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OpenLearn Live: 3rd February 2016

Updated Wednesday, 3rd February 2016

The couple who inspired "what will survive of us is love"; then more free learning through the day.

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The people in the poems: An Arundel Tomb

This week, we're starting up each day by meeting the subjects of some well-known poems. Yesterday, we climbed up to discover St Simeon Stylites. Today, we're catching up with the occupants of An Arundel Tomb.

The memorial in Arundel Cathedral that inspired Larkin's poem An Arundel Tomb Creative commons image Icon Tom Oates under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

An Arundel Tomb was written by Philip Larkin, and originally published in his 1964 collection The Whitsun Weddings. It's probably best known for its closing lines:

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Never one to see a cream cake without stubbing a ciggie out in the bowl, though, Larkin scoffed at himself when he seemed at his most romantic. In a note scrawled on an early manuscript of his poem, he wrote:

Love isn't stronger than death just because statues hold hands for 600 years.

Here's the poet reading the full verse:


As Larkin observes at the start, the "tomb" isn't actually a tomb - the pair depicted in stone were actually buried in Lewes Priory, some miles away on the other side of Brighton. What Larkin saw in the Sussex catherdral was a memorial to a pair, Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel and Eleanor of Lancaster. The plaque in the cathedral fills in some backstory:

The figures represent Richard Fitzalan III, 13th Earl of Arundel (ca 1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor, who by his will of 1375 were to be buried together "without pomp" in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.

The armour and dress suggest a date near 1375; the knight's attitude is typical of that time, but the lady's crossed legs, giving the effect of a turn towards her husband, are rare. The joined hands have been thought due to "restoration" by Edward Richardson (1812-69), but recent research has shown the feature to be original. If so, the monument must be one of the earliest showing the concession to affection where the husband was a knight rather than a civilian.

Some critics have pointed to this being Richard's second marriage to add weight to the suggestion that "what will survive of us is love" is ironic rather than uplifting. The first marriage, though, was to  Isabel le Despenser. Opinion differs on to whether Richard was eight or fifteen at the time; what isn't disputed, though, is Isabel was only nine. The union was annulled by Pope Clement VI on the grounds that Richard had been underage and unwilling. Isabel's views weren't, it seems, that important. There was a side-effect of this wiping out of their marriage - their son, Sir Edmund de Arundel, was bastardised after the fact. He was as upset about this - and the related disinheritance - as you might imagine.

Although the plaque doesn't think it worth mentioning, this was Eleanor's second marriage, too. Her first husband had been John de Beaumont, 2nd Baron Beaumont; he died two years before Eleanor and Richard wed in Stoke Poges on the 5th February, 1344.

Clement had a bit more paperwork to do before the wedding - because Richard's two wives were cousins, a special dispentation had to be sought from the Vatican. The marriage was merely formalising an arrangement already in place; the pair had been living together for some time.

Eleanor died first; Richard lived on as a widower for a futher four years. It was his will that set in chain a memorialisation which would lead to a Humberside librarian writing about the couple centuries later, requesting burial:

near to the tomb of Eleanor de Lancaster, my wife; and I desire that my tomb be no higher than hers, that no men at arms, horses, hearse, or other pomp, be used at my funeral, but only five was about the corpse of my wife, be allowed.

Had he been more precise about not wanting a separate monument across the county in Arundel, perhaps their love would not have survived.

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