A short while ago, I came upon a reference to the foundation stone of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey (visible in this illustration of the abbey as it may have been in the Tudor period) have been laid first in April 1483. It was from here, as follows:-
“. . .Elizabeth [of York] was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. . .”
I asked the Henry “Tudor” Society blog if they could clarify this date, which I thought would probably mean that Edward IV had some input or other. There was no response. I decided the whole thing must be an error, because the date for laying of the foundation stone is always given as 1503.
Nevertheless, the point niggled away. What if it were true? What if that foundation stone had indeed been laid in April 1483? This, of course, led me to consider what was going on in that month of that year. Answer? The death of Edward IV. Not yet the accession of Richard III, because Edward’s eldest son was to be Edward V. Was Edward IV’s sudden death merely a curious coincidence? Regarding the date, not anything untoward.
I thought no more of it. Then, while pursuing the part of the reference below that refers to Richard III having removed Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey by violence, I noticed the accompanying details about the so-called saintly king’s intended resting place in Westminster Abbey.
It reads as follows, from The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy by John Steane, page 183:
“. . .While Edward [IV] was king the remains of Henry VI were left in obscurity at Chertsey, whither they had been removed after his [Henry’s] mysterious death in the Tower. The government had given out that Henry died from ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, but popular belief was that he had been murdered, possibly by the Duke of Gloucester. . . (Pause for savage expletives!!!) . . . Prominent political figures who died by violence were likely to earn a popular reputation for sanctity. In Henry VI’s case, bouts of insanity and a reputation for other-worldliness in his own lifetime may have encouraged the formation of a saintly cult. Richard III took steps to supervise this phenomenon more closely when he authorized the removal of the body of Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Although not canonized he [Henry VI] was popularly regarded as a saint and pilgrims flocked to Windsor, contributing to a decline in the numbers wending their way to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury.
“. . .A rather unseemly wrangle followed. [My note: When, exactly? In Richard’s reign, or after Bosworth?] The abbeys of Chertsey and Westminster both put forward claims to the body. Chertsey’s claim was on the grounds that Richard III had taken it by violence to Windsor [Huh? I hope this is just a generally accepted term for moving remains around, not yet another accusation to lay at Richard’s door.] Westminster based its case on the fact that workmen and vergers at the abbey had clear recollections that Henry had marked out a place for himself in the abbey choir during his lifetime. The canons of Windsor joined in, strenuously arguing in favour of the saintly royal corpse remaining there. The upshot was that the new chapel prepared at Westminster was used for its founder, Henry VII, while Windsor kept Henry VI under the south aisle of St George’s chapel. His arms are carved in the fan vaulting over the bay in which he had been reburied after his arrival from Chertsey. . .”
The above details are also to be found in Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, who says that Henry VII intended a new Westminster chapel for Henry VI, whom he thought would soon be canonised. But Henry VI wasn’t canonised, and Stanley believes Henry VII wasn’t prepared to lavish money on a non-saint. So he appropriated the planned chapel for himself alone. (This is on page 138 of my February 1911 edition.) All of which suggests that the present Henry VII chapel certainly wasn’t originally intended just for Tudor himself, but for him to rest beside St Henry VI. And presumably soak up the reflected glory.
So, a chapel at Westminster, already commenced for Henry VI, was eventually used for solely for Henry VII. .Oh, and by the way, this would presumably mean that Henry VII would be removing Henry VI’s remains by violence, since Windsor was hardly likely to surrender their royal golden goose without protest. And there is a strong suggestion that the remains were actually brought to Westminster, and when the canonisation failed to materialize, were returned to Windsor. Very respectfully, of course. And maybe followed by a Tudor scowl.
However, Henry VI had apparently already chosen his place in Westminster, but in the abbey choir, not Henry VII’s new chapel, which was erected on the site of the old Lady Chapel, behind the altar. This made me wonder if Henry VI’s known personal choice of Westminster had led to an earlier plan to accommodate the saintly king’s wish. OK, it’s a possible flight of fancy on my part, but it could perhaps offer an explanation for the intriguingly rogue mention of April 1483
I don’t think there is any doubt that in 1503 Henry VII commenced his own chapel, the one that is still there now. But just how much of a previous “new” Henry VI chapel might have remained very close by? An earlier foundation stone, perhaps laid around the time of Edward IV’s death in April 1483? It would have been superseded by the 1503 foundation stone, of course, but there is still the thought (mine, I own up) that another chapel could have been planned from the time of Edward IV/Richard III.
