Edward’s IV Monument in St Georges Chapel, Windsor
Back in 2016 I was much intrigued by a story that had been hanging around for some time that when Edward’s IV’s vault and coffin were discovered in 1790 in St Georges Chapel, an adjoining vault was also discovered which was thought may have contained the coffins of two of Edward’s children – George who died aged 2, and Mary who died aged 14. This vault was not explored although a ledger stone was laid with George’s name thereon over the vault. A drawing/diagram that was made at that time is on St George’s timeline clearing showing the ledger stone with the inscription.
The floor plan dating from 1790 showing the ledger stone inscribed George Duke of Bedford next to the stone inscribed with his parents name on. The ledger stone covers the mysterious vault thought at that time to contain the coffins of George and Mary.
However in 1810, during further work being made at St George’s, the actual lead coffins of George and Mary were discovered in another part of the chapel in the area known then as Wolsey’s Chapel and now as the Albert Memorial Chapel. These were easily identifiable because George’s lead coffin was inscribed with
“serenissimus princeps Georgius filius tercius Christianissimi principis Edvardi iiij”
and it was known that Mary had been laid to rest alongside her little brother – her funeral accounts tell us “and after Dirige she buried by my Lorde George, her brother, on whos solles God have mercy” (1).
When Mary’s coffin was examined it was found she was “enveloped in numerous folds of cere-cloth closely packed with cords” (2). Finally George and Mary were laid to rest in the small vault adjoining their father’s but frustratingly no mention was made as to whether there were any other coffins in there (3). Might this indicate there were none? Indeed would there have been room?
Mary Plantagenet. From the Royal Window in Canterbury Cathedral.
But still a story was born and persists that there were two mysterious coffins in the vault which might belong to the missing boys, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury who were last seen alive in the Tower of London. Having heard of this story I wondered, for example, had Buckingham had the boys murdered, and Richard (not guilty of a hand in it!) then had them buried secretly next to their father?
To add strength to the story mention of the puzzle of ‘the coffins’ appeared on the web page of the chapel and also in an article in the Richard III Society Bulletin in September 2001, by someone who worked at the chapel in the capacity of a steward. In the article it stated that further investigation would be made about the vault and its contents but this has, as far as I know, never happened.
Together with another friend on the RIII Society Forum, I made an on-line search for the report that had been made at the time. It was found but could not be opened! I then asked the St George’s Archivist via email , who kindly responded on 22nd November, 2016, to the effect that the original information on their website was inaccurate although ‘it had been used to support the theory’ and ‘if there were any coffins in the vault it is not known how many there were or when they dated from’. The email went on to explain the 1790 report had mentioned that a small vault was noticed at the time when Edward’s vault was opened but not explored, and it was thought it could contain the coffins of two of Edward’s children, George, Duke of Bedford, and Princess Mary.
So to clarify the St Georges blog posted in 2012 misinterpreted the information, and speculated that the coffins in Edward’s vault could belong to the missing boys from the Tower. St George’s webpage has now been edited to reflect this.
So, alas, the whole story is merely based on speculation which transpired to be erronious. To clarify when the small vault was noticed it was not explored, but was mistakenly presumed to probably hold the remains of Edward’s children, George and Mary, who were subsequently found located elsewhere. No one actually looked. So it is actually not known whether it is an empty vault or If there are coffins in there at all, because no one has ever looked…which of course provides another mystery.
With thanks to my friend Sandra Heath Wilson who corroborated on this post with me..
Timeline of References as supplied by St Georges Chapel
( A) S.M. Bond, The Monuments of St George’s Chapel (Historical Monographs series no. 12): describes the memorial stone placed in the Chapel for Princess Mary and Prince George in 1789 and briefly describes why they are thought to be buried there: “In Vetusta Monumenta, Vol. III, p. 4, an account is given of the finding, in 1789, in a vault near that of Edward IV, of what were supposed to be the bodies of his daughter, Mary, and his third son, George, Duke of Bedford. The slab then placed in the aisle, by Emlyn, was in the same style as his slab to Edward IV. Britton, in his Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain, 1812, Vol. III, p. 45, describers the later finding of two coffins in what is now called the Albert Memorial Chapel, which were also thought to contain the bodies of Mary and George. On 30 July, 1813, these two coffins were also put under the stone already bearing their names (notes, X.23).”
(B) D. & S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. I, pt. I, Berkshire (reprint of an 1806 publication), p. 471 and note: talks about the 1810 discovery of Prince George’s coffin and the inscription on it – serenissimus princeps etc.; describes the body supposed to be that of Princess Mary as “enveloped in numerous folds of cere-cloth closely packed with cords”
(C) “On Friday 30th of July 1813. The two coffins which were discovered in the Tomb House in Wolsey’s Chapel in the year 1811 – & were, upon very competent evidence supposed to contain the bodies of the Infant Duke of Bedford and the Princess Elizabeth (sic.), son and daughter to King Edward the 4th, were deposited in a vault (in the presence of the Dean) constructed for the purpose immediately under the stone which bears their names, and adjoining to the tomb of King Edward the 4th, in the North Aisle of St George’s Chapel.”
(1) The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p58 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs p65
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On the bones in the urn – https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/14/the-bones-in-the-urn-again-a-17th-century-hoax/
Edward’s mysterious death – https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/27/the-mysterious-death-of-edward-iv/