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Tombstone of Gundrada


Lithograph from Horsfield's History and antiquities of Lewes and its vicinity. (Plate VIII)


This lower image of this print is an image of the tomb slab of Gundrada,once believed to be the daughter of William the Conqueror. Above is an altar tomb (part of a monument to Edward Shurley) which housed the tomb slab many years. Gundrada's tomb slab  is made of black Tournai marble and decorated with two bands of palmette plant motifs which are interlinked with stylised lions' heads. It bears striking similarities to the tombstone  of Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, who is buried in the Abbaye-aux-Dames in Caen. 

A partially damaged inscription runs along four sides and down the middle of the slab. Its meaning has been the subject of scholarly debate but here is one version from the nineteenth century:  

          Gundred, illustrious branch, ducal race, 

          Brought into England's church balsamic grace;

          Pious as Mary, and as Martha kind, 

          To generous deeds she gave her virtuous mind;

          Though the cold tomb her Martha's part receives,

          Her Mary's, better part, for ever lives.


          O holy Pancras, keep with gracious care

          A mother who has made thy sons her heir

          On the sixth calend of June's fatal morn

          The marble frame, by inward struggles torn,

          Freed the pure soul, which upwards bent its way

          To realms of love, and scenes of endless day.


Gundrada and her husband, the Norman baron William de Warenne were co-founders of The Priory of St Pancas, Lewes,  a  Priory of the Order of Cluny established shortly after the Norman Conquest. In 1085 Gundrada tragically died in childbirth at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk. Her body was brought back to Lewes and she was buried in the Chapter House of the existing Priory. When a new, larger Priory replaced the older one, her bones were placed in a lead cist under a marble tombstone. 


After the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII the church of the Priory was razed to the ground and the marble tombstones of William and Gundrada went missing.


Over two hundred years later in 1774 Gundrada's marble tombstone was re-discovered  in the Shurley Chapel of Isfield Church where it formed part of the monument to Edward Shurley, who had been cofferer to Henry VIII. The end of the slab had been broken off to fit its new use. 


In October 1845 during the construction of the Lewes-Brighton railway which cut through the remains of the church that the lead cists of William and Gundrada were dug up. A committee was formed to raise funds to build a chapel to house the cists.

Sir William Burrell, antiquarian, paid for the Gundrada tomb slab to be removed to Southover Church where it still stands. 




The Printer. 

BAXTER, JOHN (1781–1858), was a printer, publisher and bookseller who lived and worked in Lewes.  He was the first printer to use a composition roller, which was made for him by a saddler at Lewes named Robert Harrild. Baxter patented it and it made him a large fortune. A composition roller is a tool used in letterpress printing to apply ink to a bed of type in a printing press. Until that point, most inking of printing presses was done by manually pounding the type with ink balls, specially treated leather balls stuffed with wool. As well as volumes on the history of Lewes and another on the County of Sussex, his other works include a large quarto Bible, annotated by the Rev. John Styles, D.D., and illustrated with wood engravings (hugely successful in America), The Library of Agricultural  Knowledge, and with his youngest son, W. E. Baxter, he started the Sussex Agricultural Express. He was an enthusiastic cricketer, and  author of the first published book of rules  named Lambert's Cricketer's Guide, after the celebrated professional of that name. 


The Publisher.

Rev Thomas Walker Horsfield (1792-1837)  came to Lewes as a young non-conformist  in 1818, to take up the ministry at  Westgate Chapel. He also ran one of the many private schools in the town. During his ten years in Lewes he published the two volume  ‘History & Antiquities of Lewes’, the first volume in 1824, and the second volume in 1827 when he also became a felllow of the Society of Antiquairies. There is a tablet to his memory in Westgate Chapel, Lewes. The print here comes from the first volume in which there is a detailed history of the church and of its monuments. 

Tombstone of Gundrada, F. Pollard - Framed Antique Print

SKU: 1128
  • Image Numbers: 1128
    Title: Tombstone of Gundrada

    Artist: F. Pollard

    Printer: Lewes: J. Baxter

    Date: 1824-27 

    Publisher: Published in Thomas Walker Horsfield, History and antiquities of Lewes and its vicinity

    Medium: Lithograph
    Framed size (h x w): 291 x 344

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