Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question from Kat - Henry VIII's body and others after death

I just read about Henry VIII's body sitting in state long enough to have some kind of explosion of pus and flesh. That is so disgusting, I can't imagine the poor fools that had to clean up that mess and then contain his body before interrment. Have there been other incidents of this kind of neglect regarding the state of the body? I thought they embalmed bodies even during his time. It seems that with monarch, even dead ones - there would have been more respect. Thanks.

15 comments:

Elizabeth M. said...

When King Henry was in the process of divorcing Queen Katherine of Aragon, he went to a sermon at Greenwich and heard a sermon by Friar Peto. In this sermon, the fiery friar compared King Henry to Ahab and Anne Boleyn to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab who slaughtered the true prophets and had them replaced with others. This was bold stuff, as Anne Boleyn was known to be sympathetic to what Catholics believed were heresies (printing God's word in English for the masses, having the King be the supreme head of the English church and not the Pope). Friar Peto said if King Henry persisted in his course, then he would become like Ahab, and the dogs would lick his blood after he died.
When King Henry died in January, 1547, he was hugely corpulent, and his leg was covered by pussy sores which had given him agony for many years. The embalming process in Tudor times was not the same as we know today. The internal organs were removed usually, including the heart, and the cavity was stuffed with straw and herbs. I don't think the blood was actually drained.
King Henry died at Whitehall, and his body was conveyed to Windsor for burial. On the first night, the cortege stopped at Syon, and it was there, after hours of being jerked around on the primitive roads, the casket sprung a leak and the deceased King's bodily fluids leaked onto the floor. Sure enough, a dog came around and lapped at the blood. However, since dogs were a common and popular pet in Tudor times, and were particularly useful in gobbling up table scraps from the dinner tables, it would not have been uncommon for a dog to be at Syon. It just happened to be an eerie coincidence that a dog lapped the King's blood as had been prophesied.

Anonymous said...

I think there are several examples of where the corpse of the king was not handled as we today feel, would be respectfully. Off hand, I can name two: William I (the Conqueror) of England and his grandson Henry II. I dont have sources in front of me right now but it seems that William I was a large man, stuffed in too small a coffin and perhaps due yo his fatal injury, which appeared to be internal, his body did, for lack of a better word, explode. When Henry II died, his body was left unguarded for a time and he was stripped of all his peronsal posessions with him at the time, including his clothes. I am sure there are other instances, however some that we may consider barbaric or disrespectful may not have seemed so at the time. Some due to various customs and some due to expediency and the beginning of a new reign.

Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong, I am going off of memory alone, without any sources to check tonight.

Vanessa

PhD Historian said...

If I may add to the list of "mishandled" royal corpses ....
Edward VI died on 6 July 1553 but was not buried until 8 August. Once deceased, he was all but forgotten as Dudley and his co-conspirators struggled to establish the reign of Queen Jane. Upon Mary's accession on 19 July, no one was willing to take the funeral in hand until given specific orders from the new queen, who did not enter London until the first week of August. Even then, there was debate between Mary and her advisors over whether the funeral rites should be conducted according to the new Protestant Book of Common Prayer or the traditional Roman Catholic liturgy. The Protestant faction won this skirmish, though Mary had private requiem masses said for her half-brother. But a four week delay between death and burial is unusual, even by the standards of royal funerals.

Tamise said...

Phd Historian, what do you think of the legend based on the contents of a letter from one of Northumberland's sons, that the real King Edward was buried in Greenwich Park, while a substitue body was buried at Westminster Abbey in his place?

Nasim said...

Slightly OT, but since it involves Henry after death - after Henry was interred at St George’s Chapel it appears his coffin burst. In 1813 the then Prince Regent (later George IV) acquired several artefacts belonging to Charles I including alleged fragments of bone and locks of hair. The prince wished to rebury the items with Charles who is buried in the same vault as Henry VIII and Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife). So the vault was opened in the presence of the prince, several canons and workmen. They noted that Henry’s coffin had burst open and subsequently members of the party alleged to have seen the skeleton (namely the skull). According to one witness, Canon Dalton, the coffin ‘had been burst by the gasses evolved by the corpse’. Yuck...

Marilyn Roberts said...

William the Conqueror was injured in a riding accident that ruptured his intestines. He lived in great pain for 5 weeks. In my book The Mowbray Legacy I describe how his great friend Geoffrey de Mowbray, bishop of Coutances, officiated at the funeral,

" The Conqueror had built Caen’s Abbey Church of St. Stephen as a penance because he and his wife were related within the permitted boundaries; now it was the scene of the great man’s funeral, with his good friend Bishop Geoffrey de Mowbray in attendance. But no matter how solemn the occasion might have been, the fact remains that after death the King’s body had been stripped all but naked, robbed of its finery and left for some time on the bare floor. According to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis,

… the inferior attendants, observing that their masters had disappeared, (presumably to secure their castles before the change of power) laid hands on the arms, the plate, the robes, the linen, and all the royal furniture, and leaving the corpse almost naked on the floor of the house, they hastened away...

William, however, had his revenge from beyond when his bloated and putrefying corpse would not fit into the too-small sarcophagus, no matter how hard Bishop Geoffrey and the others tried to force it, and in a scene worthy of a Hammer Horror film, inflated with gas and pus and the putrefaction of gangrene, the huge abdomen burst open. As the bespattered clergymen fought to maintain their dignity and composure in the face of such an unusual challenge, the indescribably awful smell sent the mourners scurrying for the doors."

