Henry VIII’s Tomb

In my previous article The Tale of The Terracotta Tombs of Oxborough and East Anglia I mentioned that Henry VIII requisitioned the tomb Cardinal Wolsey had been building for himself. I found this fact intriguing because it is well known that King Henry VIII’s body does not lie in any grand, ostentatious, tomb within Westminster Abbey, with all the regal pomp one would expect of such a narcissistic king, but instead rests almost forgotten in a vault under the Quire in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. It is rather surprising that one of England’s most famous monarchs should have ended up thus, especially when we know he had taken over Cardinal Wolsey’s grand Italian Renaissance-style tomb, so what happened?

Wolsey’s magnificent tomb had been partially built by Benedetto da Rovezzano when the king appropriated it after Wolsey’s death, Giovanni de Maiano took over the project for the king, resulting in a kind of Italian Renaissance flat-pack, build-it-yourself tomb, ready for when the fateful day should come that Henry VIII should prove mortal after all, and discover first hand if he or the pope was right. The tomb remained unconstructed in Henry’s lifetime, and it fell to his children to ensure their father was interred within its magnificence for posterity to wonder at in awe. Unfortunately for Henry, none of his children appear to have cared enough for him to have the tomb finished and erected. King Edward VI paid the sculptors for some additional work and left instructions in his will to have it erected after his demise; Queen Mary I seems to have simply ignored it, and Elizabeth I had all the components of it moved to Windsor Castle and put in storage. There it sat collecting dust until 1646, when anything of value was sold off by the Commonwealth to pay for garrisoning Windsor Castle. All that was left was the vast, black marble sarcophagus which remained in the bowels of Windsor almost forgotten until George III had the brilliant idea of what to do with it… deeming the huge sarcophagus fit for a national hero, he presented it to hold the body of Horatio Viscount Nelson within the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, where it stands atop of his tomb to this day.

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