Henry VII was the only child of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (son of Henry V's widow Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor) and his 13-year old wife Lady Margaret Beaufort (who died in the Abbot of Westminster's house on 29 June 1509, shortly after Henry VIII's coronation, and was buried in the Abbey). He was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales on 28 January 1457. Edmund died a few months before the birth so mother and son were cared for by Jasper Tudor, Henry's uncle. After several years of exile in France Henry landed at Milford Haven in August 1485 to claim the English throne and defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.
His reign is remembered for peace and prosperity and he spent lavish sums on building work, including the Lady Chapel at the Abbey, called the "wonder of the world". The foundation stone of his exquisite Chapel was laid on 24 January 1503 and it was consecrated on 19 February 1516. It has a magnificent fan-vaulted roof, with carved wooden stalls with misericords and statues of saints around the walls. During the time of Oliver Cromwell its altar, by Pietro Torrigiano, was destroyed, as was much of the stained glass and the floor tiles. Some Tudor glass quarries with the King's initials survived the Civil War and later the Blitz and are set in a window of the side aisle.
His marriage in January 1486 to Elizabeth of York united the Houses of Lancaster and York (Henry claimed descent through his mother from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III).
This took place in Westminster Abbey on 30 October 1485. Elizabeth's coronation was held on 25 November 1487.
Burial and Monument
Henry died on 21 April 1509, having suffered from gout and asthma. He and his wife lie in a vault beneath his magnificent tomb in the Lady Chapel (the first monarchs to be buried in the Abbey in a vault under the floor rather than in a tomb chest above ground). This was designed in the Renaissance style by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano.(Henry VIII had not liked the designs which were first put forward for the tomb by other sculptors). The black marble tomb base is adorned with six medallions in copper gilt representing the Virgin Mary and Henry's patron saints (Michael, George, Anthony, Christopher, Anne, Edward the Confessor, Vincent, Barbara, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist). At either end are coats of arms supported by cherubs. The gilt bronze recumbent effigies can be seen through the fine grille which surrounds the monument. Seated angels balance on the carved frieze at each corner of the tomb, supporting coats of arms They once held pennants in their hands.
The grille is by Thomas Ducheman (who most likely also designed the bronze gates to the Chapel). Only six of the thirty two statues in the niches of the grille now remain (Saints George, Edward the Confessor, Bartholomew, James the Great, John the Evangelist and another). The badges of the Welsh dragon and the greyhound of Richmond are also part of its decoration. The grille was originally gilded and on special anniversaries many candles, each nine feet high, were lit on top. Four candles were to burn constantly, tended by the monks.
Around the grille (both inside and outside) is a Latin inscription which can be translated "Henry VII rests within this tomb, he who was the splendour of kings and light of the world, a wise and watchful monarch, a courteous lover of virtue, outstanding in beauty, vigorous and mighty; who brought peace to his kingdom, who waged very many wars, who always returned victorious from the enemy, who wedded both his daughters to kings, who was united to kings, indeed to all, by treaty, who built this holy temple, and erected this tomb for himself, his wife, and his children. He completed more than fifty three years, and bore the royal sceptre for twenty four. The fifteenth hundredth year of the Lord had passed, and the ninth after that was running its course, when dawned the black day, the twenty first dawn of April was shining, when this so great monarch ended his last day. No earlier ages gave thee so great a king, O England; hardly will ages to come give thee his like".
The heads of the effigies carried at their respective funerals still survive in the Abbey collection, that of the king being particularly lifelike and probably from a death mask. The bodies of the funeral effigies were damaged by water during the blitz in the Second World War.
The inscriptions for Henry on the tomb can be translated:
"Here lies Henry the Seventh of that name, formerly King of England, son of Edmund, Earl of Richmond. He was created King on August 22 and immediately afterwards, on October 30, he was crowned at Westminster in the year of Our Lord 1485. He died subsequently on April 21 in the 53rd year of his age. He reigned 23 years eight months, less one day".
