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22 July 1183: Funeral at Rouen

On 22 July 1183, Rouen had its first royal burial, when in the cathedral the body of Henry the Young King, ‘wrapped in those linen clothes that had been used at his coronation, and upon which the sacred oil had flowed’, was finally interred peacefully near the high altar. Let us not forget that the citizens of Rouen had almost gone to war to acquire the royal relics. When on the way north from Martel to Normandy, the late king's entourage stopped at Le Mans the bishop and the great people, acting in what they probably saw as their common interest and utterly disregarding the dying king’s will- Henry had expressed a wish to be buried at Rouen cathedral- seized the opportunity to acquire the relics. That is why when the body  “… was set down in the choir of the church of St Julien [they] rushed in, and with popular approval speedily buried it there”, next to the late king’s paternal grandfather, Geoffrey le Bel of Anjou.

The town of Martel, Lot department, France. The building on the left (with the tower and red window shutters) is traditionally believed to be the one in which Henry the Young King passed away "in the flower of his youth" on 11 June 1183, being the feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle (in reality the house dates from the 13th century). Photo courtesy of Leonie Coleman

As soon as the news reached the capital of Normandy, feathers flew. The good people of Rouen made it clear that they were ready to fight tooth-and-nail to get the royal body back. They threatened to raze the city of Le Mans to the ground and, if necessary, carry off the body by force and they would have been as good as their word, had not the old  king's intervention. The bloodshed was prevented and Henry II made an order for the corpse to be given up. A year later, in 1184, Henry's younger brother and ally in the ill-fated 1183 campaign, Geoffrey of Brittany, together with his wife, Constance founded a chaplaincy at the cathedral of Rouen ‘for the soul of his late brother, the young king Henry, with a rent of 20 l. per annum from his mills at Guingamp’. 

I wrote about the above mentioned events in detail in one of my previous posts.
                                            Henry's tomb effigy. Rouen Cathedral. Courtesy of Rebecca Bugge

As for Henry's tomb, which has been preserved in the cathedral, it is a copy of the original one which had been destroyed in the 18th century, in 1736, to be precise, alongside with those of his brother Richard and his paternal uncle William (d. 1164)*, for "some comparatively trivial purpose", namely the then chapter's great desire to "erect more magnificent altar, and to elevate it considerably above the level of the choir. To effect this it was necessary to take up the old pavement, to remove the monuments, and to disturb the soil underneath to the depth of 15 feet. It must be menioned, however, to their credit, that they had great respect to the mortal remains of these illustrious persons, which they replaced in their original positions; and when the new pavement was put down, squares of white marble were inserted over the graves of each, bearing simple and appropriate inscriptions...' (from French Cathedrals). Upon that of Henry one could read:


Still, we should consider ourselves lucky, for prior to the tombs' destruction, Bernard de Montfaucon, 
a French monk, one of the founders of  modern archeology, had copied the effigy images and preserved as engravings.

* Richard's tomb was near the altar on the left. The tombs of Henry and William were also near the altar, but on the other side. The remains of William (d.1164), the younger brother of Henry II, were not found.

** This "Lionheart's brother" wouldn't have been much to Henry's liking, I am sure :)


The Plantagenet Chronicles  ed. by Dr.Elizabeth Hallam
Everard, Judith. The Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany and Her Family, 1171-1221
Holbach, Maude In the Footsteps of Richard Coeur de Lion
Winkles, Benjamin. French Cathedrals. From Drawings by R. Garland with an Historical and Descriptive Account 

Turner, Dawson. Account of a Tour in Normandy
Way, Albert Observations on the Monumental Effigy of Richard I of England 


  1. How maddening that the original effigy had lasted all that time and was then disturbed in the 1700s. I take it none of it survives?

  2. I'm afraid not :( Yes, I find it quite frustrating - to know it had survived all the centuries only to be destroyed in the 18th century...


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