Geoffrey de Mandeville – first Earl of Essex – had a rocky life and a bloody death. Being a noble in the early 12th century meant keeping your head above water during a period sometimes called the ‘great anarchy’. In the year 1135, king Henry I died. His cousin Stephen declared himself the new king but the late king’s daughter Matilda had different ideas. Taking Stephen on with her own army, the two parties engulfed England in a vicious civil war.
To protect his lands and social position, Geoffrey rather treacherously swapped sides on more than one occasion. When Stephen eventually prevailed against Matilda, he arrested the earl who was forced to surrender his castles. Furious with his treatment by the king, Geoffrey launched a rebellion. For a year, he holed up in the marshes of East Anglia – reduced to becoming a bandit.
Eventually, the king’s forces surrounded the troublesome earl and he was shot through with arrows. A traitor to his king and rejected by the church for raiding Ramsey Abbey – Geoffrey’s body couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground. In fact, nobody knew what to do with his remains. Until the Knights Templar stepped in. They took his carcass to their London headquarters in a lead coffin and hung it from the branches of an apple tree. That way it was in their protection without being placed in the ground.
At some point, a burial was made possible and his son arranged for an effigy of his father to be placed in the Templar church. It can still be seen today. But it’s taken a bit of a bashing. Up until the 10th March, 1941, the effigy was in almost pristine condition. But this was the Second World War and the Blitz meant Nazi bombs were raining down on the city. One exploded in the circular church bringing the roof crashing down on top of the effigy. As you can see – he took quite a pounding.
Even in death – Geoffrey has had a rough time.