The Royal Tombs

  • 17 Mar 2019
  • Historical Studies
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King John's Tomb


Two important royal tombs can be seen in Worcester Cathedral. That of King John, believed to bear the earliest royal effigy taken from life, and that of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry Vlll, often said to be the most beautiful  tomb of all British Cathedrals.


In 1216, King John was buried between the two great saints, Oswald and Wulstan, and in a monk's cowl, because it was said, he hoped that at the resurrection his two companions and the disguise, might enable him to evade the vigilance of the gatekeepers of Heaven, for the wickedness of his life gave him little chance of being admitted by merit.

To people of this century, the story may appear to be a legend embroidered over the years, but when the coffin was opened in 1797, to ascertain the truth of it, the skull was in fact found to be covered with the remains of a monks cowl, and over the royal robes was the remains of a monk's habit; so it seems there was some truth in a story handed down by word of mouth over the centuries.



John had been in Worcester a month before his death; harassed by nobles and threatened by a foreign rival, he sought vengeance on those who opposed him. Making his way north like a 'swiftly advancing storm', he crossed the Wash without calculating the time of the tide, whose flowing waters overwhelmed his army, baggage, train, money and provisions. His rage and grief at his misfortune threw him into a fever, which turned to dysentery by gorging himself at the Abbey of Swineshead on peaches and cider. (Some said it was a surfeit of lampreys). He tried  to ride to Newark, but became so ill that he took refuge in its castle. When he knew he was a dying man, his thoughts turned to Worcester, and in his will, which still remains in the Cathedral, he dictated;

'First then, l desire that my body be buried in the church of the Blessed Mary and S. Wulfstan of Worcester".