8 locations for royal burials in London…6. St Peter ad Vincula…

The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. PICTURE: David Adams

Officially the The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, this small church is located in the Inner Ward of the Tower of London.

Under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch as a “royal peculiar”, the current building – and the name means “Peter in Chains”, a reference to St Peter’s imprisonment at the hands of King Herod – dates from 1520 and was constructed on the orders of King Henry VIII.

As well as being the burial place of officers who served at the Tower, the chapel – which is located only a few steps away from the execution site on Tower Green – is also the final resting place of many who were executed within the Tower’s precincts including the likes of Thomas Cromwell and Bishop John Fisher.

Those buried here include two of King Henry VIII’s wives who both suffered the ignominy of being beheaded. Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard – respectively the second and fifth wives of the king – were both interred here after their executions.

Memorial stone for Queen Anne Boleyn in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. PICTURE: AloeVera95 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Anne Boleyn, who was executed on 17th May, 1536, was buried under the floor in front of the high altar (along with her brother George who was executed two days before the Queen). Catherine Howard was executed several years later on 13th February, 1542, and was also buried beneath the floor.

The other royal figure buried in the Chapel was Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine Day Queen” who was executed on Tower Green on 12th February, 1554, at just the age of 17 on the orders of Queen Mary I. She was buried beneath the chapel’s altar (along with her husband, Lord Guilford Dudley, who was also executed on Tower Green).

The chapel fell into some neglect by the mid-19th century and in 1876 works were carried out under the direction of architect Anthony Salvin to restore the building. This included replacing the floor which had collapsed owing, it’s said, to the large number of burials that had taken place under it since the 16th century.

Many of the bodies were exhumed and identified, including that of Queen Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, and moved into a newly created crypt underneath.

The marble floor which was installed over the top features memorials commemorating those interred underneath. These include individual memorial stones for Henry VIII’s two Queens and a stone commemorating several of other prominent figures buried beneath including Lady Jane Grey.

WHERE: St Peter ad Vincula, Inner Ward, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm (last admission 3.30pm), Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to 4.30pm (last admission 3.30pm) Sunday to Monday; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children 5 to 15; £24 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

A Moment in London’s History – The execution of Catherine Howard…

It’s 480 years this month since Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, was executed for treason inside the Tower of London.

Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger (oil on panel, late 17th century/NPG 1119 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Catherine, who it has been suggested may have been just 17-years-old when she died, was beheaded on the morning of 13th February, 1542, less than two years after her hastily arranged marriage to the King, just three weeks after his prior marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.

Catherine, also spelt as Katherine, was condemned to death after a young noble named Francis Dereham admitted, under torture, to having a sexual relationship with her prior to her marrying the king, and, more importantly, Thomas Culpeper, a Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber, who admitted to having an affair with her after her marriage.

Both men were executed at Tyburn following their admissions and their heads were displayed on London Bridge. Catherine sailed under it aboard a barge as she was taken to the Tower on 10th February, 1542.

She is said to have spent the night before her execution practising placing her head on the block – which was brought to her at her request.

Catherine was beheaded with the single stroke of a headsman’s axe on Tower Green – King Henry did not attend but some of her cousins, including the Earl of Surrey, were among the witnesses.

She was said to have been composed, although she needed help mounting the scaffold. It’s often said that her last words were “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper” but there’s no eyewitness report which suggests this and instead she is believed to have stuck to a more traditional script, saying her punishment was just for her crimes and asking forgiveness.

Her maid – Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford – followed her to the block for her role in facilitating the affair while Henry was away from court. Catherine had apparently spent the night before practising how to lay her head upon the block.

Catherine was buried in an unmarked grave at in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula next to Tower Green – there’s a memorial to her in the church. The Queen’s ghost is famously said to be present in what’s known as the ‘Haunted Gallery’ at Hampton Court Palace – it is here that, when she was arrested, she apparently broke free from her guards and ran to the doors of the Chapel Royal where she believed the king was at prayer. Needless to say, her cries for mercy went unanswered.

Memorial stone set in the floor of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. PICTURE: VCR Giulio19/Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)