Readers may remember in my last blog on this subject how I said that I was astounded as to just how many royals were buried in St George’s Chapel at Windsor, I can safely say that I was not shocked at the list that are buried in Westminster Abbey.
The Abbey after all has seen every Monarch’s coronation held here since William the Conqueror, and has played host to many a royal wedding, the most recent being that of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Westminster Abbey is also, however, a resting place for many royals, and here once again, I want to share that information with you.
Saberht Of Essex- Saberht was King of Essex from 604-616, and is known as the first East Saxon king to have been converted to Christianity. Medieval legend claimed that Saberht and his wife Ethelgoda had founded the original abbey building at the site of the current Westminster Abbey, and were subsequently buried in the church. In the reign of Henry III, their supposed remains were transferred into a tomb which The King had specially made for them close to the entrance of the royal chapels.
Edward the Confessor- King Edward was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and he is usually regarded as the last king of the House of Wessex. Edward reigned from 1042 until 1066, and has traditionally been seen as unworldly and pious. His reign is also notable for the disintegration of royal power in England, and the advance in power of the Godwin family. Edward died on either 5/6 January 1066, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on the same day his successor Harold Godwinson was crowned. Harold was killed the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.
King Henry III- Henry was King of England from 1216 until his death in 1272. Henry ascended to the throne at the early age of nine in the middle of the First Baron’s War. Henry travelled less than his predecessors, investing heavily only in a handful of palaces and castles. He married Eleanor of Provence with whom he had five children. Henry is also known for adopting Edward the Confessor as his patron saint.
Henry died in Westminster on the evening of 16th November 1272, and was succeeded by his son, Edward, who became King Edward I. At his request Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church’s high altar in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. In 1290, however, Edward I moved his father’s body to its current location in a much grander tomb.
King Edward I- Edward was King of England from 1272 until his death in 1307. Edward spent much of his reign reforming royal administration and common law, but his attention was turned towards military affairs. Edward suppressed a minor rebellion in Wales in 1276; however, in 1282, a second rebellion resulted in a full scale war of conquest. Successful in his attempts, Edward subjected Wales to English rule. While encamped at Burgh by Sands, just south of the Scottish border, Edward contracted dysentery, and was found dead on 7th July 1307. Edward’s body was brought south and, after a very lengthy vigil, he was buried at Westminster Abbey on 27th October.
King Edward III- Edward was King of England from 1st February 1327 until his death just over fifty years later. After the disastrous reign of his father, King Edward II, Edward is known for his military success and for restoring royal authority.
Crowned at the age of fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother and her consort Roger Mortimer, Edward led a successful coup at the age of seventeen against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign. Edward’s claim to the throne in France started what would become known as the Hundred Years War. The war went exceptionally well for England.
Edward’s later years were marked by international failure and domestic strife, however. On 21st June 1377, Edward died of a stroke, and was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, King Richard II.
King Richard II- Richard was a son of Edward, The Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, King Edward III. Upon the death of his father, Richard became first in line to the throne. Therefore, when Edward III died the following year, Richard ascended to the throne at the tender age of ten.
Richard’s first years as king saw government in the hands of a series of councils. The political community preferred this rather than a regency which would be led by The King’s uncle, John of Gaunt. After Gaunt’s death in 1399, King Richard disinherited his uncle’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Henry invaded England in June 1399, his goal being to claim the throne for himself. Bolingbroke met little resistance and deposed Richard. Richard died in captivity the following year. It is probably true to say that he was murdered. His body was moved to Westminster Abbey in 1413 upon the orders of King Henry V.
King Henry V- Henry was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. After the death of his father, King Henry IV, Henry now assumed control of the country, and embarked on a war with France in the continuing Hundred Years War. His military successes culminated in his very famous victory at the Battle of Agincourt. This also saw him come close to actually conquering France. The Treaty of Troyes recognised Henry V as regent and heir apparent to the French throne in 1420, and he was subsequently married to Charles VI of France’s daughter Catherine de Valois. Henry died suddenly on 31st August 1422 at the Château de Vincennes near Paris, most likely from dysentery which he had contracted during the siege of Meaux. Henry was brought home to England, and was buried at Westminster Abbey on 7th November 1422.
