Richard II’s visit to Edward II’s tomb, 1390.

Edward II‘s “tomb” is, as is well-known, to be found in Gloucester Cathedral. What is less well-known is that Richard II wanted it become a shrine, and for his great-grandfather to become St. Edward of Caernarfon.

Interestingly, we cannot even be entirely sure that Edward II’s remains lie in the tomb. Kathryn Warner has produced persuasive evidence that Edward did not die at Berkeley but survived to live out his life as a religious in Italy. If that is correct, then the remains in the tomb may be a substitute. Alternatively, Edward III may have gone to the trouble of repatriating his father’s body and installing it in the tomb. We shall probably never know.

In the autumn of 1390, according to the Westminster Chronicle, King Richard travelled to Gloucester to visit his great-grandfather’s tomb, perhaps to venerate it. He had political reasons, of course, for wanting to elevate Edward to sainthood. The deposition of Edward was an uncomfortable precedent for Richard, especially given that his uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, had quite recently threatened him with a similar fate. It was important for Richard to prove his great-grandfather ‘right’ and thereby put a spoke in his own opponents’ wheel.

Richard was met at Gloucester, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London ‘and other bishops with clergy and lawyers in attendance’ to discuss the miracles that had allegedly occurred at Edward’s tomb, to consider whether they were genuine, and to determine whether to send evidence to the Pope in support of the proposals for Edward’s canonisation.

Though the Chronicle does not say so, it is obvious that the King’s will prevailed, whatever anyone else may have thought. Richard commissioned a book of miracles which was eventually sent to the Pope in 1395. The matter was pursued in 1397, but due to Richard’s deposition in 1399, the project failed.

Had Richard not been deposed but instead had been triumphant, it seems highly likely that eventually Edward would have been canonised. Given this was the time of the papal schism, the Pope needed the King of England rather more than the King of England needed the Pope. Pressure would no doubt have continued to be applied, with suitable lubrication with gold coins. As it was, the House of Lancaster had no interest in the matter.

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