The figure, with human hair and eyelashes, was made to stand by her grave in Westminster Abbey , but was ready at least eight years before her death, when it was recorded as standing beside the figure of her little son who died in 1735. Catherine was a formidable character, the illegitimate daughter of James II and the famously clever and witty Catherine Sedley who, on learning she had attracted the royal favour, remarked: “It cannot be my beauty, for he must see I have none, and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any.” Their daughter inherited the brains and spirit of her mother. Her magnificent effigy, which would have cost a small fortune, was the last of the Westminster figures actually to be carried in a funeral procession, ending a tradition which dated back to medieval times. The effigies were first made when weeks or even months of preparations for increasingly elaborate royal and aristocratic funerals meant that displaying the real body on a bier became impossible. The Gentleman’s Magazine recorded that at her funeral, Catherine’s effigy “was placed under a Canopy of State with two Ladies of her Bedchamber at her head and feet, and drawn in a car by six horses cover’d with black velvet”. Her effigy stood in the abbey with figures including Elizabeth I and Charles II, apart from during the Blitz when they were stored in a deep underground station for protection. For centuries, visitors paid to see them, until at one point they became so shabby they were known as the “Ragged Regiment” and stored bundled together in a side chapel. All are now being meticulously cleaned and conserved, to be redisplayed in the abbey’s new museum , which will open next year. Working behind the scenes at Westminster Abbey – in pictures The most poignant of the figures is Catherine’s little son, the three-year-old Marquess of Normanby: textile conservators have been on the verge of tears as they worked on the tiny figure and his sumptuous garments, which include a unique tiny corset, and a beautiful golden velvet coat slit at the back to take a child’s leading reins.
For the original version including any supplementary images or video https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/dec/10/westminster-abbey-funeral-effigies-restored-for-new-museum