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Britain’s best places to see: Burial places of the English monarchs 7

Where are all the tombs of the kings and queens of England? This guide tells you where to find them

Many people are fascinated by anything to do with the monarchy, but they may not be aware of all the interesting and significant locations and tombs where our monarchs are interred. The following provides a comprehensive look at every location of buried British monarchs – from the 9th until the 20th century.

Winchester Cathedral
Winchester

photograph of exterior of large cathedral building against bright blue sky

The exterior of Winchester Cathedral © Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Winchester Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and was originally founded in 642 on a site immediately north from its current location.

Not long after the church was built it became a cathedral, and subsequently the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. As such it was the burial place of the early kings of Wessex, including Alfred the Great (whose remains have been lost) and King Cnut the Great.

It was once a site of pilgrimage and a monastery until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

The group of Renaissance era mortuary chests are thought to house the remains of early families of Wessex and England; Cygnelis, Cenwalh, Egbert of Wessex, Æthelwulf, Eadred, Eadwig, Cnut the Great, and Harthacnut. The contents of the chests have been radiocarbon-dated to around the late Anglo Saxon and early Norman period, which fits with the time period of these monarchs and their burials.

They’re laid out in pride of place, neatly aligned in the Renaissance style and it’s interesting to ponder these early rulers of what became England and who exactly is buried where, or whose bones remain preserved. The cathedral is still attempting to decipher the mysterious chests and determine the truth.

Monarchs interred

Cygnelis, d.643
Cenwalh, d.672
Egbert of Wessex, d. 839
Æthelwulf, d. 855
Eadred, d. 955
Eadwig, d. 959
Cnut the Great, d. 1035
Harthacnut, d. 1042
William II, d. 1100

 

St Bartholemew’s Church, near the former Hyde Abbey
Winchester

photograph of exterior of church

Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Winchester © Johan Bakker (CC By-SA 3.0)

Located just outside the old city walls of Winchester, Saint Bartholomew’s Church was long thought to be the final resting place of Alfred the Great (d.899) and his son Edward the Elder.

The church was formerly the lay people’s church of Hyde Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Winchester. Alfred’s remains were buried at the Abbey, along with his wife’s and children’s, and remained at the site even after the Abbey was dissolved and demolished in 1539.

The graves were rediscovered and destroyed by convicts during the building of a new prison in 1788 and, after the prison was demolished, a local amateur historian unearthed some bones which he claimed were those of Alfred. The bones were buried by the vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s but later proved to date from the 1300s.

In 1999 an excavation took place at the site of the Abbey, uncovering the Abbey’s foundation and a selection of bones. While a group of bones hoped to be belonging to Alfred proved to belong to an elderly woman, a small piece of pelvis radiocarbon-dated to the correct period proves a possible, but unverified, link to the lost king.

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Westminster Abbey
London

photograph showing interior of chapel westminster abbey, with flags and ornate ceiling

The Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey © Farrukh (CC By-NC 2.0)

Benedictine monks established a tradition of daily worship here in the 10th century and it continues to this day. Westminster Abbey holds the tombs of 17 monarchs, and has been the location of coronations since 1066.

Not only are monarchs buried here, but some of the most important historical figures from the country are also interred including the poet Oscar Wilde and the scientist Sir Isaac Newton.

You can see monarchs’ graves in Edward the Confessor’s chapel, Henry VII (Lady) Chapel and throughout the building.

Monarchs to visit whilst at Westminster

Edward the Confessor, d. 1066

The penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England Edward got the name ‘the Confessor’ due to his deep piety. His huge shrine is ornately decorated with Purbeck marble and his wooden coffin remains entombed inside. The tomb is regarded as the centre of the abbey, which has five kings and four queens buried within the chapel. To the west of this foreboding and beautiful shrine is a stone screen depicting events from Edward’s life.

Edward III, d. 1377

King for 50 years, Edward saw in the beginning of the Hundred Years War against France. His gilt bronze effigy with long hair and coronation robes sits atop an elaborate tomb that once featured 12 of his mourning children, although just six now remain. But it is the detailed yet simple effigy – without the overly gilded accessories seen on other monarch’s tombs – that catches the eye.

Henry VII, d. 1509

Henry famously united the Houses of Lancaster and York by marrying Elizabeth of York, ending the War of the Roses which spluttered sporadcially across England between between 1455 and 1487. A fine grille surrounds the effigies of the king and his wife, who used to have 32 angels surrounding them, of which only six remain. Also surrounding the pair are Henry’s patron saints, which include Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and Edward the Confessor. The lifelike heads of the effigies carried at their funerals are also available to see in the abbey.

Elizabeth I, d. 1603

One of our most famous monarchs, Elizabeth’s reign was as a Golden Age, a time of flourishing popular culture, of Shakespeare and explorers Drake and Raleigh who sought to expand England’s territory overseas. Her burial chamber stands out with its white marble effigy, gold detailing and black marble pillars, and represents the way the country saw her: ornate, golden, and pure. Interestingly, she is buried atop her sister, Mary I, although the entire effigy is dedicated to her. An engraving on the tomb says “Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in the hope of the Resurrection”.

