Friday, August 08, 2008

Question from Gervase - Notes from the renovations of St. Peter ad Vincula



Anonymous said...

I do not know whether or not the original notes are posted on any modern website, but the note itself can be found in a printed book. See "Notices of the Historic Persons Buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, With an Account of the Discovery of the Supposed Remains of Queen Anne Boleyn," by Doyne Courtenay Bell (J. Murray Pub., 1877).

Anonymous said...

I don't know the name of a particular website that contains the information, but I do have the extracts on Anne Boleyn from that work saved on my computer and could send them to you if you like?

Elizabeth M. said...

Hi Nasim--I would definitely be interested. Could you also send them to me?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. The text in question is too large to post here as a comment but I could email it to you if you like? If you want your email address to remain private you can email me at (awful email address, I know!) and I can send the information to you. The text includes the memorandum by Dr Mouat on the remains of Anne Boleyn.

Leilani said...

Hi can you email me the text?

Anonymous said...

Are there any thoughts on whether or not those were or were not the actual remains?

Anonymous said...

Nasim, could you also e-mail me the text?I'm at ""
Thank you VERY much.

Elizabeth M. said...

Nasim was kind enough to email me this excerpt, and I found it compelling. But I have some questions. It states that when the bones presumed to be of Anne Boleyn were exhumed, they were examined carefully, and those bones, along with others found, presumably those of Jane Rochford, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, were also carefully placed in receptacles for reburial. Yet this flies in the face of some tour guides at the Tower, who state that the bones were all jumbled in a heap and buried together.
The excerpt states that no bones that could be identified as belonging to Katherine Howard were found, presumably because the use of lime in burial rendered her remains to dust. Would this have also been the case for lady Jane Grey? The excerpt mentions that young people have soft bones, thus the lime would have worked quickly to render the remains to dust. Has there ever been any remains discovered that were identified as Lady Jane Grey?
Were there any photographs taken of these bones during their forensic examination? Especially of the skulls? Knowing what forensic scientists can do in the way of facial reconstruction even working from a photo of a skull makes this an intriguing proposition.
I have read that the Tudor and Stuart graves explored in the reign of Queen Victoria were treated with the utmost reverence. The grave of Mary of Scotland, opened to see if her son, James I was buried with her, was also found to contain the coffins of over 20 infants, many of them the dead children of Queen Anne, as well as the coffins of her granddaughter Elizabeth of Bohemia, her great-grandson Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and her niece Arbella Stuart. Supposedly, Mary's coffin was left unopened out of respect, and the coffins of her tombmates were re-arranged and the tomb sealed. The tomb of King Henry VII, where King James I was found, was equally treated with respect. And I read that the unmarked grave of Princess Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King Charles I, was given a fitting monument at the order of Queen Victoria. Thus it seems incongrous that the bones exhumed in the Chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula, after having been so carefully examined and placed in receptacles for reburial, would have been just thrown together, when such reverence seemed to be a hallmark in the dealings with other Tudor and Stuart burial sites.

Anonymous said...

I can report as an eyewitness, Elizabeth, that there are indeed jumbles of bones beneath the floor of the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula. Granted, the tour guides at the Tower, even the Yeoman Warders, are prone to embellish their talks with lurid details that are often not accurate, but in regards to jumbles of bones there is some factual basis for their tales. As I reported in answer to a question here not too long ago, I once had the privilege during work on my PhD dissertation of visiting the Tower as a researcher and was granted special private access to certain areas not open to the public. I was able to explore the chapel very thoroughly, for example, with only the head Warder present. He took me into the vestry of the chapel, a room that the public virtually never sees. It doubles as a break-room for the warders on duty and has a large old-fashioned bottled water cooler in one corner. He pulled the cooler away from the wall and lifted a thick stone floor tile, and clearly visible beneath it were several human bones. Because the bones were beneath a water-cooler and in a room never seen by the public, I assume that they were authentic and not placed there deliberately as props for some "ghost story" tour purpose.

I have to agree with you, however, that it seems incongruous that those responsible for "restoring" the chapel in the 1800s would have treated any identifiable bones of their ancestors so poorly as to jumble them together in a common pile. All the more so since the very period when the Tower was being "restored" was also the period during which mourning and reverance for the dead reached an unprecedented peak of elaborateness and ritual.

I am almost inclined to suspect that the story of bones being jumbled might, in fact, have been created as deliberately misleading propaganda. I do know from one of the curators of the Tower that the bones were very deliberately re-interred in such a way that they would be inaccessible to future generations unless major destruction of the building was undertaken to get at them. As I understand it, they are in a small crypt beneath a large unrelated 19th century monument that itself makes up part of the wall to the left of the altar. In order to get at the bones now, that monument and wall would both have to be removed. It does not make sense to be so respectful of the bones as to go to such lengths to make them unretrievable yet simultaneously to toss them together higgeldy-piggeldy. Maybe the "jumbled" story was created to discourage looking for them?

Or perhaps the few remaining bones were placed all together, but still respectfully, in a single vessel and the "jumbled" story is a confused mis-rendering of that circumstance?

