Griffith ap Rhys – An important Welsh knight in early Tudor times
Visit this monument
8 College Yard, Worcester WR1 2LA
8 College Yard, Worcester WR1 2LA
Restored tomb of one of Prince Arthur’s closest followers
In the myddest of thys place is a fayre raysed monument to
a Knight, highly renowned and esteemed, but bereaved of muche
of the brasse (which was inlayde in marble), leavethe me ignorante
of hys portrature and armes. Hys lady more fortunate, attyred
in a bonnet, keepethe yet her mantell, whearcon is Argent, a bend
and cheyfe Gules, on the cheyfe towe moUets Or persed of the
cheyfe, quarteringe Gules, a fesse betweene six martletts Or, on
the fesse a mollet difference. About the tombe is ingraven in
brasse thys inscription. Heere in thys tombe lyethe buried the
body of the nobell Knight Syr Gryffythe Ryce, sonne to Sir Ryce
ap Thomas, Knight, which Sir Griffithe decessed the nyne and
twentie[th] daye of September in the foureteenthe yeere of Kinge
Henry the eyght. And allso of Lady Katherin hys wyfe, daughter
of Sir John St. John, Knight, which decessed the . . . daye of . . .
An. Do. 1500. On whose soules and all Christian soules Jesu have
mercy. Amen. At theyre feete weare theyre sonnes and daughters,
as appearethe by the impressyons in the stoane.
In the Dean’s Chapel on the south side of the nave opposite Prince Arthur’s tomb is the Purbeck marble tomb of Griffith ap Rhys. A powerful Welsh knight who was associated with Prince Arthur [Tudor], the Cathedral and the city of Worcester. Sir Griffith ap Rhys ap Thomas, the only legitimate son of Sir Rhys ap Thomas by his first wife Eva, was born c1470. His father Sir Rhys ap Thomas played a pivotal role in the politics of the Wars of the Roses and under the patronage of Henry VII became the most powerful man in South Wales.
When in 1492 at the age of six. Henry VII’s son Prince Arthur was sent to live at Ludlow Castle, Henry would have wanted his son surrounded by his most loyal supporters and Sir Rhys was appointed his ‘guardian’. Griffith as Rhys’s son was an obvious choice as companion for the young Prince of Wales. Griffith seems to have been a close friend of Prince Arthur serving as his ‘Master of the Horse’ and was created a Knight of the Bath during the wedding festivities. He was also with Arthur when he returned to Ludlow with his new bride. In the Priory of Worcester’s accounts for 1521-22 there is a reference to Griffith formerly owning a property in Birdport Street, Worcester. This is near to the Quays of the River Severn and no doubt it was a useful place where he could stay while visiting the region and could facilitate trade between Worcester and Wales.
Prince Arthur died in 1502 and when his body was taken from Ludlow Castle to Worcester Cathedral, Griffith played an important part at the funeral. Dressed in mourning habit, his horse draped in black, he rode at the head of the procession carrying the prince’s banner, and at the interment in Worcester Cathedral he offered at the Gospel the richly embroidered banner of his Lord’s Arms.
After Arthur’s death Griffith continued to serve the royal family and Henry VIII confirmed that Griffith should inherit his father’s honours on his death. Griffith was also present, representing Worcestershire, when Henry VIII travelled to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Catherine, his wife [Griffith married Catherine St John, daughter of John St John c1507] also accompanied Griffith to France where she was in attendance on the Queen. After Sir Griffith’s death Catherine married Sir Piers Edgecombe. She made her will in December 1553 and died that month. She is buried with Griffiths in his tomb.
Griffith died sometime between July and October 1521, predeceasing his father who died later in 1525. It is not known how he died but he must have died suddenly, or he would have made a will, not died intestate. It is also probable that no tomb had been prepared in advance as the Prior’s Account Book 1522 includes ‘a galand of mawmesey spended apon Sir Richard ap Thomas’ . I think it is a fair hypothesis that he may have been in Worcester for the interment, or at least to observe the completion of the elaborate tomb as I can see no other reason for him being in Worcestershire and this is the only time he visited.
The inlaid memorial brass plate of Griffith and his wife was already badly decayed by the seventeenth century and the present brass dates from the Victorian period. The only child we can be sure of was one son, Rhys ap Griffith, who was later executed by Henry VIII for treason, though if the Victorian brass is to be believed they had 11 children, 7 girls and 4 boys all living to adulthood.
Around the tomb is this inscription: Here in this tomb lyeth buryed the Body of the Noble knyght, Sir Gryffyth Ryce Son of Syr Ryce ap. Thomas knyght, which Syr Gryffyth dessyd the xxix day of September in the xiiii yere of Kyng Henry the viii. And also of Lady Catheryne the Wyfe, Daughter of Syr John Saint John whych decessed the …… day of …. Anno Dom. Mcccc …. on whose Soules, and all Cristen Soules Jeshu have Mercy. Amen.
Worcester Cathedral Library.