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Many elaborate royal funerals have taken place in Westminster Abbey prior to burial here.
4 minute read
There are thirteen kings, four queens regnant, eleven queens consort (those married to a king) and two other queens buried in the Abbey making a total of thirty.
Edward the Confessor was buried in 1066 in the new Abbey church he had built and many monarchs have their tombs around his Shrine. Henry III, Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault and Richard II and Anne of Bohemia have fine effigies on their tombs. Edward I has a large plain tomb chest but his queen Eleanor of Castile has a gilt bronze effigy. Henry V is buried under his chantry on the east side of St Edward the Confessor’s chapel and his queen Katherine de Valois lies in the chapel above. Henry’s coffin was drawn on a hearse along the nave of the church by four horses as far as the quire entrance.
When St Edward’s chapel was full, monarchs began to be buried in the Lady Chapel which Henry VII built for his own burial. He has a magnificent tomb, as does Elizabeth I. Her coffin was placed on top of that of Mary I in the vault beneath.
James I brought the body of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, to the Abbey from her original burial place at Peterborough in 1612 to be placed in a vault under a large monument he erected for her.
His daughter Elizabeth, who became Queen of Bohemia, is buried in the same vault. James himself has no monument but lies beside Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York in the vault below their monument.
No space remained for monuments to be erected to later monarchs so only floor stones mark the burials of:
Edith, wife of the Confessor; Maud, wife of Henry I; Anne, wife of Richard III; and Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, are also buried in the church.
The supposed bones of Edward V, one of the “Princes in the Tower”, were interred here by order of Charles II. George II was the last monarch buried in the Abbey in 1760 and he lies in the Hanoverian burial vault under the central aisle of the Lady Chapel beside his queen Caroline. Due of lack of space later monarchs were buried at St George’s chapel, Windsor Castle or in the Frogmore mausoleum in the grounds.
After 1760 the next funeral of a monarch or consort did not take place until 1925 when the coffin of Queen Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII, lay in state in the lantern near the steps to the High Altar before burial at Windsor.
The funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales took place here in 1997, and by her own wish she was buried at her family home at Althorp.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died in 2002, widow of King George VI, had close connections with the Abbey so requested that her funeral be held here. Again, she was buried with her husband at Windsor.
Queen Elizabeth II also requested that her funeral should be held at the Abbey as she was married and crowned in the church. Her State funeral took place on 19th September 2022 and she was buried at St George's Chapel Windsor with her parents, husband and sister.
The death of kings. Royal deaths in medieval England by Michael Evans, 2007
The Theatre of death. The ritual management of royal funerals...1570-1625 by Jennifer Woodward, 1997.
The royal way of death by Olivia Bland, 1986
British Royal and State Funerals. Music and ceremonial since Elizabeth I by Matthias Range, 2016
It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.