I can also tell you that according to the curator of the Tower, no bones of Jane Grey were ever identified. Nor have I ever come across any reference to such identified bones during my many years of research on Jane. And I have no doubt that the 19th century examiners were keen to find some, since the mid-19th century was also the peak period of reverence for the Jane Grey legend. The famous Delaroche painting of her execution was created in just that period, for example, as were many other paintings by Northcote, Leslie, Copley, Flagg, and others, together with the printed accounts of her life by Ainsworth, Strickland, and still others. I have to think that if her bones were identifiable, the examiners would have gone to great lengths to identify them.

It is also true that the bones of a child are not yet sufficiently calcified to leave remains after centuries of burial. But Jane was about 17 when she died, so her bones would have been sufficiently well calcified. And recall that the bones of the Romanov children, some of whom were younger than Jane, survived for almost a century after burial despite having been burned, having lime poured over them, and having been placed down a watery old well shaft.

Lastly, I do not think photos were taken of the bones recovered, though I do not know this for a fact. There were some bones found at the same time beneath a stairwell in one of the towers abutting the river but, as I recall, only detailed drawings were made of those. Photography was still quite new in the 1850s and 1860s when the "remodeling" of the Tower was undertaken, as well. I do not think photography was used in archaeology and forensics until the later 19th century, well after the "remodeling" was completed and the bones re-interred.

Elizabeth M. said...

I wonder if the Tower people just say that to elicit gasps from tourists. Or perhaps it a means of discouraging really determined souvenir hunters? Not that anyone could get into the graves, but stranger things have happened.
Your point is well taken about the Romanov children. I did not even think of that. It is a pity that the locations of the graves of Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey were never recorded.
Is it possible that the jumbled bones were those of Henry Norris, William Brereton and Marc Smeaton--I know I read somewhere that at least two of them were buried in a common grave. I also thought George Boleyn was buried with one of these men. I thought it was two in one grave and two in another. But then I thought I read that they were buried in the grounds near the chapel, and not in it proper.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that burials, or more properly interrments, were limited to the inside of the chapel beneath the floor. Burials in the early Tudor period were still limited to consecrated ground, even for traitors. Only heretics were buried in unconsecrated ground. And the interior of St Peters-ad-Vincula is the only portion of the Tower that is consecrated ground (other than the chapel inside the White Tower). There is no exterior cemetery of consecrated ground of the kind one finds with most other older English parish churches, nor has there ever been. So it seems to me very unlikely that anyone would have been buried outside the walls of the chapel building itself.

It is also my understanding that only those persons executed within the Tower precincts were eligible for burial in the chapel, plus those who died while imprisoned in the Tower. Persons executed on Tower Hill, which lies outside the Tower walls, had to be buried elsewhere. Norris, Brereton, Smeaton and George Boleyn were all executed on Tower Hill, so they were almost certainly buried elsewhere. Even Henry Grey, Jane Grey's father, when he was executed in February 1554 was buried in the nearby church of The Minories, not within the Tower with his daughter.

Elizabeth M. said...

Thank you PhD Historian, now I think I am getting a clearer picture. I have never been to the Tower--hopefully someday I will have the money to get from my little hamlet of Janesville, Wisconsin to Great Britain. I was confused about the geography of the Tower and surrounding area.
On a slightly different note, do you know why it came about that British monarchs changed their preference for burial from Westminster to Windsor?

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a small world, Elizabeth. I have connections to Janesville and used to spend summers there as a child, back in the late 1960s.

I am afraid I do not know with certainty why royal interments shifted from Westminster Abbey to St George's Chapel, Windsor, but it seems to be related to George III's personal preference for Windsor as a royal residence. Prior to his death in 1820, only 4 English monarchs had been buried at Windsor: Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VIII, and Charles I.

Though George III is responsible for purchasing and transforming Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace, he spent a great deal of time at Windsor Castle, probably because he could indulge there his fondness for farming. His preference for Windsor became even stronger in his later years, during his illnesses. And he was more or less sequestered there during the lengthy Regency of his son (1811-1820). He died at Windsor.

George III is responsible for having created the Royal Vault within St George's Chapel, just prior to the beginning of his last illness in late 1810. George's youngest daughter, Amelia, was the first Hanoverian to be buried in the vault upon her death in November 1810. George III's wife Charlotte, sister Augusta, son Edward (father of Queen Victoria), and granddaughter Charlotte were all buried at St George's Chapel before George III himself, so it had already become something of a family tradition when he was interred there in 1820. He was followed by four more sons, two daughters-in-law, a grandson, and two granddaughters.

His granddaugther Victoria chose to be buried not in Westminster Abbey or St George's, but instead in a new mausoleum on the grounds of the Frogmore Estate, a royal retreat on the grounds of Windsor Park. That mausoleum holds only Victoria and her husband Albert, but the cemetery surrounding it has become the favored burial place of the non-sovereign members of the royal family since the reign of George V.

George VI, the present queen's father, is of course buried in the chapel that bears his name attached to St George's Chapel at Windsor, as are his wife (Elizabeth, The Queen Mother), and his daughter, Princess Margaret. The preferred burial site of Queen Elizabeth II has never been revealed, but I will bet that it will be the George VI Chapel, with her father, mother, and sister.

nanci said...

nasim - if it wouldn't be too much trouble, would you please email me the notes on the remains of Anne Boleyn? I remember many years ago seeing something about them in a book, but foolishly didn't get it, and am still kicking myself! thank you.