The lost tomb of Henry VIII: design, appearance and fate

Image: St George’s Chapel, Windsor; Andrewkbrook1, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 16th February 1547. However, although he is one of the most recognisable figures of English history there is no large, elaborate tomb. Instead, Henry and Jane Seymour’s final resting place is marked with a plain marble slab installed in 1837 by William IV. The slab also records the burial of Charles I and a child of Queen Anne in the same vault. However, in 1547, Henry VIII had a partially complete tomb which has since been lost. Tantalisingly, there are no known contemporary drawings of the tomb, or drawings from the decades before it was lost. Documentary sources are focused only on particular elements of the tomb/construction process or ambiguously dated. For extra complication, the design and construction took place over nearly 20 years with at least three sculptors being employed by Henry VIII – are some of the sources we rely on actually describing earlier versions of the tomb?

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5 difficult to access Tudor tombs (and how to find out more about them)

Parish churches across England house a wealth of historic memorials. Most of these can be freely accessed by visitors (although, it is advisable to check in advance whether the church is unlocked on a daily basis! This is especially important at the moment as some churches remain closed due to Covid-19). However, some memorials are, for various reasons, harder to access. So, here are 5 Tudor memorials that present more of a challenge for members of the public…

5 – Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire

The memorial to Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire (and mother of Anne, Mary and George Boleyn) is not too hard to get access to but you do have to know where it is! It was only recently rediscovered under a carpet meaning that its location is not yet as widely known as other Tudor memorial. It is also fairly easy to miss as it is a large but non-descript floor ledger that refers to her by her maiden name.

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Tomb: Edward Stafford, earl of Wiltshire

Who was Edward Stafford?

One of the lesser known Tudor noblemen, Edward Stafford was well-connected by birth but made little mark on the political scene and died before he was thirty. His father, John Stafford was the third son of Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham (d. 1460 at the Battle of Northampton) and Ann Neville, daughter of the earl of Westmorland. His mother, Constance Greene, was the only daughter and heiress of Henry Green of Drayton, a Warwickshire based gentleman. From the Greenes, Edward would inherit extensive lands in Northamptonshire.

Edward was born on 7 April 1470; his father died in May 1473 and his mother in March 1474/5 leaving him orphaned at just four years of age. Responisbility for his governance and tuition was given to his grandmother Anne, dowager duchess of Buckingham. He was present at the coronations of both Richard III in 1483, where he carried the Queen’s crown, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth of York in 1487. He helped defeat the rebel army at the Battle of Blackheath on 17 June 1497 and hosted Henry VII at Drayton in 1498, but otherwise his career seems to have been undistinguished. He secured a suitable marriage to Margaret Grey, daughter of Viscount Lisle, but they had no surviving children. Edward died in March 1498/9, at the age of 29.

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Tomb: Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk

Who was the 3rd duke of Norfolk?

The eldest son of Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, and his first wife, Elizabeth Tilney, the 3rd duke of Norfolk is one of the more prominent of the supporting cast of political figures at the Tudor royal court. Like his father he was long lived (1473-1554) but he is most associated with the reign of Henry VIII. During his career he was a soldier, royal councillor and, after his father’s death, duke. The royal offices that he held included Lord Admiral, Lord Treasurer, and Lord Steward. He came close to death in 1545 when he and his son, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, were arrested for treason and attainted by statute (declared guilty without trial). Surrey was executed whilst Norfolk was saved only by Henry VIII’s death and spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London. His lands in Norfolk were given to Princess Mary Tudor and, when Lady Jane Grey declared herself queen, members of Norfolk’s affinity were among the first to give their support to Mary. On her accession, Queen Mary released and pardoned Norfolk, however, he enjoyed his freedom for just a year before his death.

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Tomb: John, Lord Cheyney (Cheyne/Cheney)

View across the nave of Salisbury Cathedral looking north-west. The Cheyney tomb is on far right of the image.

Where is the tomb?

It is located in Salisbury Cathedral, under the arcade on the north side of the nave and just west of the crossing.

Was it always in this location?

No. The tomb was originally placed in the Beauchamp chantry chapel (constructed in the 15th century for Bishop Richard Beauchamp). Between 1789 and 1792 the cathedral was closed and James Wyatt employed to demolish the remains of the bell tower, level the churchyard, demolish two porches, and remove the medieval chantry chapels from the east end. Inside, medieval stained glass was removed; the medieval wall paintings and vaulting decoration either removed or whitewashed over; the east end cleared and levelled; and the medieval memorials were relocated from the Lady, Beauchamp and Hungerford chapels – most of them were neatly lined up under the nave arcades.

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‘Tabulae’ or tables – the medieval precursors to heritage interpretation

Visit any historic site or town today and you can reasonably expect to find some form of heritage interpretation board. But you might not realise that visitors and pilgrims to the churches of medieval Europe would have found historical information displayed in a similar manner.

