Surviving from the sixteenth century are tombs, effigies, plaques, castles and a number of fabulous Tudor houses. Interesting examples include St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where Henry is buried alongside Jane Seymour, who produced the longed-for male heir. In this fabulous church built by Henry’s Yorkist grandfather, Edward IV, Henry shares a vault with the executed Charles I marked only by a black slab. There is no tomb chest or effigy – a surprisingly modest memorial for such an awesome monarch.
Visitors are welcome to Buckden Palace in Cambridgeshire, where Catherine of Aragon was held under house arrest by Henry in the tower turret in the summer of 1533 because she refused to accept that she was no longer Queen of England. She hated the harsh climate stemming from the nearby Fens. Henry later moved her to Kimbolton Castle where she died in early 1536.
Dunstable’s glorious late Norman priory was the location of a special ecclesiastical court convened by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in May 1533 to consider the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, one of the hottest topics in English history. In late May Cranmer and his counsellors declared the marriage null and absolutely void whilst, by contrast, 5 days later they declared Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn good and valid.
St Michael’s church, Framlingham in Suffolk contains the mausoleum of the Howard Dukes of Norfolk, in particular the tombchest and effigies of Thomas, the third duke and his wife. Although originally Yorkists, Henry leant heavily on the support of this wealthy and powerful family who gained Henry’s favour by their clever and overwhelming victory over the Scots at Flodden Field. The third duke also put down the northern rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace later in the reign. Despite these achievements, Henry VIII would have executed Thomas had he not died himself in January 1547 (Thomas’s son, Henry, had not been so lucky).
Delightful West Firle, near Lewes, houses the tomb of Sir John Gage and his wife. Sir John was constable of the Tower when the unfortunate Katherine Howard was imprisoned there. Sir John escorted her into the Tower and then supervised her execution. He reported that she wept and cried without ceasing – who can blame her!
In the winter of 1501/2 the marvellously situated Ludlow Castle was briefly home to Prince Arthur, Henry’s elder brother, and his new wife, Catherine of Aragon, before Arthur died in April 1502, probably of ‘sweating sickness’. Had he lived and produced heirs the subsequent history of England would have been very different!
Jane Seymour was born at Wulfhall in Wiltshire. Here you are ‘far from the madding crowd’ in beautiful countryside. Although only a little survives from Tudor times, a visit here reinforces the feeling that the Seymours – from only modest gentry stock –were a surprising choice by Henry not only for a queen of England but also for Lord Protector of the infant Edward VI, which is what Jane’s brother became. The effigy of their father, Sir John, can be seen in nearby Great Bedwyn.
By Peter Bramley