Other monarchical tombs you can see at Westminster:

Henry III, d. 1272
Edward I, d. 1307
Richard II, d. 1400 (moved from Kings Langley Church in Hertfordshire by Henry V)
Henry V, d. 1422
Edward V, d. 1483 (est)
Edward VI, d. 1553
Mary I, d. 1559
James VI/I, d. 1625
Charles II, d. 1685
Mary II, d. 1694
Mary, Queen of Scots.
William III and II, d. 1702
Anne, d. 1714

 

Windsor Castle
Windsor

photograph of exterior of large yellow-bricked castle

The exterior of Windsor Castle © Kathryn Yengel (CC By-ND 2.0)

Windsor Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in the world, being a monarchical residence for over 1000 years. It is currently the official residence of the Queen and is a centre for ceremonial and State meetings.

St George’s Chapel is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and includes the burial chambers of a number of monarchs, including Henry VIII and Charles I.

Some of the graves have been replaced with memorial slabs on the floor, including Henry. The Chapel is open to the public every day excluding Sunday, when services are held. Admission is included in the price of entry to the Castle.

Monarchs to visit whilst at Windsor Castle

Henry VI, d. 1471

Buried in St George’s Chapel, Henry had been imprisoned in the Tower of London and the official history says he died of melancholy overnight on March 21 1471, but it is widely suspected that Edward IV had him murdered. His tomb – a simple stone structure, with his name on its side – is unimpressive and you are unlikely to spot it outright, but he was one of the important players in the War of the Roses, so much so that Shakespeare wrote three plays about his life. He also founded Eton and Kings College, London.

Henry VIII, d. 1547 and Charles I, d. 1649

Two of the most controversial monarchs of all time are remembered by a simple slab on the floor. Henry had intended to have a grand tomb with large bronze statues of him and Jane Seymour. He wanted it to be grander than all other tombs of the time, but it never came to fruition. Charles was added following his execution. It was uncovered in 1813 and subsequently a marble slab was laid to commemorate them both. It may be hard to spot but it is somewhat ironic that such grand and notorious monarchs be forced into semi obscurity with their simple memorial where they lie together as different symbols of English change. Henry changed the nation’s religion; Charles’ reign saw the temporary removal of the monarchy.

Edward VII, d. 1910

An energetic ruler and ‘Uncle of Europe’, Edward was only king for 9 years following his mother Victoria’s long reign. His tomb boasts a gold crest, beautiful paneling and pristine white marble effigies of him and his wife, Alexandra. Standing high up, it is a prominent feature of the chapel and is magnificent to look – a poignant reminder of the man who waited 60 years to be king. His funeral was described as the “greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last.”

Other tombs at Windsor:

Edward IV, d. 1483
George III, d. 1820
George IV, d. 1830
William IV, d. 1837
Edward VII, d. 1910
George V, d. 1936
George VI, d. 1952

Frogmore House
Windsor

photograph of exterior of mausoleum building in parkland

View of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s mausoleum © Timelapsed (CC By-NC 2.0)

Queen Victoria had this mausoleum built following the death of her husband Albert as a place to hold his remains and, eventually, hers. Since 1928, it has been the official royal burying ground, and many members of the royal family are now buried here, including abdicated monarch, Edward VIII.

Members of the public can visit during special charity days and during August.

Monarchs to visit whilst at Frogmore House

Victoria, d. 1901

The second longest-reigning monarch in British history, not only is the mausoleum commemorating her magnificent, but her effigy is symbolic of her everlasting love for her husband, who predeceased her by 40 years. Lying together it represents them finally back together and happy. The detail is exquisite, making them appear almost lifelike with the fabric draping loosely around them. Plus, you will get to see the beautiful gardens surrounding it.

Edward VIII, d. 1972 (abdicated)

 

Tower of London
London

photograph of the exterior of the tower of London

The Tower of London © Ian (CC By-NC 2.0)

At the Tower of London, one of the city’s most iconic buildings, various members of the aristocracy have been buried over the years and it is most notable for the burials of famous prisoners of the Tower, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, George Boleyn and Sir Thomas More.

Lady Jane Grey was queen for nine days following the death of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII. Edward had chosen her as his successor to keep the country Protestant, but his sister Mary had a lot of public support and usurped her and took her rightful place as queen. Her grave is inside the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower. It was in an unmarked grave under the high altar, alongside a number of other bodies, but during Victoria’s reign they were exhumed and her bones, along with those of Anne Boleyn, were ‘identified’ and reburied in a common grave.

There is now a simple plaque identifying the location of the bodies (although some say they may have been moved). Tourists visiting the Tower can be taken around the chapel and view the grave markers.

 

Leicester Cathedral
Leicester

photograph of exterior of cathedral building

Leicester Cathedral © Peter (CC By 2.0)

Richard III was originally buried across from the Cathedral in Greyfriars, where he lay lost for centuries. In August 2012, an excavation began to try and unearth Greyfriars and his body, and in 2013 it was announced that his skeleton had been discovered in a car park. He was interred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015, where his stone coffin is on display.