The four kings just mentioned were all buried with their wives, who in turn were all queen consorts of England. They were Eleanor of Castile, Phillippa of Hainault, Anne of Bohemia and Catherine de Valois respectively.
King Edward V- Edward was king of England from 9th April 1483 until 26th June of the same year. His reign began after the death of his father, King Edward IV, although Edward was never crowned. His 86-day reign was dominated by the rule of his uncle and lord protector Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III. Edward and his brother Richard were the ‘princes in the Tower’ who disappeared after being sent to heavily guarded lodgings at the Tower of London. It is unknown the exact date on which Edward died, though it is assumed it was 1483, and responsibility for the death of both boys is widely attributed to King Richard III, although evidence suggests there could be at least another four suspects. This is a mystery that may never be solved.
Anne Neville- Anne Neville was Queen of England as the wife of King Richard III. As a member of the powerful House of Neville, she was caught up in the Wars of the Roses fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster for the English Crown. She was betrothed to Edward of Westminster from an early age, though after the death of Edward she married the Duke of Gloucester, brother of King Edward IV and the Duke of Clarence.
When Richard ascended to the throne in 1483, Anne became Queen of England. There was talk during her reign that her husband wished to divorce her and marry his niece, Elizabeth of York; this was never proven. Anne Neville died on 16th March 1485 of tuberculosis at Westminster. She was buried in the Abbey in an unmarked grave to the right of the high altar.
King Henry VII- Henry was King of England from his seizing of the crown from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth until his death. Henry’s reign marked the beginning of the Tudor era, and he was the last king of England to win the throne on the battlefield. Henry and his reign can be credited for the restoration of political stability and a number of administrative, economic and diplomatic initiatives, although the later parts of his reign were characterised by a financial rapacity which stretched the bounds of legality. Henry died at Richmond Palace on 21st April 1509 from tuberculosis, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
King Edward VI- Born on 12th October 1537, it was just over nine years later that Edward ascended the throne after the death of his father, King Henry VIII. The son of the former king and Jane Seymour, Edward was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty. During Edward’s whole reign, the realm was governed by a regency council, first led by Edward Seymour, then John Dudley and finally The Duke of Northumberland.
When Edward fell ill at the age of 15, he and his council drew up the Devise for the Succession, attempting to stop the country being returned to Catholicism. Edward named his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir, and excluded his half sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Edward died aged 15 at Greenwich Palace on 6th July 1553, and was buried in Henry VII’s Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey on 8th August 1553 with reformed rites performed by Thomas Cranmer.
Queen Mary I- Mary was Queen of England from July 1553 until her death over five years later. She was the first child of King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. When her half brother, Edward VI, excluded her from the line of succession, their cousin, Lady Jane Grey, was initially proclaimed Queen. Mary assembled a force in East Anglia and successfully deposed Jane.
Mary is remembered for her restoration of Roman Catholicism, and her subsequent executions of Protestants caused her opponents to give her the sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’. From May 1558, Mary was ill and weak from influenza, and died on 17th November 1558. Although her will stated she wished to be buried beside her mother, Mary was interred in Westminster Abbey in a tomb she would eventually share with another family member.
Queen Elizabeth I- Often called ‘The Virgin Queen’, ‘Gloriana’ or ‘Good Queen Bess’, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty after ascending to the throne upon the death of Queen Mary I. One of Elizabeth’s first moves as Queen was the establishment of an English Protestant Church of which she became the supreme governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement later evolved into today’s Church of England. It was always expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir so as to continue the Tudor line; she never did.
Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Francis Drake. Elizabeth died on 24th March 1603 at Richmond Palace between two and three in the morning. Her coffin was carried down river at night to Whitehall, and on 28th April, her funeral took place at Westminster Abbey where she was interred in the same tomb as Queen Mary I.
