The Dreadful tale of how the body of a one time Queen of England was treated

The sixth and final wife of Henry VIII rests peacefully in St Mary’s Church in the grounds of Sudeley Castle but it was not always that way. Within a month of Henry VIII’s death, on 28th January 1547, Katherine had agreed to marry a previous suitor, Thomas Seymour. By May the king, her step-son and nephew to her new husband knew of the marriage and it became common knowledge. The couple moved to Sudeley Castle and all should have been happy as the couple expected their first child, expected to be a boy on account of the strength of the kicks within her stomach . This was Katherine’s fourth marriage but first pregnancy. Despite her age, she was in her mid-30s, the pregnancy and birth appear to have gone well but following the birth she developed puerperal fever and died on 5th September 1548.
Katherine became the only English queen to be buried at a private estate, a place in which she should have been guaranteed to rest in peace. However, no one was banking on the English Civil Wars! The estate, under George 6th Lord Chandos, declared for the King and became a base for King Charle’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. It was attacked twice and even occupied for a time by Parliamentarian forces. The occupiers plundered the castle and desecrated the chapel. They dug up graves, used the tower to stable their horses, terrorised the priest and even used the altar as a butchers block! These troops fled the castle on hearing of a royalist victory over a nearby town. However, later on in the wars, a second successful siege by the Parliamentarians marked the end of the castle’s use in the conflict. Following the end of the Civil Wars Lord Chandos was so heavily fined that he had no resources to repair the castle and its chapel. Added to that, the ‘Council of State’ ordered it be “slighted”, further damaged, to render it useless.
So what of Katherine’s body? She lay undisturbed until over 200 years later, in 1782, a group of visitors to the ruins noticed an alabaster panel in the ruined chapel. A local farmer, working the land nearby, was persuaded to dig to see what could be found in the ground near the panel. The story goes that a coffin was found, only 1 foot below the surface with an inscription
Here lyeth Quene Kateryn, Wife to Kyng Henry VIII
He then proceeded to open the coffin and discovered, not bones as he had expected, but a body wrapped in several layers of cloth and well preserved. Not content with his discovery so far, and perhaps egged on by the group, he made an incision in the cloth and found flesh “white and moist” beneath.
This was, regrettably, not the only time poor Katherine’s earthly remains were subjected to the over curious actions of others. According to the account in the guidebook to Sudeley Castle, her coffin was opened numerous times until 1817 when the then Rector of Sudeley had it moved into the Chandos family vault.
Restoration work began on the Castle in the Victorian era under the eager actions of the bachelor Dent brothers from Worcester, who had made a lot of money in the rapidly expanding glove-making industry. Work continued following the inheritance of Sudeley by their nephew and his wife Emma. Although Emma was keen to continue the work on the castle she did not feel that it was right to restore the Chapel. Despite her objections it was rebuilt and Katherine’s remains now little more than dust, were moved into the beautifully, though unmistakably Victorian, tomb with its marble effigy.

Finally Katherine lies in peace, in a fitting monument to a Queen of England.

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