Henry’s funeral

Henry was buried on this day of 20 November in 1272. He was dressed in his coronation robes and carried to Westminster Abbey by a select group of nobles. They bore his body on a portable reliquary so that the crowds could see him. He was laid to rest in the burial chamber formerly used for Edward the Confessor, who had been translated three years earlier to the new shrine behind the main altar. The chamber is located underneath the Cosmati pavement, which had been designed by Henry to reflect his piety and mysticism, but it was considered only temporary. In 1290 he was moved to the elaborate tomb built for him near the shrine by his son Edward I. After the service, Henry’s great seal was produced before all to see and broken. His reign was officially over. It was the start of Edward’s reign, even though he was overseas and ‘they did not know if he was dead or alive’.

One of those present at the funeral was chronicler Thomas Wykes, who was generally dismissive of Henry as a ruler. He cynically observed that in death the king shone with more splendor than he did in life. He had been too warm-hearted, too charitable, too clever by half. When Henry replaced the sword on his seal with a rod of peace, various chroniclers sneered that he was just excusing his failure to crush the French in battle. Worst of all was the captive monarchy of 1264-65, when Simon de Montfort ruled the realm with Henry as a mere figurehead. It was a stain on England that, to borrow the line used by Shakespeare for Richard II, not all the water in the rough rude sea could wash away. Wykes was more impressed with Edward, who had shown at Evesham that he was prepared to butcher troublemakers if they went too far. Indeed, at his coronation 20 months later, Edward took the crown and announced there was a new game in town.

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