Monday, March 28, 2011

Question from Guy - 19th century examination of Henry's wives' bodies

I read that Henry VIII's wives Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr all had their bodies dug up in the nineteenth centruy. Is this true? And if so, why?

Also is it true that Catherine of Aragon's skeleton was completely destroyed, and if so how/why? Was it deliberate?

[Related threads linked below. - Lara]

1 comment:

Foose said...

The Parlimentary forces broke into Peterborough Cathedral in 1643 and smashed a great deal of the interior, including Catherine's tomb - breaking the rails and carrying away the black velvet pall, shifting the gravestone, and according to some sources, completely destroying her tomb. The reasons may have been religious, but soldiers of the period were often interested in non-denominational looting, too.

I can't find any recorded evidence that they actually desecrated the corpse, though. Agnes Strickland records a story that indicates the body was still intact and undisturbed in the 18th century (the narrator's father says he bored a hole in the coffin). Alison Weir also retails the story, putting the year as 1777. One source I looked at (Donahoe's Magazine, issue 33, volume 36, 1895) featured an article "The Place Where Mary Stuart Died," by Max Bennett Thrasher. (He discusses Catherine because Mary Queen of Scots was initially buried near her at Peterborough.) He reported that the grave had been opened "five years ago. The wooden coffin had entirely crumbled and it was found that the body had been sealed up in a covering of flexible lead, drawn about it as a sheet, and then soldered. Through this the outline of the skeleton could still be distinguished."

This was the only reference I could find to an opening of the tomb around 1890, though.