bloody clan-against-clan Battle of Harlaw in 1411.  Drum's Cairn was probably there in 1800, but had disappeared into scattered stones by the Twentieth Century.

Maybe . . .  maybe some memory of cairns as monuments persists in the custom of carrying stones to add to the modern cairns placed as navigation aids for hikers.

  1911 photo of ligget stone crop One of the more interesting stone monuments from the Battle of Harlaw is the Liggars Stone.   This is a large uncarved rock, about 7 feet tall, said to mark the burial-place of the female camp-followers who were slain at the battle.   There were originally two, but one was broken up in the Twentieth Century for building material. 

Here's the remaining one, to the left, repositioned and being used as a gate post, in 1911.

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The warriors of the Middle Ages were honored by burial in the church.  A stone effigy on the tomb of an armoured knight would have been a  common sight in the great cathedrals.  So were monumental brasses that would have been found on church floors and, later, church walls.Battle_Abbey_Refectory_by_Samuel_Hieronymus_Grimm_1783

And churches themselves were sometimes monuments to war.  In 1070, William the Conqueror built Battle Abbey to commemorate the fallen of the Battle of Hastings.  The high altar was set on the spot where King Harold died.

By Regency times only a few walls of Battle Abbey remained, but the ruins and the battleground of Hastings were maintained for visitors as a memorial.

Two of the most famous war memorials of Britain come from the same battle, from opposite sides.  And they're not stone, not marble, not bronze.

Flodden window from thomas no attrib3 The Flodden Window was gifted to the parish church of Middleton, Lancashire in 1515 in memory of the Battle of Flodden Fields. 

Richard Assheton led a company of Middleton Archers into battle and was knighted for his bravery.  Seventeen of his men are shown in the church window, each wearing a blue short mantle and carrying a bow stave.  What's remarkable about this window is not just that it survived 500 years –  (the greatest damage was done by Nineteenth Century restorers) — but the individual names of the archers written over their heads. 

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Most of the names can still be read: Henricus Taylyer, Hughe Chetham, James Gerrarde, John Pylkyngton, Philipe Werburton, William Stele, John Scolefede, Wylliam, James Taylier, Roger Blomeley, Crystofer Smythe, Henry Whitaker, Robart Prestwyche, Richard Bexwicke.

Richard James, in 1636 described it:

him follow neighbours bould
Whoe doe bent bowes on their left shoulders hould,
Their girdle sheaft with arrowes; as the squire
So are they all, court mantells in attire
Of blewe; like Greeks in Trojan warre, their haire
In curles long dangling makes ye semblance faire
And sterne; each hath his name, and people tell
That on ye same lands now their children dwell

It tells us so much about the kind of leader Sir Richard was that the window he paid for memorializes the names of his men.

Another memorial to this battle was created two centuries later.  Jean Elliot, in 1756 used an old folk  Chanter_05PNW_034 wiki tune, "The Flowers of the Forest" to write a lament for the Scots dead of Flodden Field.  The song, written in Scots dialect, describes the grief of the women and children. 

This music is still played, on the bagpipe, to mourn those fallen in battle. It's a piece of music many pipers will only perform at memorial services and only practice in private or to instruct other players.

Walter vane St Bega's Church, Bassenthwaite, Cumbria, NY22652875 In the Regency era, the most familiar memorial to a soldier would have been a plaque on the church walls.

Here, to the left, a marble monument for a captain in the Coldstream guards who fell at the Battle of Bayonne, age 19.

A plaque in Westminster Abbey, dedicated to Sir Charles Harbord and Sir Clement Cotterell reads:

O preserve and unite the memory of two faithfull friends who lost their lives at sea together May 28, 1672.
. . .  Neere the Suffolk coast, having put off two fireships, at last being utterly disabled and few of her men remaining unhurt, was by a third unfortunately set on fire.  But he (though he swome well) neglected to save himself as some did and out of perfect love to that worthy lord (whom for many years he had constantly accompanied him in all his honourable imployments and in all engagements of the former warre) dyed with him at the age of 32, much bewailed.

Another memorial, this one in Cambridge Cathedral, to William Prude, 'Lieftennant Cononnell in the Belgick Warres', reads:.

Here in Peace Rests One, whose life was Warre, whose rich increase Of Fame and Honour from his Valour grew; Unbeg'd, unbought: For what he wonne he drew by just deseart: having in service beene A Souldier, till nere Sixty from Sixteene Yeares of his active life; continually Fearless of death, yet still prepared to dye.

Memorials our Regency era people would have known wouldn't be complete without the Lion of Lucerne, Löwendenkmal_2007-08-25 carved in 1821.  Not a British monument, this one, but something they'd know about and many would go to see.  It commemorated Swiss Guards who died in the French Revolution.

Mark Twain wrote:

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.
Nicola cornick with permiss skipton castle
And at the end — another sort of memorial is found at Skipton Castle.  This yew tree — see Wench Nicola  under the tree with her dog Monty?  More here  –was planted in 1659 by Lady Anne Clifford to commemorate the rebuilding of the castle after it was 'slighted' in the English Civil War. 

Above the gatehouse of the castle is the Clifford family motto: Desormais.  That means, 'From now on'.