John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family

John Sheffield

A large marble monument to John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham stands in the north eastern chapel of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. He, his wife Catherine and their four children lie in the vault in this chapel. The monument was designed by Denis Plumiere and sculpted by Laurent Delvaux and Peter Scheemakers. A sarcophagus stands on the base, between two pedestals which support the architectural background, with a round headed arch and an unpainted coat of arms. The life size figure of the duke, dressed in Roman armour holding a baton, reclines on a mattress, while a figure of his wife mourns, seated on the right hand side.

A figure of Time carries away medallion relief portraits of three of the children (all of whom were moved to the Abbey from St Margaret's church Westminster where they were originally buried) Sophia (died 1706), John, Marquis of Normanby (died 1710) and Henrietta Maria (born 1713, died 20th December 1717). A medallion of Robert, Marquis of Normanby (born 2nd December 1711, died 1st February 1714/15) is at his feet (his body was also removed from St Margaret's at the time of his father's burial). On either side are military trophies, among them armour, standards, a battering-ram and a helmet with a sphinx as a crest.


Originally on the ledge of the tomb was the inscription:

Catherine Duchess of Buckingham, much afflicted, gave orders to erect this monument Anno.1722.

On the edge, beneath the Duke's effigy is inscribed, in Latin;

Often for the king, always for the public good" and behind the effigy "I lived doubtful, not dissolute; I die unresolved, not unresigned; Ignorance and error are incident to human nature. I trust in an Almighty and All-good God. O thou Being of Beings have compassion on me

The main inscription can be translated:

Sacred to the memory of John Sheffyld, of the illustrious race of the Sheffylds, who from the reign of King Henry III have by a direct succession of male heirs preserved its name even to this day: Duke of Buckinghamshire, Duke and Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, Baron Sheffyld of Botterwick, and Knight of the noble Order of the Garter. He first married Ursula, Countess of Conway. His second lady was Catherine, Countess of Gainsborough. His third, Catherine, Countess of Anglesey, daughter of King James II and Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, who bore him 1. Sophia, 2. John, 3.Robert, 4 Henrietta-Maria (all now resting in the bosom of Time) 5. Edmund, the now only comfort of his afflicted mother.
In the reign of King Charles II he was General of the Dutch troop of horse, Governor of Kingston Castle upon Hull, and first Gentleman of the Bedchamber. After which, in the reign of King James II, he was made Lord Chamberlain; and in the reign of Queen Anne Lord Privy Seal and President of the Council. In his management of the public affairs in the House of Lords for the space of 54 years, it is doubted whether was more, his graceful elocution or ready application; his vigour of body declining, he preserved that of his mind to his last breath. At last his strength gently decreasing, he lay down under his burthen the 24 day of February, and went to rest in the 75th year of his age, and of our Redemption Anno.1720

The date of his death is given in Old Style Dating, now given as 1721.

His life and career

John was born on 8th September 1647 the only son of Edmund Sheffield, 2nd Earl of Mulgrave (1611-1658) one of Cromwell's councillors, and his wife Elizabeth (Cranfield). He joined the navy and served on Prince Rupert's flagship fighting against the Dutch. He was also a volunteer at the battle of Solebay, and later commander of the Captain. He was also a man of letters, the friend of poets Pope and Dryden, to whom he erected a monument in Poets' Corner. His own productions earned him a place in Dr Johnson's Lives of the Poets, where, however, he is spoken of as 'a writer that sometimes glimmers but rarely shines'. He succeeded his father as 3rd Earl of Mulgrave and became Marquis (Marquess) of Normanby. In 1703 he was created 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. He built Buckingham House, on the site of the present Buckingham Palace.

He had no children by his first two wives. His second wife Catherine died 7th February 1704 and was buried in a vault at the east end of Henry VII's chapel. All the children were by his last wife.

Catherine, Duchess of Buckingham

Catherine Darnley was the illegitimate daughter of James II by Catherine Sedley and she always insisted on being treated with royal state. (Her infant brother James was buried in Henry VII's chapel "in the middle between the stalls" on 26th April 1685). She was married firstly to the Earl of Anglesey and married John at St Martin in the Fields church in London in 1706. Her ladies were made to promise that if she should become insensible at the last they would stand up in her presence until she was actually dead.

She was buried in the Abbey on 8th April 1743 aged 61. A wax effigy, which had been made in her lifetime and dressed under her supervision in coronation robes, was carried at her funeral and then stood by her grave. Later this was moved to the upper Islip chapel with other wax figures, then after the last war is was on show in the old Abbey Museum, and can now be seen in The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries. This is 5 feet 9 inches high and the face is intended as a portrait. Her brocaded French silk petticoat has an architectural style pattern of balustrades and sculptures with floral designs. 

Alongside her is the small wax effigy of her three year old son Robert, Marquis of Normanby, dressed in clothes thought to have belonged to him. He died on 1st February 1715 and was first buried in St Margaret's church Westminster before being moved in 1721 to the family vault in Henry VII's chapel. The effigy is 3 feet 3 inches high. He wears a silk velvet robe with silver braid designs, and underneath a long coat with floral designs and a sash. He also wears a cravat,  cap and black shoes.  Underneath his costume is a canvas quilted yellow silk corset (originally made for a young woman, not a child). By his figure is a small painted wooden unicorn, one of the supporters on the family coat of arms.

Edmund Sheffield, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Edmund, who succeeded his father as 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was baptised at St Margaret's Westminster on 29th January 1716 and served in Germany with his uncle. He died of consumption in Rome on 30th October 1735 and his body was returned to the Abbey for burial in the family vault on 31st January 1736.

He had a magnificent funeral and the recumbent wax effigy carried at his funeral still survives in the Abbey collection on its coffin board and in its original showcase. This is unique for late wax effigies in that it is recumbent. The face is based on a death mask and his eyes are closed. It is dressed in his own clothes. He wears a red velvet mantle trimmed with miniver and his sleeved waistcoat of pink silk is richly embroidered with designs of foliage, grapes and flowers. He wears velvet breeches, knitted white stockings and white leather buckle shoes with high heels. The wig was made by Francis Caraffa of Soho. His ducal coronet is now displayed alongside the effigy. The effigy is 5 feet 4 inches. At his feet is a wooden wild boar. He died unmarried and his title became extinct.

Further reading

The wax figures are now all displayed in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey edited by Anthony Harvey & Richard Mortimer, revised edition 2003

An account of Edmund's funeral appears in "The Old Whig" Feb. 5 1735/1736


8th September 1647


24th February 1721




Lady Chapel; Triforium

Memorial Type

Statue; vault

Material Type


John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham monument

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
Edmund Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham wax effigy

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
Duchess of Buckingham and son Robert wax effigies

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
Catherine's green silk shoes

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham & family
Face of Edmund's wax effigy

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster