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The Burial and Grave of Henry VII


Detail of the tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York designed by Pietro Torrigiano

Late in the afternoon on 9 May 1509, Henry VII's funeral procession had reached St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Henry VII's household servants carried the procession, all dressed in black, along with noblemen, knights, prelates and officials and heralds. Monks and friars rolled a carriage with the King's coffin, pulled by five courses decorated in black velvet and heraldic flags showing Henry's titles. The coffin was covered in cloth-of-gold cushions and on top laid the life-size effigy of the King, dressed in the robes of parliament and holding the scepter in his right hand and his left gripped the orb. The effigy was taken from Henry's death mask.

Bishop John Fisher

Twelve yeomen of the guard carried the coffin and heavy effigy inside to the high altar where the office for the dead was sung. A wake was held throughout the night and the next morning after mass, Bishop John Fisher placed his skull in front of him and started the funeral sermon, covering Henry's achievements during his reign, his illness and last days and the King's admirable death.

Later that afternoon, the procession resumed its journey and reached Westminster for the King's burial the next day.

Bishop William Warham by Hans Holbein the Younger

At 6 am on the morning of 11 May 1509 the nobles clergymen and heralds assembled at Westminster Abbey's Lady Chapel. Three masses were sung and with the last, a requiem mass being led by Bishop William Warham of Canterbury, while Sir Edward Howard (Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Surrey's (later Duke of Norfolk) son), was dressed in the King's armour, bearing his shield and poleaxe and riding a warhorse through the abbey doors up to the altar. Dismounting there, he was stripped of the armour and weapons which were taken with great reverence by the Duke of Buckingham and Earl of Northumberland.

Henry's body was lowered in the vault, next to his 'dearest late wife the queen' and after Bishop Warham threw soil into the open coffin, the late King's household officers broke their staves and threw it into the grave. The herald shouted 'The King is dead, long live the King!' The Tudor Dynasty had really begun.

Henry VII © Dmitry Yakhovsky
Tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in the Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey

Henry and Elizabeth were the first monarchs being buried in the abbey in a vault under the floor, instead the usual tomb above the floor.

The tomb was designed in the Renaissance style by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano.

Information about the tomb from Westminster Abbey:

'The black marble tomb base is adorned with six medallions in copper gilt representing the Virgin Mary and Henry's patron saints (Michael, George, Anthony, Christopher, Anne, Edward the Confessor, Vincent, Barbara, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist). At either end are coats of arms supported by cherubs. The gilt bronze recumbent effigies can be seen through the fine grille which surrounds the monument. Seated angels balance on the carved frieze at each corner of the tomb, supporting coats of arms They once held pennants in their hands.

The grille is by Thomas Ducheman (who most likely also designed the bronze gates to the Chapel). Only six of the thirty-two statues in the niches of the grille now remain (Saints George, Edward the Confessor, Bartholomew, James the Great, John the Evangelist and another). The badges of the Welsh dragon and the greyhound of Richmond are also part of its decoration. The grille was originally gilded and on special anniversaries many candles, each nine feet high, were lit on top. Four candles were to burn constantly, tended by the monks.

Around the grille (both inside and outside) is a Latin inscription which can be translated:

Henry VII rests within this tomb, he who was the splendour of kings and light of the world, a wise and watchful monarch, a courteous lover of virtue, outstanding in beauty, vigorous and mighty; who brought peace to his kingdom, who waged very many wars, who always returned victorious from the enemy, who wedded both his daughters to kings, who was united to kings, indeed to all, by treaty, who built this holy temple, and erected this tomb for himself, his wife, and his children. He completed more than fifty three years, and bore the royal sceptre for twenty four. The fifteenth hundredth year of the Lord had passed, and the ninth after that was running its course, when dawned the black day, the twenty first dawn of April was shining, when this so great monarch ended his last day. No earlier ages gave thee so great a king, O England; hardly will ages to come give thee his like.


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