Dealings with the Dead, Volume I (of 2)
A Sexton of the Old School
"......Charles I. was buried in 1648, in the same vault with the bodies of Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour; and this statement is perfectly sustained, by the remarkable discovery in 1813, which proves Lord Clarendon to have been mistaken in his account, Hist. Reb., Oxford ed., vol. vi. p. 243. The Duke of Richmond, the Marquis of Hertford, and the Earls of Southampton and Lindsey, who had been of the bed chamber, and had obtained leave, to perform the last duty to the decollated King, went into the church, at Windsor, to seek a place for the interment, and were greatly perplexed, by the mutilations and changes there—“At last,” says Clarendon, “there was a fellow of the town, who undertook to tell them the place, where he said there was a vault, in which King Harry, the Eighth, and Queen Jane Seymour were interred. As near that place, as could conveniently be, they caused the grave to be made. There the king’s body was laid, without any words, or other ceremonies, than the tears and sighs of the few beholders. Upon the coffin was a plate of silver fixed with these words only: ‘King Charles, 1648.’ When the coffin was put in, the black velvet pall, that had covered it, was thrown over it, and then the earth thrown in.” Such, clearly, could not have been the facts.
|The faith of Charles Stuart means he is|
the only Anglican Saint to be recognised.
© Godric Godricson
Lord Clarendon then proceeds to speak of the impossibility of finding the body ten years after, when it was the wish of Charles II. to place it, with all honor, in the chapel of Henry VII., in Westminster Abbey. For this he accounts, by stating, that most of those present, at the interment, were dead or dispersed, at the restoration; and the memories of the remaining few had become so confused, that they could not designate the spot; and, after opening the ground, in several places, without success, they gave the matter up. Now there can be no doubt, that the body was placed in the vault, where it was found, in 1813, and that no interment took place, in the proper sense of that word. Had Richmond, Hertford, Southampton, or Lindsey been alive, or at hand, the vault itself, and not a spot near the vault, would, doubtless, have been indicated, as the resting place of King Charles. Wood, in the Athenæ Oxonienses, states, that the royal corpse was “well coffined, and all afterwards wrapped up in lead and covered with a new velvet pall.” All this perfectly agrees with the account, given by Sir Henry Halford, and certified by the Prince Regent, in 1813.
Sir Henry Halford states, that George the Fourth had built a mausoleum, at Windsor; and, while constructing a passage, under the choir of St. George’s Chapel, an opening was unintentionally made into the vault of Henry VIII., through which, the workmen saw, not only those two coffins, which were supposed to contain the bodies of Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour, but a third, covered with a black pall. Mr. Herbert’s account, quoted in my last number, from the Athenæ, left little doubt, that this was the coffin of Charles I.; notwithstanding the statements of Lord Clarendon, that the body was interred near the vault. An examination was made, April 1, 1813, in the presence of George IV., then Prince Regent, the Duke of Cumberland, Count Munster, the Dean of Windsor, Benjamin Charles Stevenson, Esq., and Sir Henry Halford; of which the latter published an account. London, 1831. This account is exceedingly interesting. “On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin, with no appearance of ever having been enclosed in wood, and bearing an inscription, King Charles, 1648, in large legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to view.
|Chapels and Church as a place for|
the commemoration of the dead
© Godric Godricson
“A square opening was then made, in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions, as to admit a clear insight into its contents. These were an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the body carefully wrapped up in cere-cloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter, mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been melted, so as to exclude, as effectually as possible, the external air. The coffin was completely full; and from the tenacity of the cere-cloth, great difficulty was experienced, in detaching it successfully from the parts, which it enveloped. Wherever the unctuous matter had insinuated itself, the separation of the cere-cloth was easy; and when it came off, a correct impression of the features, to which it had been applied, was observed in the unctuous substance. At length the whole face was disengaged from its covering. The complexion of the skin of it was dark and discolored. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of exposure, was open and full, though it vanished, almost immediately; and the pointed beard, so characteristic of the period of the reign of King Charles, was perfect. The shape of the face was a long oval; many of the teeth remained; and the left ear, in consequence of the interposition of the unctuous matter, between it and the cere-cloth, was found entire.
“It was difficult, at this moment, to withhold a declaration, that, notwithstanding its disfigurement, the countenance did bear a strong resemblance to the coins, the busts, and especially to the pictures of King Charles I., by Vandyke, by which it had been made familiar to us. It is true, that the minds of the spectators of this interesting sight were well prepared to receive this impression; but it is also certain, that such a facility of belief had been occasioned, by the simplicity and truth of Mr. Herbert’s narrative, every part of which had been confirmed by the investigation, so far as it had advanced; and it will not be denied, that the shape of the face, the forehead, an eye, and the beard, are the most important features, by which resemblance is determined.
|The Aristocracy of the Dead|
© Godric Godricson
“When the head had been entirely disengaged from the attachments, which confined it, it was found to be loose, and without any difficulty was taken up and held to view. It was quite wet, and gave a greenish and red tinge to paper and to linen, which touched it. The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct, as they usually are, when soaked in moisture; and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness. The hair was thick, at the back part of the head, and in appearance, nearly black. A portion of it, which has since been cleansed and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown color. That of the beard was of a redder brown. On the back part of the head it was not more than an inch in length, and had probably been cut so short, for the convenience of the executioner, or perhaps, by the piety of friends, soon after death, in order to furnish memorials of the unhappy king.”
“On holding up the head to examine the place of separation from the body, the muscles of the neck had evidently retracted themselves considerably; and the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, an appearance, which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify King Charles, the First. After this examination of the head, which served every purpose in view, and without examining the body below the neck, it was immediately restored to its situation, the coffin was soldered up again, and the vault closed.”
|Even the country Parish is a |
burial place for the rich and famous
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“Neither of the other coffins had any inscription upon them. The larger one, supposed, on good grounds, to contain the remains of Henry VIII., measured six feet ten inches in length, and had been enclosed in an elm one, of two inches in thickness; but this was decayed, and lay in small fragments. The leaden coffin appeared to have been beaten in by violence about the middle, and a considerable opening in that part of it, exposed a mere skeleton of the king. Some beard remained upon the chin, but there was nothing to discriminate the personage contained in it.”
This is, certainly, a very interesting account. Some beard still remained upon the chin of Henry VIII., says Sir Henry Halford. Henry VIII. died Jan. 28, 1547. He had been dead, therefore, April 1, 1813, the day of the examination, two hundred and sixty-six years. The larger coffin measured six feet ten inches. Sir Henry means top measure. We always allow seven feet lid, or thereabouts, for a six feet corpse. Henry, in his History, vol. xi. p. 369, Lond. 1814, says that King Henry VIII. was tall. Strype, in Appendix A., vol. vi. p. 267, Ecc. Mem., London, 1816, devotes twenty-four octavo pages to an account of the funeral of Henry VIII., with all its singular details; and, at the last, he says—“Then was the vault uncovered, under the said corpse; and the corpse let down therein by the vice, with help of sixteen tal yeomen of the guard, appointed to the same.” “Then, when the mold was brought in, at the word, pulverem pulveri et cinerem cineri, first the Lord Great Master, and after the Lord Chamberlain and al others in order, with heavy and dolorous lamentation brake their staves in shivers upon their heads and cast them after the corps into the pit. And then the gentlemen ushers, in like manner brake their rods, and threw them into the vault with exceeding sorrow and heaviness, not without grievous sighs and tears, not only of them, but of many others, as well of the meaner sort, as of the nobility, very piteous and sorrowful to behold.”