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Graves and Monuments

Some couples ensured that their bonds were recognised even in death. These men and women were buried with their same-sex partners, or commissioned monuments that symbolically identified their unions. Some of these monuments , over many centuries, refer to the vows of ‘sworn friendship’ from the Christian tradition.

Memorial brass for two women

A Tudor example of a female couple is in the Church of the Blessed Mary and Saint Nicholas in Etchingham, Sussex. Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge are jointly commemorated there with a 15th-century memorial brass.

The women are depicted looking at one another. Their gowns indicate movement towards each other. The brass memorial suggests intimacy between the women that we can see long after their deaths.

Memorial brass of Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge
Memorial brass of Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge, Etchingham church © Creative Commons/Julian P. Guffogg

Friend to Sir Philip Sidney

Fulke Greville, first Baron Brooke (1554-1628) was Chancellor of the Exchequer under James I and ‘faithful friend’ of the Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney since childhood. When Sidney died in 1586, Greville planned a double tomb for the two men but it was never built.

Greville dedicated the rest of his life to editing Sidney’s writings and composing a biography. He never married, but had intense friendships with men for the remainder of his life. He died almost 40 years later after being stabbed by a servant in Warwick Castle.

Greville’s own tomb in the Church of St Mary, Warwick bears the epitaph that includes a memorial to Sidney:

Servant to Queene Elizebeth
Conceller to King James
And Friend to Sir Philip Sidney

Fulke Greville's tomb at St Mary's, Warwick
Fulke Greville's tomb at St Mary's, Warwick. The inscription on the tomb is 'Servant to Queene Elizabeth, Concellor to King James and Friend to Sir Philip Sidney'. Public Domain

A marriage of souls

In the chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, is the joint tomb of Sir John Finch (1626-82) and Sir Thomas Baines (1622-80). It memorialises, in Finch’s words, ‘the beautiful and unbroken marriage of souls, a companionship undivided during 36 complete years’.

The monument refers to their relationship as an ‘animorum connubium’, a marriage of souls. The inscription explains that the men were buried together ‘so that they who while living had mingled their interests, fortunes, counsels, nay rather souls, might in the same manner, in death, at last mingle their sacred ashes’. Symbolically, there is just a single funerary urn at the top of the monument.

Black and white photo of a monument
Monument to Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines, Christ's College, Cambridge © Historic England OP04530

Joint graves of men

Cardinal John Henry Newman was a leader of the late 19th-century Anglo-Catholic Oxford movement. At his request he was buried in Birmingham Oratory’s cemetery at Rednal with Father Ambrose St John, with whom he had an intimate spiritual friendship.

Headstone marking the grave of Cardinal John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John in Rednal
Headstone marking the grave of Cardinal John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John in Rednal, near Birmingham © Creative Commons/Fr James Bradley https://flic.kr/p/7KDso8

The joint grave of socialist and reformer Edward Carpenter and George Merrill, his partner of nearly four decades, lies in the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey. Carpenter and Merrill lived openly together at their home Millthorpe in Derbyshire.

Joint grave of Edward Carpenter and George Merrill
Joint grave of Edward Carpenter and George Merrill in Guildford, Surrey © Creative Commons https://flic.kr/p/d1vim5

The house was a focal point for socialist politics and early gender and sexual equality activism. The couple later moved to Surrey where, grief-stricken after the death of Merrill in 1928, Carpenter suffered a stroke and died the following year.  

Edward Carpenter and his partner George Merrill
Edward Carpenter (r) and his partner George Merrill (l) © University of Manchester (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Chris St John, Tony Atwood and Edith Craig

Loving relationships between more than two people have also been marked with shared graves and commemorative plaques. At the Churchyard of St John the Baptist in Smallhythe, Kent, two women, Chris St John (Christabel Marshall) and Tony (Clare) Atwood, are buried side by side.

Grave markers in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church
Grave markers of Chris St John (Christabel Marshall) and Clare 'Tony' Atwood, with a commemorative plaque to Edy Craig. They are located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, next to Priest's House © Alison Oram

They had lived together with Edith Craig in a ménage a trois at the neighbouring Priest’s House. Craig was not buried with her partners, but in 2012 a commemorative plaque bearing her name was placed with the grave markers for St John and Atwood.

Edith Craig, Clare Atwood and Chris St John sitting around a table
Edith Craig, Clare Atwood and Chris St John at Smallhythe Place, Kent © National Trust

Radclyffe Hall, Mabel Batten and Una Troubridge

Radclyffe Hall, author of the controversial lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (1928) was laid to rest in the vault of her lover Mabel Batten, in Highgate Cemetery, London in 1943. Hall’s overlapping subsequent relationship with Una Troubridge is also commemorated there.

More about Hall, 'The Well of Loneliness' and censorship

The tomb of Radclyffe Hall and Mabel Veronica Batten
The tomb of Radclyffe Hall and Mabel Veronica Batten, Highgate Cemetery, London © Jana Funke

On the doorway to the joint tomb, Una Troubridge placed a marble plaque quoting from Elizabeth Barrett Browning that reads: ‘And if God Choose I Shall But Love Thee Better After Death’.

The tomb plaque with the inscription 'And If God Choose I shall but love thee better after death - Una'
The tomb of Radclyffe Hall and Mabel Batten includes a plaque with the inscription 'And If God Choose I shall but love thee better after death - Una'. This refers to Hall's partner Una Troubridge. Hall and Troubridge were together for 28 years following the death of Batten © Jana Funke
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Graves and Monuments Photo Gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • The Priest's House and St John the Baptist Church, Smallhythe.
  • Gravestone of Edward Carpenter, also of George Merrell.
  • Interior of a private chapel.
  • Portrait of John Henry Newman seated wearing red robes.
  • Black and white photo of Radclyffe Hall in profile
  • Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge in evening dress at their home.
  • Timber framed house with leaded windows and borders of garden and climbing plants.
  • Black and white photo of a white monument next to a building wall covered in ivy

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