Tracey tomb at Mortehoe

There is a chest tomb in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Mortehoe.  According to  Risdon*, the lid of the tomb shows fragments of an inscription “SYREE WILLIAME DE TRACE … IL ENAT EEYS … MEERCY”

tomb insc 1

tomb insc 2

tomb insc 3

tomb insc 4

The name still seems clear enough, although the rest is somewhat less than convincing.

Risdon states, presumably because of the name, that the tomb was the resting place of that Sir William Tracy who participated in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket (+ 1170.)  Others have observed that the general decoration of the tomb is of a later style than late C12th and that the figure carved on the lid is a priest and not a knight.  It is argued, therefore, that the tomb was for the William de Tracy who was the priest and benefactor of Mortehoe and died in 1322.

Concerning the side of the tomb that holds our interest, Risdon refers to “these armories cut on the side thereof: first, three lions, passant gardant,  second, three bends, and third, a saltier.”  Risdon offers no suggestions as to whose these arms may be, or what connection, if any, they have with any Sire de Tracy.  The Lyson brothers, in Magna Britannia, throw out the statement that they are “the arms of Tracey,” but none of the shields matches the coats for Tracey given elsewhere in the same book.

Westcote**, a contemporary of Risdon, describes the shields as “first a plain cross charged with five roundels, which may be St. Aubyn’s: three lions in pale passant; this may be Carew’s: two bars; which may be set for Martin: for the colours are worn out long since, and these men had possessions near.”


If not Carew’s, it is suggested, in Wikipedia at least, that the leftmost shield might be the arms (azure, 3 lions passant argent) of Geoffrey de Camville.  (The lions surviving today are not gardant, pace Risdon, but merely passant as Westcote states.)  Geoffrey de Camville was the second husband and immediate heir of Maud (or Matilda), grand-daughter and heiress of Henry, the last de Tracy baron of Barnstaple.

Camville head
Lion not “gardant”

Risdon’s description of the second shield as “three bends” differs dramatically from the shield currently shown.  The shield now shows, plainly enough, as Westcote says, two bars, with slight damage at the base that might be taken for a third bar.  In earlier times the terms “bend” and “bar” were sometimes interchanged, although I think I am right to say that by the C17th they had settled to their current meanings of diagonal stripe and horizontal stripe respectively.  Elsewhere Risdon uses “bar” for the horizontal stripe.  I think it most likely that in this instance he simply misread his own shorthand.


Two bars (or even three) in this locality in the late C13th or early C14th might well be taken as the arms of the Martin family.  Nicholas fitzMartin was the first husband of Maud, and his heirs also became hers after the death of her second husband.

The third coat of arms, Risdon’s “saltier,” Westcote’s “plain cross charged with five roundels,” is in fact a saltire charged with five roundels, or possibly five annulets, since they seem to have pierced centres.


As a saltire rather than a cross, the coat does not match any of those given for St Aubyn.  None of the descriptions of the tomb that I have yet found offers any other candidates for ownership of this last coat of arms.  The first two coats might lead one to assume a connection of the third with the de Tracy family, particularly Maud.  The actual descent of Maud from Henry de Tracy is open to some doubt but the most likely seems to be that she was the daughter of Eva, daughter of Henry de Tracy and wife of one of a succession of gentlemen all called Guy de Bryan***.  The coat of arms in question is not one that any of the usual sources associate either with de Bryan or de Tracy.

A hint in Risdon, and a closer look at the tomb, lead however to the strong suspicion that the lid of the tomb does not match the sides, and indeed that the panels on the sides do not necessarily belong to each other.

The first two shields seem to belong together, there being no crack or join between them.

Camville by Martin

Allowing that they have no direct link with Sire William de Tracy, whoever he was, the most likely inhabitant of the tomb they were made for must surely be that of Maud Tracey herself.  Geoffrey Camville would have had no reason display the arms of Martin, nor would the Martin heirs of Maud had any reason to show the arms of Camville.  If those shields are for Camville and Martin then the only place they belong together is on the tomb of the lady who was wife to them both.

The shield with the saltire is on a slab separate from the other pair of shields.  It need not originally have had any connection with them or with any de Tracey tomb.  Papworth’s Ordinary lists seven names of individuals or families who displayed five roundels or annulets on a saltire on a plain field: Belhouse, Cheverell, Daterling/Daveling, Eaglesfield, Leek, Upton and Welsh.   The usual sources do not suggest any C12th or C13th connection of any of those with Mortehoe.  The majority of them are, moreover, closely associated with places quite distant from Devon, although that cannot be taken to preclude a connection.  Neither can it be assumed that bearer of this particular coat of arms was related by name or in any other way to those with similar arms listed by Papworth.  Currently, then, it is only safe to say that the arms are “unknown.”

*Risdon, Tristram c1580-1649  – “The Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon” – published London for Rees & Curtis, Plymouth 1811.
** Westcote, Thomas – “A view of Devonshire in MDCXXX” – ed. Oliver & Jones – published William Roberts, Exeter 1845.
***see Prince, John – “The Worthies of Devon” – published London for Rees & Curtis 1810 – p130

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