The Death, Burial and Grave of Edward IV

On 20 April 1483 King Edward IV was buried at St. George's Chapel at Windsor. Edward had died eleven days earlier on 9 April. Although being only 40 years old, his death was likely not a complete surprise as he had been ill for at least 2 weeks. For years people have speculated on the cause of Edward's death. From apoplexy to poison and from a stroke to overindulgence in food (obese). Dominic Mancini's report seems the most plausible though. Mancini had been in England at the time and reported Edward had fallen ill during a boat trip close or on Easter (late March), where he had caught a 'damp cold to strike his vitals' which may likely have meant pneumonia.


 

Edward IV painting
Edward IV, British School painted between 1524-56, King's Closet Windsor Castle


On 17 April Edward's funeral procession arrived at Westminster Abbey, followed by Syon and Windsor the next day. His brother-in-law, Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury being one of the clergymen present. Among the mourners following Edward's coffin to Windsor were his other brothers-in-law Edward and Richard Woodville, his stepson Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and according to the Richard III Society "A pall of cloth of gold with a cross of white cloth of gold was draped over the coffin. A canopy of imperial fringed with gold and blue silk was carried above it by Thomas St Ledger, the King's brother in law, the Comptroller of the Household Sir William Parr, Sir John Ashley and Sir William Stonor. Lord Howard (later Duke of Norfolk) walked in front of the coffin carrying Edward's personal banner of arms. Many of England's Bishops were also present, as was the Archbishop of York and many of the lords temporal."

In his will, Edward gave orders to continue the works at Windsor, with his own tomb as centerpiece. The King was to be buried 'Low in the ground and upon the same a stone to be laid and wrought with the figure of Death with a scutcheon of our Armour and writings convenient about the borders of the same remembering the day and year of our decease. Over this should be built a vault and upon the vault a chapel with an altar and a tomb and upon the same tomb an image for our figure will be of silver and gilt or at the least copper and gilt’. Neither figure nor funeral effigy would be placed on the tomb. The tomb originally had Edward's sword, helmet and harness on display but the grave was plundered in the 17th Century and the items were stolen.

300 years later Edward IV's tomb was re-discovered during the restoration of St George's Chapel in 1789 as it probably was such an insignificant final resting place of a King of England. The architect and Fellow of the Society of Antiquities of London Henry Emlyn was assigned by George III to add some alterations in St. George's Chapel which were performed between 1787–and 90. Emlyn supervised the restoration, and his interesting drawing of the tomb is shown below. Inside the lead coffin was the King's skeleton, and Emlyn records, 'Some long brown hair lay near the skull; and some of the same colour, but shorter, was on the neck of the skeleton. There was in the bottom of the coffin a liquid, which at the feet was about three inches deep.' An analysis of the liquid was done by a physician at Windsor, James Lind, who concluded that it came from the dissolution of the body. During the restoration works many relics, including a small glass bottle containing some of the liquid, locks of Edward's hair and wood from the adjacent Queen's coffin were removed, said to have been given to the Royal Family and given to the society. Emlyn's drawing and the accompanying account were published by the Society in 1790. The glass bottle no longer survives but locks of Edward IV's hair can still be found at the Society of Antiquaries of London at Burlington House and Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection in London.

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