Thursday, July 7, 2016

the long unmarked grave of Henry VIII


While we are in Windsor for the Clergy Consultation we are worshiping in St George's Chapel. We sit in the choir for morning and evening prayer (in the stalls belonging to the members of the Order of the Garter). I was fascinated to discover that buried in the aisle of the Choir lay the mortal remains of King Henry VIII.

More fascinating still is the fact that until 1837 his resting place remained unmarked. He had a great tomb prepared for himself long before he died, ready to be assembled once the time came. But not one of his three children who followed him to the throne saw fit to erect it. Edward, of course, died young. Mary always hated that her father had divorced her mother to marry Anne Boleyn; and Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne whom he had beheaded. So perhaps one can understand their neglect.

The place where the body of the king lay was lost to memory and was only rediscovered by accident at the time of the beheading of Charles I while they were looking for a place to inter his remains. When the vault where Henry lay was discovered, it was decided to place the remains of his martyred successor to the throne there also. 

The Roundheads didn't want Charles' grave to become a place of pilgrimage so when the vault was re-sealed it remained unmarked and it again became uncertain where it lay. It wasn't for another century and a half that it was decided to seek it out again - not because of an interest in Henry, but in Charles. So the vault was sought out; and its location having been ascertained, it was finally marked by William IV in 1837. So his grave remained unmarked, with no one sure of its exact location from his death in 1547 until then. 

It is an interesting footnote, for me at least, that the man who sparked the English Reformation in pursuit of his 'great matter' spent so many years in an unmarked grave. And perhaps an even greater irony that he shares his final resting place with a martyred king that many Anglicans regard as a saint. 

1 comment:

  1. Somewhat disturbing but considering the manner in which some kings were treated after their deaths, recent findings on Richard III come to mind, not too surprising. I have always found it interesting that people often confuse the manner of the lives of the historically significant rather than their relationship to history. Hence, we have in the US movements to hide Confederate monuments, slander slaveholders and posthumously rehabilitate criminals in the manner of Sacco and Vanzetti. All very strange as if we can remake history as we think it should have been.

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