10 Facts About King John's Tomb in Worcester Cathedral

Have you visited the tomb of King John at Worcester Cathedral? There are a few little-known facts I learned while visiting the king at the cathedral earlier last year. Did you know all of these?  

King John at Worcester Cathedral (my own)

1. It was once studded with jewels
If you look carefully, particularly in the area of John's crown, his hands and the lining of his robes, you can see large, smooth indents in the stone. These, the guide informed me, once contained precious jewels and so John's tomb would have shone and sparkled in the light of the cathedral. The stones were prised out in later centuries by visitors. 

2. The area around it was brightly painted
We tend to think of Medieval England as shades of brown, grey and white but this is mostly down to what remains today. In the thirteenth century the pillars and walls of Worcester Cathedral would have been painted in bright primary colours; red, blue and green. There is a screen around the corner from John's tomb (ask the guide on duty if you can't find it) that gives you a computer-generated view of what this part of the cathedral would once have looked like. 

3. He didn't lie undisturbed... 
John was exhumed on 17 July 1797 over doubts that his tomb actually contained the king's body. On opening it, they realised that it did, and they even measured him. He was five feet seven inches tall. They also found the remains of his silk robe, stockings and his worn shoes. 

4. It wasn't originally where it is now
The guide looking after the monument on the day I visited told me that the tomb was originally placed in the choir of the cathedral, and set into the ground. If you look at the photo above you can see the site, just a few steps further up from where John's head lies now. The tomb was later moved into its current position. 

5. The base was added by the Tudors
Apparently, although disliked by many of his contemporaries, King John underwent a kind of PR campaign under the Tudors. A king who asserted his power over the Pope was a bit of a Tudor role model for Henry VIII, for obvious reasons, and Tudor workmen were commissioned to create the intricate tomb chest that stands underneath John's effigy today. 

6. It was once flanked by two saints
Shrines of St Wulfstan and St Oswald were once situated either side of John's tomb. In fact according to information at the cathedral, the two 'angels' that hold up the king's head aren't actually angels at all, but depictions of the two saints. 

7. John personally chose its site
It's not known why exactly John wanted to be buried at Worcester, but this is where he willed that his body would lie. 
8. The tomb took 8 years to build - and didn't start straight away
In 1216 King John didn't exactly leave the country in a stable state for his son to continue to rule, and so Henry III had to wait to commission work on his father's tomb. Work began in 1224, and in 1232 John's body was placed in the new tomb. The effigy we see today dates from this period. 

9. John has a royal neighbour
Just across from John's feet, there's a very worn group of steps leading to a separate chapel. Here lies Arthur, Prince of Wales, the oldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. 

10. The tomb escaped recent damage
Storm Arwen, which brought 100mph winds in the autumn of 2021 caused damage to the cathedral, resulting in its closure while important repairs were carried out and made safe. Luckily John's tomb was not affected. Phew. 

King John at Worcester Cathedral (my own)

How to visit King John's tomb
John's tomb lies in Worcester Cathedral, a few minutes' walk from the riverside. Just follow the signs in the city centre which show you where the cathedral is. The view of the cathedral from the river is actually really beautiful, so before you go do have a look at it from there. Go through the main doors and you'll probably be greeted by a guide. Head towards the choir and John's tomb is just beyond that. 

Worcester can be reached from London on GWR train services. 

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