Eaton's Concise History of Worcester (1829) - Royal Tombs

  • 17 Mar 2019
  • Historical Studies
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Eaton's Consise History of Worcester ends the account of the opening of the tomb with this macabre story: 'On the opening of the Tomb of King John in the Cathedral, a gentleman of this city took a handfull of the skeleton skins of maggots that were in about the abdomen of the body and angled with them in the Severn, and absolutely caught a brace of bleak with them'.

The king's tomb was moved during one of the restorations, and in so doing destroyed the very reason for it being there at all. The last restoration in 1874 was done by the Board of Works, who were responsible for all the royal tombs, and insensitively destroyed the remnants of colour that remained and gilded the whole figure, placing on its head a tin crown.

Arthur. Prince of Wales, the son of Henry Vll, was a boy of eleven, betrothed to Catherine of Argon, of the same age, in a Machievllian attempt to control foreign affairs of state. Two years later, they were married by proxy, the ceremony on Arthur's side taking place in the chapel of Tickenhill Palace at Bewdley on Whit Sunday, 1499. Catherine came to England two years later, and she and Arthur both 15, were married in St. Paul's Cathedral, and went to spend their honeymoon at Ludlow Castle. At the end of two months, on 2nd April, 1502, Arthur died.

The body was embalmed and a great procession brought the young prince to Worcester Cathedral for burial. It was one of the greatest scenes of pomp and ceremony ever witnessed in our Cathedral, and one of the most moving. The chronicler wrote:      

"but to have seene the weepinge when the offringe was done, he had a heard heart that wept not".

Then the prince was laid in the tomb "with weeping and sore lamentation ..... the orisons were said by the Bishop of Lincoln also sore weeping . He settled the cross over the chest, and cast holy water and earth thereon. His officer of armes sore weeping took off coat of armes and cast it along over the chest right lamentably. Then Sir William Ovedall, Comptroller of his household, sore weeping and crying, tooke the staffe of his office by both endes, and over his own head brake it and cast it into the grave", so likewise did others.

      "This was a piteous sight to those who beheld it" 

And well might they weep if they could have realised the result from the death of the gentle prince and the ascending of the masterful Prince Henry. 'For in this sad scene was one of the greatest 'ifs' in English History'. If Arthur had lived, then Henry, who was intended to fill the role of Archbishop of Canterbury would not have come to the throne, and the marriage and divorce of Catherine, and the resulting break with the Church of Rome, and the sweeping away of the monasteries, might not have happened.

The beautiful chantry erected over Arthur's tomb was decorated with fine heraldry and 88 figures, and it was intended to colour these and to place on the tomb a bronze or marble figure, but this was never completed, probably because Henry married Catherine, and it was thought expedient to forget he existence of her first husband.

50 years later, the tomb was mutilated and plastered up, and not until 1788 was the plaster removed, and the figures exposed as they are now.


(old English spellings in places)