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Royal Burials: Westminster Abbey

Over a millennium of royal traditions have taken place at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has been entwined with royalty since its foundation. All but two coronations have taken place there, as have 16 royal weddings (beginning with that of King Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland, and most recently that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011).

There is a long and storied history of the monarchs who rest at Westminster Abbey, stretching from the 1060s to the War of the Roses, into the Tudor era, and beyond. Rulers and consorts lie together eternally.

In total, 16 kings and queens of England are buried at Westminster Abbey, although current tradition favours St George’s Chapel as the final resting place of many recent monarchs, with the exception of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, who are buried at Frogmore.

What now is Westminster Abbey is believed to have been founded in 960. King Edward the Confessor spent the decade between 1042 and 1052 rebuilding St Peter’s Abbey in the current location, but the current Abbey was built around 1245 by King Henry III. Further additions, including the towers, have been added throughout the centuries.

Edward the Confessor and his wife Edith are buried there, with Edward dying just a week after the Abbey was consecrated, although it would not be completed until the 1090s.

Henry III, a devout follower of Edward the Confessor, was buried at the church’s high altar in 1272 as Edward had been. His body was later moved by his son and successor.

A string of Plantagenet kings and consorts are buried in the Abbey, among them Edward I (whose tomb bears a faint Latin inscription: “Edwardus Primus Scottorum Malleus hic est, 1308. Pactum Serva” – “Here is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, 1308. Keep the Vow”), Edward II, and Richard II.

The supposed remains of Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower, are interred at Westminster Abbey. Upon the discovery of children’s bones under a stairway in the Tower of London in 1674, King Charles II ordered that they be placed in an urn bearing the names Edward and Richard (in his lifetime the Duke of York). In 1933, the bones were examined again, and it was discovered that the skeletons were incomplete and were mixed with animal bones. There is no concrete proof that the bones belong to the young king and his brother, and it is likely to stay that way, as further examinations of the bones have been declined.

Anne Neville, consort of the controversial King Richard III, is buried at Westminster Abbey. Her husband’s long missing remains were found under a car park in Leicester in 2012, but his remains were reburied in 2015 at Leicester Cathedral instead of in the Abbey alongside his wife.

Henry VII wrested the throne of England away from Richard III, the last York king, in 1483 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, thereby ending the War of the Roses. He, along with his wife Elizabeth of York (daughter of King Edward IV), ensured the succession of a long line of Tudor monarchs and united warring factions.

Henry VIII is the only Tudor monarch that wasn’t buried at Westminster Abbey. The rest of the Tudors lay within Henry VII’s Lady Chapel. Henry VIII is instead buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle next to his third wife, Jane Seymour.

His parents are buried side by side, while his queen regnant daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, share a tomb. His much longed-for son, Edward VI, is buried there as well in a grave that was unmarked until 1966. Only one of his wives, Anne of Cleves, is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Queen Mary I was interred on 14 December 1558 after succumbing to what is believed to be cancer, and although she had desired to be buried next to her mother, Catherine of Aragon, who was buried at Peterborough Cathedral in 1536, she instead shares a tomb with her younger half-sister and heir, Elizabeth, whose coffin is stacked atop hers.

John Stow, a chronicler of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession on 28 April 1603, wrote that “Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man.”

A Latin inscription on the sisters’ tomb reads, “”Regno consortes & urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis.” This translates to “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

King James VI and I is buried at Westminster Abbey along with his consort, Anne of Denmark. His resting place was lost for centuries but was found again in the Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in the 1800s.

King Charles II of England and Scotland was buried in Westminster Abbey upon his death on 14 February 1685. Per Wikipedia, it was “without any manner of pomp.”

Joint rulers King William III and Queen Mary II are buried alongside each other. The Queen died in 1694, while the King died in 1702. The Queen’s funeral was the first royal funeral, per Wikipedia, “attended by all members of both Houses of Parliament.”

The Queen’s sister, and heir, Queen Anne is buried within the Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, as is George II – currently the last monarch to be buried there.

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