The tomb in which Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I are buried has the following inscription:
Regno consortes & urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis
(Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection)
King James I- James was King of England from 24th March 1603 until his death. James was already King of Scotland when he succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603. He continued to reign in all three Kingdoms (England, Ireland and Scotland) for another 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era. After the union of the crowns James based himself in England, only returning to Scotland once. He styled himself as King of Great Britain and Ireland. During his reign, the Plantation of Ulster and British colonisation of the Americas began.
King James died at Theobalds House on 27th March 1625 during a violent attack of dysentery. His funeral was a magnificent yet disorderly affair which took place on 7th May, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in a tomb whose position was lost for several centuries. In the 19th Century, his lead coffin was found in the Henry VII vault.
King Charles II- Charles was Monarch of the three Kingdoms (England, Scotland, Ireland) from 29th May 1660 until 1685. Charles’s father was executed at Whitehall on 30th January 1649 at the climax of the English Civil War. England entered into the period known as the English Commonwealth, and the country was a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. The restoration of the Monarchy followed the death of Cromwell in 1658, and on 29th May 1660, Charles was received in London to public acclaim.
Charles II was popularly known as the ‘Merry Monarch’ in reference to both the liveliness and hedonism of his court, and general relief at the return of normality after the decade of Cromwell’s rule. On 2nd February 1685, Charles suffered a sudden apoplectic fit, and died at the age of 54, four days later, at Whitehall Palace. Being as he had no legitimate children (though at least 12 illegitimate), Charles was succeeded by his brother James. Charles was buried in the Abbey on 14th February ‘without any manner of pomp’.
King William III & Queen Mary II- Following the glorious revolution which resulted in the deposition of her father, James II, Mary and her cousin William of Orange became co-monarchs of England, Ireland and Scotland. When William was in England, Mary wielded less power than him, though he did rely on her heavily. When William was involved in military campaigns abroad, Mary did rule alone, proving herself to be a powerful, firm and effective ruler. Queen Mary II died at Kensington Palace on 28th December 1694 leaving William to rule alone. She was buried at Westminster Abbey on 5th March the following year after a very harsh winter. William died in 1702 from pneumonia, and his sister-in-law, Anne, became Queen Regnant of England. His death brought an end to the Dutch House of Orange. He was buried at Westminster Abbey alongside his wife.
Queen Anne- Anne was Queen of England from 8th March 1702 until her death. She ascended to the throne after the death of her brother-in-law, William III. On 1 May 1707, under the acts of union, two of her realms – England and Scotland – united as a single sovereign state. She continued to reign under the title of Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.
As Queen, Anne favoured moderate Tory politicians who were more likely to share her Anglican religious views more than their Whig opponents. Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life, and she died on 1st August 1714. Despite 17 pregnancies, she died childless, and was buried beside her husband in the Henry VII chapel at the Abbey on 24th August. George Elector of Hanover was her successor.
King George II- George was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1727 until his death. George was the last British monarch born outside Great Britain; he was born and brought up in Northern Germany. When his father inherited the British throne in 1714, George was first in the line of succession, and after the death of King George I, George became King George II. As King, George exercised little control over British domestic policy: This was largely controlled by Parliament. He participated in the Battle of Dettingen, and thus became the last British monarch to lead an army into battle. When Prince Frederik died in 1751, George’s grandson became heir apparent, and ultimately King George III. On 25th October, George II died of an aortic aneurysm, and was succeeded by his grandson. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on the 11th November. He left instructions that the sides of his and his wife’s coffins were to be removed so that their remains could mingle.
Two other notable royals buried at the Abbey are Mary, Queen of Scots (Mother of King James I) and Elizabeth of Bohemia (Daughter of King James I).
So there you go, over a thousand years worth of royals all buried in one place… Astonishing, I know, yet remarkable, don’t you think? It is truly remarkable to think that over a thousand years worth of this country’s history is interred in that building, and that, in another thousand years, there will be a whole new generation of royals laid to rest there.
There is one more place of royal burials that I would like to share with you, and once again, it’s not that far away from this one… You know where it is? Great. You don’t know? Again, watch this space.