In St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, an innocuous marble floor tile hides more than the building’s foundation. Four oddly matched royals are buried beneath: King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, King Charles I, and an infant child of Queen Anne.
Originally, the vault was intended as only a temporary resting place for Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, his third wife. Henry was likely first attracted to Jane in 1535, when, during a visit to her father, she refused to sleep with him unless they were married. Her qualified refusal contributed to the downfall of Henry’s wife at the time, Anne Boleyn. Anne was executed on May 19, 1536, and Henry and Jane were married 11 days later.
Their union lasted only 17 months, long enough for Jane to restore Henry’s daughter Mary I to his favour and to bear him a son: Edward VI, a legitimate male heir. Jane died less than two weeks after Edward’s birth, and, since the ostentatious tomb Henry planned for himself was not yet under construction, she was buried in the vault beneath Windsor Castle. When Henry died in 1547, he was buried beside her. Though his children had been instructed to complete their father’s grand tomb in St. George’s Chapel, none of them did so, and what parts of the tomb did exist were sold during the Civil War to raise funds for the royal family.
The first English Civil War meant company for Henry and Jane: the headless body of King Charles I. The fact that Charles received a burial at all, let alone one at the royal residence of Windsor, was both lucky and unlikely. Charles was a shy, uncharismatic man who had made a disastrous king. He believed the assertion of his father, James I, that the monarch’s rule was ordained by God, and he frequently disbanded Parliament when its members requested more political power. His refusal to compromise with Parliament eventually ignited a nine-year war between Charles’s Royalists and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians. A specially formed court convicted Charles of treason, and on January 30, 1649, he was beheaded outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. To appease the many English citizens who were shocked by the execution of their king, Parliament agreed to bury Charles at Windsor.
Years later the royal family had lost track of Charles’s body, with some alleging that his son Charles II may have reburied his body at Westminster Abbey. But when construction of a mausoleum at St. George’s Chapel began under George III in 1813, the chamber holding Henry VIII and Jane Seymour was rediscovered—along with two other coffins. The third was inscribed with Charles’s name and the year of his death, and the head of the skeleton within was severed from the body. It was undoubtedly Charles. The fourth was a very small coffin containing a stillborn child of Queen Anne.
All four coffins remained in their resting place beneath St. George’s Chapel. In 1837 King William IV ordered a marble slab to be placed above them and engraved with the four royals’ names and, save for the child, the years of their deaths.