Archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) discovered the devotional panel, venerating Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in remarkable condition by the River Thames.
Depicting the capture, trial and execution of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, political rebel turned martyr, the panel is a fascinating piece of political propaganda and religious art, and one of the largest and finest examples of its kind.
Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1278 – 1322) was a junior member of the Plantagenet family. From his father he inherited the earldoms of Lancaster, Leicester and Ferrers earldom of Derby. By his marriage to Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln he became Earl of Lincoln and Salisbury, 11th Baron of Halton and 7th Lord of Bowland. He played a significant role in the reign of Edward II, at whose coronation he served. After the disaster at Bannockburn he became ruler of England. However, the Barons rose against him and at 1321 he was defeated at Battle of Boroughbridge, and taken prisoner. In 1322 he was tried by a tribunal, but he was not allowed to speak for himself, nor were anyone allowed to defend him. In the end he was convicted of treason and executed by beheading near Pontefract. Soon after Thomas’s death, miracles were reported at his tomb at Pontefract, and he became venerated as a martyr and saint. In 1327 the Commons petitioned Edward III to ask for his canonisation, and popular veneration continued until the reformation.
The newly found devotional panel is cast in metal and measures approximately 13 x 9 cm. The panel includes scenes that depict a cautionary tale for ambitious politicians, and reveals that Lancaster was elevated to an almost saintly status after his death.
The panel tells the story of Lancaster’s imprisonment and execution. In slightly garbled French, the panel is read clockwise from the top left: ‘here I am taken prisoner’; ‘I am judged’; ‘I am under threat’ and lastly ‘la mort’ (death). The Virgin Mary and Christ look down from heaven, ready to receive Lancaster’s soul.
Although a rare find today, the panel would have been mass produced at the time. A small number of parallels exist but these are fragmentary or in a poorer style.
Sophie Jackson, MOLA archaeologist, said: “It’s thanks to the wet ground of the Thames waterfront that this beautiful metal object survived in such remarkable condition. It has an intriguing story and reveals a great deal about the political climate of the day.”
The panel is on display at the Museum of London until 28.09.2015
Politics, piety and propaganda: archaeologists discover fine devotional panel
By Nicola Kalimeris 26.03.2015
Roman and medieval revetments on the Thames waterfront: excavations at Riverbank House, City of London, 2006–9
MOLA Archaeology Studies Series 33
Pilgrim-Signs and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
By Hugh Tait
The British Museum Quarterly 1955 – 56, Vol. 20, No. 40.
The Earl of Lancaster being executed. The Luttrell Psalter fol. 56, © British Library,