Marilyn Roberts

Foose said...

There's the famous case of Henry's brother-in-law James IV of Scotland, who died at Flodden in 1513 and whose corpse apparently was abandoned in a lumber room of Richmond Palace. Stow says one of the local workmen actually cut off the head and took it home. "My Lord of Surrey, my Henry, wolde fayne know your pleasur in the buryeng of the King of Scotts body ..." Catherine of Aragon wrote to Henry in the aftermath of Flodden; evidently Henry felt no need for a big funeral or even handing the corpse back to the Scots.

Fitzroy, Henry's son, was the victim of a botched procedure; Henry gave orders for him to be covered in lead but Fitzroy's father-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, apparently didn't oversee the implementation. Eight days after he died Fitzroy's corpse was loaded onto a cart and covered with straw, then trundled off to Framlingham for entombment with only two servitors as escort. I don't know whether he was embalmed, but the king was evidently furious that he was not buried honorably.

PhD Historian said...

Tamise, I think the legend is plausible, but unlikely. I can easily envision Dudley and his supporters burying Edward immediately, in light of the pressing matters at hand (defending Jane, capturing Mary, etc). But something being possible is not the same as it actually happening. I suspect events actually transpired much as history records them: Dudley and his supporters left Greenwich and moved to Syon House upon Edward's death, leaving the body to be tended to by the regular staff at Greenwich. It was probably placed in the standard lead coffin almost immediately, then left sitting until early August. Lead lined coffins were standard for the wealthy, and had been for centuries, because lead could easily be sealed to provide a fluid- and gas-tight envelope ... if done correctly. If done incorrectly, incidents such as those described by Elizbaeth M and Nasim sometimes occurred. I think the changing-of-bodies legend is as untrue as the legends that Edward survived.

Elizabeth M. said...

Then there was poor Anne Boleyn, whose remains were crammed into an old arrow chest and her head tucked in with her,
Poor Mary Queen of Scots had it a bit better. At least she was properly embalmed and encased in a lead coffin--but left on a shelf secluded in Fotheringhay Castle for months before she was finally laid to rest in Peterborough Cathedral.

Nikki said...

i am reading alison weir's "the children of henry viii." weir states that we do not know for certain what happened to edward vi's corpse. a letter written by one of northumberland's sons states that the duke had not dared let the king lie in state, but had "buried him privately in a paddock adjoining the palace, to be seen by the people, a young man not very unlike him, who they murdered."

weir goes on to state that this may have been the body that was delivered to westminster abbey and the real edward vi is lying somewhere in greenwich park.

i would hate to think that the body of a monarch was treated this way and is not who we think we see when we visit westminster abbey! would northumberland really do this?

Anonymous said...

phd historian: what legend is there that edward survived? that is new to me!!

PhD Historian said...

Nikki - Alison Weir is usually a fairly decent writer of history, but she does have a tendency to repeat modern versions of traditional myths and legends, which are often very different from their original form. And that is precisely the case with the myth you describe. It was over a century after Edward's death before the simple statement in the Northumberland letter became embellished by dramatists into a complex tale that included precise locations of burials (a paddock) and murders to acquire substitute bodies. The story is certainly untrue and nothing more than a flight of the imgination. Dudley and his colleagues were far too busy with military matters and such to even have the time to plan such a complicated mess, much less to carry it out. And most importantly, Dudley left London exactly one week after Edward's death and returned only as a prisoner. He remained a prisoner from July 19 until his death in late August. How could he have substituted a body of a murdered boy for Edward's at a funeral that took place while Dudley was in prison? And how could he have even planned such a thing if he was leading an army north to capture Mary beginning on 13 July?

Anonymous - Just as there were rumors circulating in the weeks before Edward's death that he was already dead, and after his death that Dudley had poisoned him, so too there were one or two rumors that cropped up that Edward had survived and gone into hiding or exile or was still a prisoner in the Tower. These kinds of rumors surrounded most deaths of young monarchs (e.g., the Princes in the Tower 70 years earlier). They usually appear among the uneducated, in rural areas, or among foreign exiles and are rarely given any credence by most people. For specific reference to the rumors that Edward had survived, see WK Jordan's definitive 2-volume study of Edward VI, volume 2, page 535.

Olivia said...

when henry was in the process of divorcing his first wife, Katharine, there was a prophecy said by a friar Peto that if he kept with his resolve to marry Anne, the dogs would lick his blood once he died, then, the prophecy came true, and the people remembered what friar peto said.

another reason such had happened was the king by the time of his death had a large and fat, heavy body, and so the corpse probably wasn't supported as well as it should have been and it collapsed

Vasuki said...

Recently I heard that, When Henry VIII died, they did not declare that he was dead for almost two days. Does any one know why it was so?

David B. McGUire said...

There was also the tradition of making a life-sized effigy of a deceased monarch using the death mask of the deceased as a model as was the case for Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII's parents, and his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I. The effigy would be laid on top of the coffin for the funeral procession and the lying-in-state. All are displayed in Westminster Abbey from Edward III to Charles II. Were there deathmasks made for Henry VIII and Edward VI and an effigy too, if so did they survive? There are also stories that the coffins of Charles II and George IV burst open.