Then again, maybe in April 1483, this originally planned new chapel was not intended for Henry VI at all. Might Edward IV, knowing he was on his deathbed, have decided he wanted to be laid to rest in Westminster? I know he left in his will that it was to be Windsor, but might he have changed his mind at the eleventh hour? He surely wouldn’t normally have built anything for holy but pesky Henry VI, whom he’d despatched to obscurity in Chertsey. Out of sight, out of mind. Edward had no reason to think fondly of Henry VI, unless, of course, his own imminent death made him want to take precautions for an assured entry into heaven. In which case, of course, why not bring the holy chap to Windsor? But just maybe, with the Grim Reaper approaching the castle, a grand joint venture with Henry VI at Westminster would seem just the necessary safeguard? Being nice to the royal “saint” would earn brownie points in heaven and on earth, which I’m sure is what Henry VII was to think in turn. Edward would also have been content that his son and brother, Richard of Gloucester, would carry out these last-minute plans. Edward had no scruples about intending his illegitimate son to ascend the throne at Richard’s expense. In fact, I don’t think Edward had many scruples at all. If any. But that’s beside the point.
However, if Edward had decided belatedly on his own burial in Westminster, it did not come to fruition. He was interred in Windsor. That is not to say that his successor, Richard III, did not intend to honour his late brother’s possible last wish (if such a wish had existed). Who knows what Richard had in mind? He left no record, so people like me have to read the facts and try to interpret them, and as I am not a historian, the result is rambling articles like this!
Moving human remains around to different places was quite common back then. In 1476, on Edward’s instructions, his father and brother had been removed from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, escorted on the journey by Richard, so it was certainly established practice in their immediate family. Richard had Henry VI brought from Chertsey to Windsor, even though Henry had wanted to rest in neither, but in Westminster. But this may have been expediency on Richard’s part, to accommodate the growing cult around Henry’s tomb. Maybe even to reflect a heavenly glow over Edward IV? Like so many things with Richard, we cannot know anything for certain.
So. . .what was this possible other chapel at Westminster? Surely not anything to do with the old Lady Chapel, which was definitely pulled down to accommodate Henry VII’s grand plan. No, for there seems to be a suggestion that this enigmatic earlier project was something new in April 1483. Might it have been a magnificent tomb for the House of York? Might Richard have eventually planned to bring Edward IV from Windsor and George of Clarence from Tewkesbury? Maybe his father and older brother Edmund from Fotheringhay? Perhaps even Henry VI from Windsor? Whatever his motives and final intentions, the chapel if it existed (for this is all “reading between the lines” on my part) was somewhere Richard would have seen, with great sadness, as a final resting place for his queen, his son. All too soon, of course, it would have been his own too.
But it was never built. Maybe never even planned. Who knows? I just have this feeling that Henry VII was almost pipped at the post by a Yorkist chapel. If only everyone today flocked to see the York Chapel, with all the grand tombs of the family of Richard III. If only. . .
Well, if you have the stamina, here’s a link that will tell you all about who’s buried where in Westminster Abbey. Including, of course, that urn, which a later dynasty decided should be in Henry VII’s chapel. Hmm. Wouldn’t you think it should have been at Windsor, alongside the boy’s father, Edward IV? But then, that wouldn’t suit the Tudor propaganda, which the Stuarts were clearly keen to perpetuate.
I have now acquired a copy of Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, published by John Murray, which is filled to the brim with detailed information, dates, people and events in the abbey. A wonderful book, if a little disapproving and traditionalist about Richard III. Still, the rest of the book makes up for this failing! Well, just about.
Humphrey Duke of Gloucester from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book
A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.
Greenwich Palace, or Placentia as it is often known, was built around 1433 by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who named it Bella Court after he had been granted the Manor of Greenwich by his nephew Henry Vl. There had been been an even older palace on that site, perhaps dating from the reign of Edward l. Henry lV dated his will from his ‘Manor of Greenwich January 22nd 1408′ and the palace appears to have been his favourite residence. However, the grant in 1433 of 200 acres of land was for the purpose of enclosing it as a park. It would seem that Humphrey was pleased with the spot because 4 years later he and his ill-fated wife, Eleanor Cobham, obtained a similar grant and in that, licence was given for the owners to ’embattle and build with stone’ as well as ‘to enclose and make a tower and ditch within the same and a certain tower within the part to build and edify’ (1)
Part of the drawing of Greenwich Palace by Anthony van der Wyngaerde 1558 with Duke Humphrey’s tower on top of the hill.
Accordingly soon after this Humphrey commenced building the tower within what is now the site of the Royal Observatory which was then called Greenwich Castle, and he likewise rebuilt the old palace on the spot where the west wing of the Royal Naval College now stands which he renamed from its agreeable situation, Pleazaunce or Placentia although this name was not commonly used until the reign of Henry Vlll.
