The missing arm of Henry VI….

Henry VI – Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

I have to admit that I didn’t know Henry VI‘s arm was ever missing (post mortem!) let alone that it had been replaced by a bone from something else! How very irreverent.

In 1471, Edward IV first buried the defeated Lancastrian king Henry at Chertsey, presumably all in one piece. Chertsey was out of the way, and Edward probably hoped this would lessen the likelihood of a cult springing up, and with it demands that he be made a saint. Alas, this Yorkist guile didn’t work. Miracles and healings were soon said to have been credited to ‘Saint Henry’. The monks of Chertsey were delighted, because all the pilgrims meant an awful lot of dosh for their abbey.

Fast forward a year or so to the reign of Richard III (Yes, him! That rotter is bound to be the guilty party, right?) Well, he ordered Henry’s remains to be taken from Chertsey and entombed in the Chapel of St George at Windsor, which was much more prestigious and fitting for Henry, but not at all to the liking of the monks of Chertsey.

According to this article by The Wine Spectator if you now fast forward a few centuries to 1910 you’ll read of an exhumation taking place under the direction of George V.

George V – National Portrait Gallery

This exhumation discovered that Henry was missing an arm, and someone had replaced it with a pig bone. A what? Shock! Horror! Who would do such a dreadful thing?

Well, for once, Richard III does not get the blame, nor is it even suggested that the bone was once part of a white boar. Why? Because—set Richard and his boar aside—at around the time of Henry’s transference from Chertsey to Windsor, the former acquired, somewhat suspiciously, an arm bone belonging to St Blaise of Sebaste. Hmmm…. Perhaps Henry’s transfer to Windsor began on a Friday, because the smell of fish is somewhat strong.

Mind you, Blaise is indeed associated with a pig. Apparently when under arrest by the Romans, he encountered an old woman whose pig had been taken by a wolf. At Blaise’s command the wolf gave the pig back. And handed over its own bone at the same time. For the legend and other information about St Blaise, go here.

The Chertsey monks were in the habit of offering “a sip of wine poured through the arm bone of St. Blaise to pilgrims suffering from throat pain”. Ew. I don’t like the sound of that, no matter whose bone it was. Alas, St Blaise’s arm bone has disappeared from Chertsey, so modern science has no way of finding out to whom it had originally belonged. My money’s on Henry VI.

There is more about the revealing exhumation here.


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