Archaeologists digging in the banks of the Thames uncovered a rare 14th century devotional panel depicting the life and execution of a medieval politician-turned-rebel, which is going on display for the first time.
A splendid example of propaganda and religious art, the panel is one of the largest and finest examples of its kind. It tells the tale of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, a cousin of King Edward II and one of a group of barons who tried to curb the king’s power. Having caused huge political unrest, in 1322 Lancaster was defeated by Edward and publicly beheaded for treason near Pontefract Castle.
Within six weeks of his death, miracles were being recorded in connection with his tomb. Although in life Lancaster had not been a saintly man, a cult soon built up around him, largely owing to the king’s unpopularity. The panel would have been made shortly after his death and is likely to have been associated with a shrine at St Paul’s Cathedral where an effigy of Lancaster had become a place of veneration.
Uncovered by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) during excavations for Riverbank House on the north bank of the Thames, near London Bridge, in 2000, the metal panel has never been seen in public before, and will be on show at the Museum of London until 28 September.
It was exceptionally well preserved by the wet mud of the river, along with pilgrim badges and even organic items such as shoes and a leather knife sheath — the type of items which would normally have rotted away.
More information about the haul excavated at the river can be found in a book about the site, called Roman And Medieval Revetments On The Thames Waterfront: Excavations At Riverbank House.