A marble slab marks Henry VIII and Jane Seymour’s final resting place in the Quire of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle; however, this was only intended to be temporary while a grand monument was completed.
In his will, Henry VIII describes the monument as being ‘almost made’ but what is perhaps not so well known is that the original tomb was not Henry’s at all, rather Cardinal Wolsey’s.
In 1524, Thomas Wolsey commissioned the great Italian Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezanno, to construct a magnificent tomb for him. By the time of Wolsey’s fall from favour, the marble base, pillars and statues were appropriated by Henry VIII and redesigned for his own use.
A description of Henry VIII’s tomb, designed by Jacopo Sansovino, appear in John Speed’s The history of great Britaine (London, 1627). It is believed that while compiling his work, Speed had access to a manuscript owned by Nicholas Charles (Lancaster Herald from 1608-1613) showing or describing plans for the construction of the tomb. The original manuscript is lost but the magnificence of Henry’s planned tomb can be gleaned from Speed’s work and from conjectured drawings made by Alfred Higgins in 1894, one of which can be seen here.
Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian, refers to Speed’s work in her description of Henry’s grand tomb,
“No expense was to be spared in crafting the vast edifice, ornamented with ‘fine Oriental stones’ and resplendent with white marble pillars, gilded bronze angels, four life-size images of the King and Queen Jane, and a statue of the King on horseback under a triumphal arch, ‘of the whole stature of a goodly man and a large horse’. In all, there were to be one hundred and thirty four figures, including St George, St John the Baptist, the Prophets, the Apostles and the Evangelists, ‘all of brass gilt as in the pattern appeareth’.”
An effigy of the king was cast and polished in Henry’s lifetime but the monument was not complete by the time of his death in 1547. Even though some work continued during the reign of his children, the monument remained unfinished and in 1646 the Commonwealth parliament sold the effigy of Henry VIII to raise funds.
Four bronze candlesticks from the tomb ended up in St Bavon’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, replicas of which can be seen in St George’s Chapel, next to the High Altar. In 1808, the tomb’s base and black touchstone sarcophagus were moved to the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, to form part of Lord Nelson’s funerary monument, where it can still be seen today.
In 1649, the vault was opened and the body of the executed Charles I was added to it. In the seventeenth century a stillborn child of the future Queen Anne was laid to rest with Charles, Henry and Jane.
Here they remained undisturbed, and in relative obscurity, until the tomb was rediscovered in 1813 during excavations for a new royal vault. Several relics of Charles I were removed, including a piece of vertebrae, a section of beard and a tooth.
George IV requested that a marble slab be inserted to permanently mark the burial site and this was eventually added in 1837 at the behest of William IV.
In 1888, the tomb was opened once more to replace the relics removed in 1813. At this time, A.Y. Nutt, Surveyor to the Dean and Canons, made a watercolour drawing of the vault that can be seen here.
He noted that Henry VIII’s coffin lay in between Charles I and Jane Seymour. The tiny coffin of the infant child of Queen Anne lay on top of the coffin of Charles I. Henry VIII’s coffin was recorded as being two metres in length and badly damaged, with some remains of the king partially visible.
It is ironic that a king, who embodied magnificence and lived so opulently, should lie in a plain vault, marked only by a marble slab.
Read about the death of Henry VIII here.Sources Henry VIII: A 500th Anniversary Exhibition Henry VIII’s Final Resting Place http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/archive-features/image-of-the-month/title1/henry-viii-tomb.html