Another view of van der Wyngaerde’s drawing of Greenwich Palace c 1558
Upon Humphrey’s death the palace was granted to his nemesis, Margaret of Anjou. Margaret added embellishments including terracotta tiles bearing her monogram, filled the windows with glass and built a landing stage and treasure house (2)
A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767
Later Edward IV enlarged the park, stocked it with deer and bestowed it as a residence upon Elizabeth Wydeville. Greenwich has been mentioned as one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and it certainly crops up regularly in Edward’s itinerary (3). A joust was held there on the occasion of Richard of Shrewsbury’s marriage to Anne Mowbray and it was there at Greenwich on the 19th November 1481 that Anne tragically died at the age of just 8 years old and a few short months later, Edward and Elizabeth’s own daughter, the 15 year old Princess Mary also died on either the 20th or 23rd May 1482. The manuscript covering Mary’s death says she died ‘in the town’ but it is probable this meant the palace and presumably she would have ‘lain in the chapel of the palace with appropriate services and perhaps the attendance of her parents'(3). A week after her death, on the 27th May, Mary’s body was taken to the parish church of Greenwich on the first stage of the final journey to St Georges Chapel, Windsor. Mary may have been visited by her father, Edward lV, a few days before her death. He was at Canterbury on the 17th and back in London on the 23rd which may have been the day that his daughter breathed her last so clearly if he did indeed visit he did not linger. Numerous Wydeville ladies were conspicuous among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daugher, Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley. Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present. Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from the church and begun its last sad journey to Windsor. Mary’s funeral is more than adequately covered in The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs. It may well be that sisters-in-law Anne and Mary knew each other well and that perhaps Greenwich Palace was being used as a royal nursery in much the same way as Sheriff Hutton was later to become, although the age gap would surely have prevented them from being actual playmates.
The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral. Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters. Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side. Greenwich was one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and where her daugher Mary died in 1482.
Greenwich Palace conveniently came into Henry Tudor’s hands when Elizabeth Wydeville was, ummmmm, retired to Bermondsey Abbey on an altogether frivolous charge. It is true to say that Tudor heavily rebuilt the palace between 1498 and 1504, renaming it Placentia, (the pleasant place), and the result of which is that any reference to Placentia usually finds it referred to as a Tudor palace but it is the earlier years of the palace with its Lancastrian and Yorkist links that I find the most intriguing.
Modern plaque commemorating the ‘building’ of Greenwich Palace by Henry Tudor. Visitors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking , with no mention made of the earlier palace, that Tudor was reponsible for the building of Greenwich Palace from the onset.
Later in its long history the palace was to see many important events including the birth of Henry Vlll in 1491. Henry jnr spared no expense in beautifying Placentia and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was solemnised there on the 3 June 1509. Many sumptious banquets, revels and jousts were held there – in Henry’s ‘Manor of Pleazaunce’ – and both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth were born there. Details of these and other less salubrious events such as the arrest of Anne Boleyn are readily available to anyone who is interested in the Tudors and their shenanigans and I will not cover them here. The Tudors were emulated by the Stuarts in choosing Placentia as a favourite residence until Charles ll, finding the old palace greatly decayed, ordered it to be taken down and yet another new palace to be built. Thus Greenwich or Placentia – whichever name you prefer arose, phoenix like from the ashes and a new chapter in its long history commenced.
As a footnote to Greenwich Palace and its rich history, much excitement has been created by the discovery by archaeologists working on the painted hall at the Old Royal Naval College of the discovery of two room, thought to have been used as kitchen or laundry rooms from the old palace. One of these rooms featured a lead-glazed tiled floor and wall cavities which may have been used to store food and drink or even ‘bee boles’ which would have housed beehive baskets or ‘skeps’ during the winter when the bee colonies hibernated.
The cavities from Greenwich Palace believed to be for storing food, drink or even ‘bee boles’.
Tintagel in Cornwall is best known for its connections to King Arthur. However, the castle, although reputed in folklore to be Arthur’s birthplace, does not date from the Dark Ages but from medieval times, being first built by Earl Reginald, the illegitimate son of Henry I, then later remodelled by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III. Earl Richard built most of what we see today, including the ‘Iron Gate’ which guards the cove, as well as the curtain walls, the buttresses augmenting the great hall, and the grand entranceway leading out into the nearby valley.
At one time a chapel to St Julitta stood within the castle walls; although Tintagel was described as ‘ruinous but still strong’ in the 1470’s, King Richard III appointed a chaplain, John Leicrofte to St Julitta’s in 1483. A few years later, not long after Richard’s defeat at Bosworth, Henry VII made one John Upcoate captain of the castle for his ‘services beyond the sea.’
