Thursday, January 17, 2013

Henry VIII's Tomb

The picture to the right is of the marker denoting the current resting place of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Considering how momentousness Henry was in life, one would think that his tomb would be just as "large" as he. It actually was meant to be, but due to poor planning, lack of funds, and other unfortunate events, Henry's monumental tomb was never completed. Bits and pieces of it remain, scattered about England, while other were destroyed or never created. This leaves one to wonder; if it had been finished, what would it have looked like?

According to contemporary sources from the reign of Henry VIII, the tomb was to be magnificent. Originally intended for Wolsey, Henry took the partially finished tomb as his own upon the Cardinal's demise. He, in true Henry fashion, placed his own spin on it. It was to be much grander than any other tomb of the period, including his father's at Westminster Abbey. A towering monument of stone, decorated with "fine Oriental stones" formed the main body of the monument.

A drawing of what Henry's tomb probably would have looked like, via
St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
A black touchstone sarcophagus adorned with life sized bronze statues of he and Jane Seymour was to lay atop the sarcophagus. Large white marble pillars with bronzed angels and statues of the apostles surrounded it. An altar was to be added near by, along with 9 ft tall bronze candle sticks. To top it off, a life sized statue of Henry on horseback under a triumphal arch. It would have certainly been breathtaking.

However, upon Henry's death, he was buried in a vault beneath St. George's Chapel with Jane Seymour, his monument unfinished. The plan for the tomb had changed several times. The first plan was to involve Katherine of Aragon. Due to the end of his first marriage,
An interior photo of the High Altar in St. George's Chapel,
showing (what I believe to be) replicas of Henry VIII's
bronze candlesticks.
as well as a change in artist a time or two, Henry came up with several other plans. The changing of plans, distractions by foreign wars, and the expense slowed down the process of the tomb. I suspect, Henry also might have not wanted the tomb finished before his death. He showed many times that he was afraid of his own mortality. Finishing the tomb would be a huge reminder of it. Thus, for these reasons (plus my own personal speculations) it was never fully completed. As I mentioned before, bits and pieces of it were actually finished, including the large stone sarcophagus adorned with Henry and Jane, the 9 ft bronze candle sticks, and some of the marble statues. However, the remainder of the monument was incomplete. Henry, thus, asked in his will that his tomb be completed.

A drawing of the vault beneath St. George's Chapel, showing
the coffins of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I, and
an infant of Queen Anne, from the 1813 discovery during William IV's reign.
Edward VI moved to finish the monument, but was unable to in his short reign. Mary did nothing, but Elizabeth did set up a type of committee to survey and see what needed to be done to complete it. However, later in her reign the plan was abandoned. During the English Civil War, what was finished of the monument was taken apart and sold. The effigy of Henry and Jane was melted down, and the large candle sticks made their way to St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. Charles I's body was quickly placed in Henry and Jane's vault after his execution. Later, an infant of Queen Anne was also placed in the vault. All were left unmarked. It wasn't until William IV's reign that the vault was re-discovered and a plaque (which is what we see today) was added.

Horatio Nelson's Tomb, originally intended for Henry VIII.
To get a sense of what splendor the tomb would have had, one can view a few pieces still surviving today. The large black touchstone sarcophagus was eventually re-purposed for Horatio Nelson, and can been seen in the crypt under St. Paul's Cathedral, while replicas of the 9 ft bronze candlesticks currently adorn the high altar in St. George's Chapel. Though it isn't much, it certainly sparks the imagination. And, as anyone who knows much about Henry VIII would conclude, the monument would have been one of the most beautiful and spectacular in England.

Source: Henry VIII's Tomb via the College of St. George.

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  1. Pamelalsop@gmail.comJanuary 28, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    How did King Henry's coffin split open & what exactly happened? Did dogs actually drink the liquids that came from the coffin?

    1. I had read that when Henry died and his body was carted off, the body was covered except for parts that were exposed. There was some blood that may have been seeping from from either Henry's ulcerous leg, or a wound that was inflicted to "bleed" the king in the belief that it might make him well. As his body was carted off through the streets, a dog or dogs were said to have lapped up the fluids that fell to the ground. It was either months or years, when Henry's coffin had been lying in the vault, that robbers broke in and opened Henry's coffin. Later, King James I or some other king's coffin, had been placed on top of Henry's and eventually the top of Henry's coffin had collapsed. The robbers left Queen Jane's coffin undisturbed.