The Tomb of King John, Worcester Cathedral

The Tomb of King John, Worcester Cathedral

King John did not live to see the end of the First Barons’ War and the fate of England. He was unfortunate to contract dysentery while at King’s Lynn. His physical state was already weak following long spells on the road, including a trip from Kent to Berwick upon Tweed. Surprisingly John’s last public appearance was in Lincoln where he met Nicholaa de la Haye and Matilda de Caux, an event which you can read about in Wars of the Magna Carta by Austin Hernon. The condition progressively worsened and was ultimately fatal. John died on October 19th, 1216 at Newark Castle, less than 20 miles from Lincoln. His final resting place is in Worcester Cathedral. If you visit, you can look at the tomb of King John.

One of the most incredible things about the tomb is the effigy. In the Medieval period it was customary for effigies to display the subject as if they were in the prime of their life. The idea was it would help people to remember them at their best. What makes John’s unique is that it is very life-like. As a result if you view it you can get a good idea of how the king looked when he passed away. Dating back to 1232, this is also the oldest royal effigy in England.

Opening the tomb

What is equally interesting about John’s tomb is that it has been opened twice over the years. This is a very rare occurrence. The first time was in 1529. The original thought was that a monk’s cowl was covering John’s head. However, the belief now is that it was his coronation cap.

The original tomb did not have the decorative box. This was a later addition from the 16th century. The box resembles those tombs belonging to Prince Arthur and Griffiths ap Ryce.

The second opening was in 1797 to allow an antiquarian study of John’s body. The headline discovery here was that John was 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall. A woven crimson damask was covering the body but sadly the years had deteriorated the embroidery. Also inside the coffin was a sword and parts of its scabbard.

Impressively King John’s coffin was Highley stone from Worcestershire. This is grey medium sandstone which is commonly used to make flagstones.

The picture above is of the tomb of King John. If you want to view it in person you can visit Worcester Cathedral.

If you also want to learn more about the First Barons’ war, pick up a copy of Wars of the Magna Carta today.