And that around the edge of the tomb:
"Here is situated Henry VII, the glory of all the kings who lived in his time by reason of his intellect, his riches, and the fame of his exploits, to which were added the gifts of bountiful nature, a distinguished brow, an august face, an heroic stature. Joined to him his sweet wife was very pretty, chaste and fruitful. They were parents happy in their offspring, to whom, land of England, you owe Henry VIII".
Elizabeth of York
She was born on 11 February 1465, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Her eldest son Arthur died soon after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and their second son Henry later married her. Several children who did not survive infancy are buried in the Abbey – Elizabeth, who has a small monument in the chapel of St Edward (the inscription has gone), Edmund and Catherine. The other daughters were Margaret Tudor, who married (firstly) James IV, King of Scots and Mary, who married Louis XII of France as her first husband. She died in childbirth in the Tower of London on her birthday, 11 February, 1503.
She had a magnificent funeral, her body being brought through the City of London on a gorgeous hearse on which lay her funeral effigy in royal robes. Eight ladies on white horses followed as part of the grand procession. She was temporarily buried in one of the side chapels until the main Lady chapel was sufficiently advanced for her grave to be made in it.
Her tomb inscription reads:
"Here lies Queen Elizabeth, daughter of the former King Edward IV, sister of the formerly appointed King Edward V, once the wife of King Henry VII, and the renowned mother of Henry VIII. She met her day of death in the Tower of London on the 11th day of February in the year of Our Lord 1502, having fulfilled the age of 37 years" (This date is given in Old Style dating, now called 1503).
Photographs of the chapel, the tomb, coffins in the vault and funeral effigies can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library: firstname.lastname@example.org (the library has more photos than those shown below)
The funeral effigies will be on show in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open in mid 2018.
During the 1939-45 war most of the moveable figures from the tomb, and the chapel itself, were evacuated to country houses. The grille was dismantled, apart from its stone base.
Henry VII by S.B.Chrimes
Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor Queen by Alison Weir, 2013
The King's Mother. Lady Margaret Beaufort by M.K.Jones & M.Underwood
Westminster Abbey:The Lady Chapel of Henry VII edited by T.Tatton-Brown and Richard Mortimer (2003).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments.. Inventory of..Westminster Abbey, vol.1, 1924
The History of the King's Works vol. III ed. H.M.Colvin, 1975 (for building of the chapel and the tomb)
An historical and architectural account of King Henry the Seventh's chapel at Westminster with a description of the sculpture and monuments... in J.P.Neale and E.W.Brayley History & Antiquities of...St Peter Westminster vol. 1, 1818
The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey edited by A. Harvey and R. Mortimer, revised edition 2003.
Royal tombs of medieval England by Mark Duffy, 2003
Gothic to Renaissance, essays on sculpture in England by P.Lindley, 1995 (in Introduction)
Accounts of the funerals are held at the College of Arms in London.
British Library Additional MS. 45131 gives an account of Elizabeth of York's funeral with a drawing.
The original 1512 contract for Henry's tomb does not survive but the main content from it is known from a later draft for Henry VIII's tomb which is in the National Archives (see Archaeologia 16 (1812).
The sculptures of Torrigiano: the Westminster Abbey tombs by Alan Darr in Connoisseur no.200, 1979
Royal bronze effigies in Westminster Abbey by H.J.Plenderleith & H. Maryon, in Antiquaries Journal XXXIX, 1959 (describing cleaning after the last war)
Henry VII's new men and the making of Tudor England by S.Gunn, 2016 (mentions Sir Thomas Lovell)
The Real Tudors... by C.Bolland and T.Cooper, exhibition National Portrait Gallery 2014
The Anglo-Florentine Renaissance. Art for the early Tudors ed. C.M.Sicca and L.A.Waldman, 2012 (for works by Torrigiano)
For more on the Lady Chapel and its decorations, statues and misericords go to Visit-Treasures-Lady Chapel on our website.
A bust of the King attributed to Torrigiano is at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (see Lindley book)
Click on the images to enlarge