The coffin, which is not to everyone’s taste, is very plain and simple, with contrasting black and white stone. As it is the newest monarch’s grave it still looks pristine and neat and does not have the medieval flamboyancy of other tombs. The memorial slab itself features a plain representation of the English flag, allowing him a kind of understated honour and peace that history has denied him in the centuries since his violent death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Leicester Cathedral was originally built in 900, but was called St Martin’s Church until 1927 when it became hallowed as a cathedral in its own right. It was rebuilt and enlarged between the 13th and 15th centuries and was restored in the 19th century by Victorian architect, Raphael Brandon.

 

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury

photograph of the tomb of Henry IV, showing the king's and his wife's effigies

The tomb of Henry IV and his wife © Ken Eckert (CC By-SA 4.0)

Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597 and was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. It is the ‘home’ of the Church of England and has been a historically significant building for over 1000 years. It was the location of the brutal murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. Beckett’s tomb is in the cathedral and has become a place of pilgrimage.

Henry IV was buried in the cathedral following his death in 1413 and visitors are able to see his effigy and resting place alongside that of his wife, Queen Joan of Navarre, who died in 1437. The tomb is opposite the magnificent tomb and bronze effigy of his uncle, Edward the Black Prince, whose son Henry supplanted.

 

Worcester Cathedral
Worcester

photograph of the effigy of a king in a cathedral

King John’s tomb and effigy in Worcester Cathedral © Rachel Clarke (CC By-NC 2.0)

Worcester Cathedral was built between 1084 and 1504 and represents several styles of English architecture – from Norman to Gothic. It was originally a priory and became a cathedral of secular clergy following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

The notorious King John, who had attempted to usurp his brother Richard I whilst he was away at the Crusades, and eventually toward the end of his own reign put his signature to Magna Carta in 1215, was buried here upon his death in 1216. His imposing effigy is one of the oldest Royal effigies in England. It dates 1232 and has a pleasingly a solid heavy appearance to it with the three lions, the Royal Arms of England and gold painted pillars.

 

Herrenhausen Gardens
Hanover, Germany

photograph of golden gate open leading to grand building

The Golden Gate, leading to the Royal Garden at Herrenhausen Gardens © Andrew Holmes (CC By-NC 2.0)

Okay, so this one isn’t in Britain, but as our first Hanoverian monarch in the UK we couldn’t leave George I and the beautiful gardens housing his mausoleum off the list. The German king notoriously never fully mastered English despite of being in charge of the country. The gardens are a heritage of the kings of Hanover and are one of the most distinguished baroque formal gardens in Europe.

George was originally buried in the Chapel of Leine Castle in Hanover but he is now buried in the mausoleum at Herrenhausen Gardens, after he was moved during World War Two. This burial site is a beautiful place and if on holiday it is well worth a visit to this popular attraction which also features museums and an extensive set of gardens, as well as the city of Hanover itself.

 

Gloucester Cathedral
Gloucester

photogrpah of exterior of cathedral building

Gloucester Cathedral © Gary Ullah (CC By 2.0)

Gloucester Cathedral has been a place of worship for 1,100 years, and like many others it started as an abbey and was converted to a cathedral following the dissolution. It boasts the earliest English example of perpendicular architecture and has recently been used as a location for film and tv, including several Harry Potter films, Doctor Who, The Hollow Crown, Wolf Hall and Sherlock.

Edward II is buried here. He’s an interesting character, made more so by the powerful words written by Christopher Marlowe in his play of the same name. One of the most notorious aspects of Edward’s reign was his relationship with Piers Gaveston and historians have discussed the possibility of a sexual relationship between the king and the nobleman.

Aside from this relationship, Edward’s reign was controversial, full of famine and war, not to mention conflict with his wife, Isabella. Eventually, he was forced to abdicate and died a year later in suspicious and gruesome circumstances.

photograph of tomb of monarch within cathedral

The tomb of Edward II at Gloucester Cathedral © Copyright Julian P Guffogg (CC By-SA 2.0)

Edward’s tomb was commissioned by his son, Edward III, and has been visited by pilgrims over the years, including Richard II; these visits are said to have funded the expansion and improvements made to the cathedral across the centuries. It is rumoured that the presence of Edward’s tomb was also why Henry VIII did not destroy the site during his dissolution of the monasteries and it remains a beautifully ornate and acutely detailed effigy to a medieval king – within a structure that mimics the cathedral itself.

For more royal burial sites

Other royal burial sites can be visited by the public, which can be viewed on this interactive map. Some of them are outside the UK, but they are well worth a visit.

View the map below or follow this link to see the burial sites by era.

7 comments on “Britain’s best places to see: Burial places of the English monarchs

  1. John on

    Great article – good to have the list & some splendid illustrations – thank you. BUT whoever wrote the caption for Henry II etc, the Fontevraud label? – “The graves no longer exist and was probably destroyed during the French Revolution but their effigy’s survive.” Does anyone check such entries?

    Reply
  2. john simons on

    An extremely interesting article.As I’m due to visit the old country from NZ in the near future,now have another itinerary to add to the bucket list.Well done!

    Reply

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