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Full citation: 

Barker, Jessica. 2020. Stone Fidelity: Marriage and Emotion in Medieval Tomb Sculpture. The Boydel Press, Woodbridge. ISBN 978-1-78327-271-6, pp.79-88

Contents summary: 

I’m including this summary really just for the sake of completeness and because a colleague happened to be reading the book and was willing to scan me the brief relevant section. The book as a whole (as might be determined from the title) looks at the ways that marriage relationships are represented and symbolized in medieval tomb sculpture. In the chapter on “The Double Tomb” there is a section entitled “Queer Tombs” that specifically looks at commemorations of same-sex pairs.

There is a nod to Alan Bray’s book The Friend, which brought attention to this phenomenon (as usual, primarily looking only at men). Given the medieval focus of the current book, there is significant attention paid to the Neville/Clanvowe monument from the 14th century, which used the impalement of heraldic arms (typically done by married couples) to symbolize the men’s close relationship.

Barker’s chapter does spend a similar amount of space to discuss the joint memorial of Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge from the 15th century. (The memorial is analyzed in great detail by Judith Bennett, which is where Barker gets her information.)

The footnotes to this section include data from two catalogs of memorials. One catalog covering brasses from ca. 1277 to 1500 notes that 23 out of 1240 are double tombs commemorating a non-marriage relationship. Another catalog of 1415 tombs dating between 1100-1500 lists 69 double tombs for pairs who were not a married couple. Neither of these statistics includes the data for how many double-memorials there were in total in each set, so this information could be more useful. The majority of these are for pairs related in some identifiable way, such as siblings or parent-child.

Barker notes that both Bray and Bennett dismiss as irrelevant the question of whether these “queer” joint tombs indicate a sexual relationship, but concludes “These tombs mark a significant moment in queer history because they present same-sex relationships as analogous to marriage, appropriating and adapting the designs of monuments to married couples.” In the 14-15th c when the aforementioned tombs were created (by the families or friends of the pair after their death—which indicates significant acceptance and approval), the primary form of social connection commemorated on grave memorials was the marriage bond, but this in turn created a symbolic language that could be used to indicate the close connections of other types of relationships.