Interpretation boards inside Carfax Tower, Oxford

Normally referred to as tabulae or ‘tables’, these were texts written on parchment and attached to boards that were then placed around the church. They were intended to be read by literate visitors or used as an aide memoire by members of the religious community when showing people around the church. A popular topic for these boards was the history of the church or monastery – many of these were of course foundation myths! An example of this time of tabula is the Magna tabula Glastoniensis which is held in the collections of the Bodleian Library – catalogue entry here. It consists of six parchments leaves mounted on a wooden frame and recounts extracts of the history of Glastonbury and the saints said to be buried there.

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Tombs: Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk

Unlike some of the noblemen I have written about, we don’t actually have a surviving tomb for Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk. However, we know quite a bit about two tombs that were erected to him, and a third tomb that he designed before his death.

Who was Thomas Howard?

Thomas Howard was one of the leading political figures of late-15th and early-16th century England (with a slight hiatus when he was imprisoned after the Battle of Bosworth). He was born in 1443 and lived under the rule of six kings. The most notable single event in his career was probably the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when he led the English army that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scots, killing King James IV and most of the leading Scottish nobility. He has tended to be overshadowed by his more famous son, Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and by his granddaughters – Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard. I recently wrote a biography of the 2nd duke which was published by Pen & Sword.

Tomb number 1

We know from Thomas Howard’s will (dated May 1520) that he had drawn up an indenture for a tomb on 31 August 1516. This was most likely him setting his affairs in order when he was suffering from a severe bout of illness in the summer of 1516. A letter written to the earl of Suffolk on 31 May had said that the Duke of Norfolk ‘was not likely to continue long.’ Norfolk set aside £133 6s 8d for the making of tomb which was to be placed before the high altar at Thetford Priory. Designs for the tomb, which was to include images of Norfolk and his second wife. Agnes Tilney, had been produced by the duke, Master Clerk (Larke) the master of the King’s works at Cambridge and, Wastell, a freemason of Bury, Norfolk. However, despite Norfolk’s carefully laid plans, this tomb was never erected.

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Tomb: Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond

The tomb of Henry Fitzroy in St Michael’s church, Framlingham

Who was Henry Fitzroy?

Henry Fitzroy was the second child, and eldest son, of Henry VIII – the result of the king’s affair with 18/19 year old Elizabeth Blount. Although illegitimate, Fitzroy was a person of importance at the royal court and received multiple titles and appointments. When he was 6 years old, he was made a Knight of the Garter; created earl of Nottingham, and duke of Richmond and Somerset; made Lord Admiral; and appointed as the warden-general of the Scottish marches. Between 1525 and 1529, he lived in Yorkshire – dividing his time between Sheriff Hutton and Pontefract – the traditional base of the royal representatives in the north. A number of potential foreign matches were suggested but came to nothing. In August 1529, he was summoned to parliament and, despite his young age, attended sessions where he was treated as an adult.

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Tomb: Mary FitzAlan and Margaret Audley

The tomb commemorating Mary FitzAlan and Margaret Audley

Who were Mary and Margaret?

Mary FitzAlan was the third daughter of Henry FitzAlan, 12th earl of Arundel, and Katherine Grey (Lady Jane Grey’s aunt). She married Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk, c. 1554 and gave birth to their son, Philip Howard, in June 1557. Tragically, she never recovered from his birth and died on 25th August; she was just 17 years old. Mary is known for the quality of her classical education – some her translations from English and Greek into Latin are held in British Library. It is also through Mary that the later dukes of Norfolk inherited the earldom of Arundel and its associated lands, including Arundel Castle, home of the present day dukes.

Margaret Audley was the daughter of Thomas, Lord Audley (Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor) and Elizabeth Grey (another of Lady Jane Grey’s aunts!). She married Lord Henry Dudley in 1554, when she was 14 years old, shortly before the Dudleys attempted to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Although her husband was pardoned for his part in the plot, she was widowed when he was killed at the Battle of Saint-Quentin in August 1557. In 1559, she married Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk. Thomas and Margaret had applied for papal dispensation to marry in 1558 – dispensation was needed because she was May FitzAlan’s first cousin – and were still waiting when Mary I died in November 1558. With the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I taking the throne, they went ahead and married without the dispensation – parliament subsequently ratified the marriage. Margaret and Thomas had four children before her death on 10 January 1564, aged 23 – like her cousin, Mary, she also died of complications from childbirth.

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Who cares for our historic memorials and tomb monuments?

You don’t have to spend long in a Church of England parish church to see that the condition of many of the older memorial and monuments within them is deteriorating: cracks, spalling/flaked surface, loss of paint/gilding, lost elements. Some of this damage is the result of iconoclasm, the deliberate destruction of religious imagery, particularly during the 1540s and 1640s. Other damage is simply caused by the passage of time.

Empty niches on the tomb of Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland, Beverley Minster. The statues were most likely destroyed by iconoclasts

So, who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of memorials in our parish churches and churchyards? And what repair are they allowed to do?

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