February 22nd, 2020

The Politician's Politician

Richard Rich was the politician's politician, an unprincipled careerist who betrayed his way to the top and then managed to stay there through all the ideological and theological ups and downs of the Tudor era. Thanks to the movie A Man For All Seasons (in which he is memorably played by John Hurt) he is chiefly remembered for giving perjured evidence at the trial of his patron, Thomas More.

He is also notorious for having presided over the (illegal) torture of the Protestant martyr Anne Askew- and for working the levers of the rack himself when the official executioner backed off saying, "Sorry Squire, but it's more than my job's worth to rack a lady."

His tomb was erected several generations after his death. It's the work of Epiphanius Evesham, one of the great artists of the English Renaissance- and is to be found in the Essex village of Felsted, tucked away in a side chapel behind rows of stacking chairs. It's rather as if you went to Rome in search of Michelangelo's David only to be told, "Oh, that! We keep it over there in the broom cupboard."

Rich twists on his couch with a prayer book in his mitt. There are those who find him a bit creep-crawly.

More Pictures Of The Rich Tomb

The Rich tomb is hard to photograph in its entirety, firstly because it's a large thing squashed into the corner of a crowded space and secondly because it's surrounded by a fence of spiked railings.

Are the railings to keep us out or Rich in?

Here are some more details.

Epiphanius Evesham is famous (insofar as he is famous at all) for his mastery of relief carving. This panel behind the effigy's head shows a young and handsome Rich carrying a huge purse, presumably in his role as Lord Chancellor, with Hope on his left with anchor- and Charity on his right. I particularly like the naturalistically restive figure of the child.

Kneeling by Rich's head, as if praying to his father's effigy, is the effigy of his heir, Robert. Rich had masses of children- 11 of them legitimate. Robert has lost his left arm, the hand of which lies on the ground beside him, clutching his right hand glove.