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King Henry VIII is buried where?! You're joking!

Henry VIII's iconic, Holbein created, image is known worldwide. He stares out of the painting at the viewer, his confrontational stance leaving us in no doubt of who is in charge. He's the king who had 6 wives, the king who got rid of anyone who dared disagree with him, who tired of wives like a child tires of toys..... The truth and the facts are somewhat simplified for the wider audience but there is no doubt that he is probably England's most notorious monarch.
Henry VIII

So, you can be justifiably surprised to learn that Henry's final resting place was an unmarked grave under the Quire in St George's Chapel, Windsor.

He was buried there on 16th February 1547 next to the body of his third wife, and mother to his heir, Jane Seymour.

Henry may have fully believed in his divine right to rule but he was also a man with insecurities and where he could hammer home the message of his importance to his contemporaries, he would.

Whether you think Henry fully believed that he was God's annointed on Earth, or his show of self belief and self importance was a cover up for insecurities, or it's a mixture of both, there is little doubt that where pomp, ceremony and self indulgent displays of prowess and power were concerned Henry did not hold back!

Indeed, Henry VIII, as his father before him, used art and symbolism consciously, purposely and effectively to send a message to their contemporaries, "We are the rightful Kings of England, appointed and supported by God".

So, how come when it came to arguably the most important and enduring symbol of himself that Henry would be leaving to the world, his grave, did he find himself in an unmarked vault, underneath the Quire in St George's Chapel at Windsor? It's a far cry from the resting place of his father and mother in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

A black marble sarcophagus, confiscated by Henry from Cardinal Wolsey, was at Windsor. Drawings have been found showing additions to the sarcophagus suggesting that Henry had intended it for himself. Henry did not like to talk of death, not his own anyway so maybe this was a reason it was not finished? - Henry simply did not want to face up to his own mortality. The sarcophagus remained at Windsor for another 300 years and now holds the coffin of Nelson, in St Paul's Cathedral, London.


Black marble slab marking the entrance to the tomb in which Henry VIII rests.

Ok, so Henry doesn't like to think about his own death but 3 of his children followed him to the throne - did none of them wish to honour their father with a fitting monument?

Short answer is 'No'. At any rate none of them did and there are a number of theories as to why. Lack of money, lack of will and as time went on maybe it just wasn't a priority.

Edward VI, who succeeded his father, was 9 years old at the time he came to the throne and was under the guidance of 'The Lord Protector' Edward Seymour, his Uncle. Edward died at the age of just 15 years and so we can surmise that his father's tomb was just not high on his list of priorities.

Although Edward's mother, Jane Seymour, had not been treated badly by Henry, that could not be said for the mothers of his other two children. Mary I, who succeeded Edward VI, could remember all too vividly the cruel treatment herself and her mother, Katherine of Aragon, had endured at the hand's of her father when he failed in his efforts to secure a divorce from Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Mary was forced to betray her beliefs and her mother and so it would possibly have been surprising for her to have wanted to treat her father's memory with any kind of glorification. Besides, she was far too busy trying to reestablish the catholic faith in England and links with the Pope and Rome.

After Mary I comes Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth I is not known to have spoken of her mother in public however a ring she wore was, after her death, found to open up to show a miniature portrait of her mother, and one of herself, inside. Although she had only been a little girl of 2 years old when her mother was beheaded at the Tower of London, Elizabeth felt a connection to her and, privately at least, kept her memory alive.

We could surmise from all of this that once Henry's mortal presence was gone, his children were not going to be his memory's biggest sponsors!

A black marble stone now marks the vault, which also contains the remains of Charles I and and infant child of Queen Anne (Stuart), but was only put there almost 300 years later on the orders of William IV. Thousands of visitors walk over his remains every year but without the stone (thanks William) would never know they were so close to the infamous Henry VIII! 

St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Written by Philippa Brewell for British History Tours

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