Just above the ruins, standing alone and isolated from the village, is an ancient church dedicated to a very obscure Cornish Saint called Materiana. William of Worcester, journeying through Cornwall in 1478, wrote that she ‘performed a miracle on a man out of his mind, and on one woman and a certain girl upon the Feast of St James.’
In the 15th c, the patronage of Tintagel and St Materiana’s church was entailed to Alice Chaucer, and upon her third marriage to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, the advowson was given to the couple for life.
Eventually this passed to their son John de la Pole (father of John, earl of Lincoln, Richard III’s designated heir after the death of his son). John’s wife was Elizabeth of York, sister to Edward IV and Richard III, and it was likely that Edward asked John and Elizabeth to relinquish rights of patronage. This was done by letters patent in June 1480.
At this particular time, Edward was busy remodelling the Chapel of St George at Windsor, and therefore the remote the Cornish church of St Materiana was assigned to the dean and canons of St George’s ‘to hold to them and their successors forever.’
Even today, whenever a new priest is needed for the parish, the appointment is made by St George’s chapel. The ties between Windsor and Tintagel, created by Edward IV, have never been broken in 500 years.
(Photos show the ruined castle with St Materiana’s church on the cliff, sections of the ruins, and a tile with the eagle of Richard of Cornwall.)
Effigies of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York by Torrigiano
Henry died on 21 April 1509. Henry has come down through history as something of a miser, a tightwad. Whether this is undeserved or otherwise , I do not know, although his Privy Purse Expenses make very interesting reading. He certainly enjoyed gambling, frequently incurring debts (1) as did Elizabeth, his wife, whose debts often Henry paid (2), although on one occasion £100 was given as a loan and to be repaid (3). An astonishing £30 pounds was paid to a ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ (4)..really, Henry! although the ‘little feloo of Shaftesbury’ only received £1 (5), presumably the poor little blighter was not half as attractive as the damoysell. But I digress, because what I wanted to discuss here, are the expenses incurred from Henry’s funeral and tomb, an area in which Henry clearly did not wish to rein in.
I am grateful for the following information which I have gleaned from The Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy – a marvellous book which I can thoroughly recommend.
‘The costs of building the new chapel at Westminster are estimated at around £14,856. The chapel was conceived as Henry’s personal chantry, and there was to be no room for any doubt. Henry’s will instructed that ‘the Walles , Doores, Windows, Archies and Vaults, and Ymages of the same our chappel, wittin and without, be painted, garnished and adorned with our Armes, Bagies, Cognoissants, and other convenient painting, in as goodly and riche maner as suche a work requireth, and as to a Kings wek apperteigneth'(6).
The pendant fan vaulted roof of the Henry Vll chapel adorned with Beaufort portcullis and Tudor Rose ‘Bagies’.
‘The tomb commissioned by Henry itself, featured gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth, plus figures of himself and 4 kneeling lords and a tomb chest of black and white marble housing 12 small images of saints to be crafted by a group of craftsmen. The cost of this tomb was estimated at £1257.6s.8d of which the gilt metal amounted to £1050(7).’
‘The funeral expenses exceeded an unprecedented £7,000 including £ 1,000 pounds of black cloth supplied by 56 merchants and 3,606 lbs of candle wax (8)’
‘The bronze screen enclosing the tomb was supplied by a Thomas Ducheman who was paid £51.8s and housed 32 bronze statues of saints (of which only 6 survive).'(9)
Chantry screen of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York
‘The tomb chest contains an epitaph in bronze recording the achievements of the couple, not least the procreation of Henry Vlll, suggesting his role in the detailing of the monument’ (10)
Tomb of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York
It is ironic that Henry Vlll’s design for his and Jane Seymour’s tomb never came to fruition and only a slab covers the vault which he shares with Charles l. But that is another story.
Slab covering the burial vault of Henry Vlll, St Georges Chapel, Windsor.
This article is quite interesting, although Richard only gets a brief mention, for moving Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Edward IV is in there, of course, and Henry VII’s endeavours too, although he’s not buried there, of course. Wasn’t it grand enough for him? Whatever, he built himself an extravagant but truly beautiful resting place in Westminster Abbey.
See also our previous article.
‘O for pity!–we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils,
Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,
The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,
Minding true things by what their mockeries be.’
I have always been fascinated by the battle of Azincourt since I first watched the grainy images of Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version on a wet afternoon off school sick as a child. What I found so compelling about the film was the layer on layer interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. Olivier set the action in The Globe theatre of 1600 with his actors wearing Elizabethan dress and contemporary hair styles but then as the camera moved through a gauzy curtain as he took the action to Southampton the viewer was transported back to August 1415 and the costumes changed to elaborate and very beautiful copies of C15th dress as he left the confines of…
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