Henry IV buried in cathedral
The sole King of England to be buried in the sacred halls of Canterbury Cathedral is Henry IV – immortalised by William Shakespeare.
He is interred in Trinity Chapel alongside his consort Queen Joanne of Navarre, just across from the far better known tomb of Edward the Black Prince – a man whose son he forced off the throne.
Alabaster effigies of the couple mark their resting place, which is one of the lesser known attractions for visitors to one of England’s most popular tourist destinations.
Henry, originally known as Henry Bolingbroke, was born in 1367, and reigned from 1399 until 1413.
He spent some early years fruitlessly helping the Teutonic Knights attack Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania, before making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
He had been a childhood friend of the then-king of England Richard II, but a chance remark was interpreted as treason and Henry was exiled and his inheritances seized.
But when Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland, Henry returned and rallied his supporters.
Declaring himself King, he captured and imprisoned Richard who thenmost likely was left to starve to death.
Henry’s coronation on October 13, 1399, was significant as it marked the first time the new monarch had addressed the assembled throng in English – rather than French – since the Norman Conquest.
With Richard’s body on display in St Paul’s Cathedral, to show any remaining supporters their claimant to the throne was dead, he now faced the problems of governing Medieval England.
Plots, rebellions and assassination attempts marked Henry’s reign with Welshman Owain Glyndr having some military success, before his the king’s son – later to become Henry V – bested the upstart on the battlefield.
Other conflicts Henry IV faced included those against Richard loyalists the earls of Kent, Huntingdon and Salisbury; the Percy family, who he defeated at the Battle of Shrewsbury; and the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Northumberland with his Scottish allies.
Political triumphs included entertaining the only Byzantine emperor to visit England, Manuel II Palaiologos. who saw a joust held in his honour at Eltham, and the capture of King James I of Scotland by English pirates whom he kept as a prisoner.
But a disfiguring skin disease – possibly a form of leprosy –was taking its toll and severe attacks of an undiagnosed illness, maybe cardiovascular or epilepsy, resulted in Henry IV’s death.
Prophesies had stated he would die in Jerusalem and Shakespeare echoes this.
The monarch had told his court he believed this meant he would die on crusade – but he actually died in the Jerusalem Chamber of the house of the Abbot of Westminster.
Henry IV had stated his wish to be buried at Canterbury, but the reasons why are unclear with the royal story then turning to fable.
It is believed a massive storm washed over the ship carrying his coffin as it sailed past Faversham, and according to some accounts the remains of the monarch were thrown overboard to lighten the vessel’s load.
Controversy continued up until the 19th century when the tomb was opened to establish the truth once and for all.
The story then goes that Henry’s body, complete with preserved red beard, was bought to view, just seconds before it crumbled to dust on exposure to the air.