Elizabeth I, Mary I and Pope Benedict XVI

Posted By claire on September 23, 2010

I found it interesting that Pope Benedict XVI, on his visit to Westminster Abbey in London, spoke of the chapel where the Catholic Mary I and the Protestant Elizabeth I are buried together, and said that he hoped and prayed that their burial together might be a sign of future reconciliation between the Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Now, I’m not going to get all political or discuss the possible reunification of the Churches, but I’m not sure that you can use the resting place of the two sisters as a sign of future reconciliation! Elizabeth I did not choose to be buried in the same tomb as her sister, and was originally buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII. In 1606, Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, wanting Elizabeth’s place in Henry VII’s vault for himself, moved Elizabeth’s coffin, opened Mary I’s vault in Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel, and placed Elizabeth’s coffin within. James also commissioned a grand, white, marble monument and an effigy of Elizabeth to lie on top.

The inscription on the grand, white marble tomb reads:-

“Regno consortes et urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis.”


“Partners both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

I’m pretty sure that both sisters would be horrified by this tomb. Mary would hate the fact that her instructions or wishes were not carried out. In her recent book, “Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen”, Anna Whitelock writes of how Mary requested that her executors “cause to be made some honourable tombs or decent memory” of her and her mother, Catherine of Aragon, yet Mary was buried “with only stones from demolished altars marking the spot where she was laid to rest” and her mother was left in Peterborough Cathedral. Mary would also not be impressed with her half-sister, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, stealing the limelight with her effigy. Elizabeth too must be rolling in her grave! To be buried with the sister who imprisoned her in the Tower of London for months, letting her fear for her life, and then kept her under house arrest – ugh! She wanted to be buried with her grandfather, not her half-sister! The two sisters did not have the best of relationships in life, why should they “rest in peace” together?

Perhaps that’s what the Pope was referring to, perhaps he was thinking that these two sisters were very different, were of different religious persuasions and spent much of their life disagreeing, but they have been united in the end, albeit in death and not of their own choosing. The Catholic Queen and Protestant Queen resting together in hope of resurrection from the Father they both believed in. Hmm…

By the way, Henry VIII has had lots of mentions in the British press during the Pope’s visit! Practically every news report I’ve read mentions Henry VIII’s break with Rome and one report stated that this was only the second visit by a Pope to Britain since the break with Rome, which I did not realise. I wonder what Henry would make of this visit and talk of the reunification of the Churches. What do you think?


14 Responses to “Elizabeth I, Mary I and Pope Benedict XVI”

  1. Christine says:

    Very interesting post, thanks Claire. Honestly, I would think that the pope/papal speechwriters did not think too much about what they were alluding to. I remember this happening before. I’d also reckon this was only the second visit of a pope ever to Britain. These resting places! When V.I.P.s have all to be in one holy national spot, strange encounters happen: I still remember being quite impressed about Elizabeth and Mary Stuart lying side by side, if I had only known that Mary Tudor was there as well! Poor Elizabeth. I really think she didn’t deserve this. St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower is an odd collection too, but what binds them together is judicial murder and I am convinced their common experience makes it somewhat easier.

  2. Olivia Peyton says:

    Is not one of the Ten Commandements: Thous Shalt not Steal?
    So perhaps Benedict could begin by explaining how the Vatican acquired some of the love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn if they were not, in fact, purloined from her apartments by agents of the Church? Notice that the “secret archives” in Rome are missing any letters from Anne to Henry…

  3. Fiz says:

    Quite so, Olivia! I think Mary and Catherine should be buried together and have a proper tomb. Also a monument to Catherine as she is still a much loved Queen of England. The less said about Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart, the better. And Elizabeth should have a magnificent tomb, about the same size of The Black Prince’s, in Canterbury Cathedral and a monument to her great abilities as Queen. Remember Elizabeth buried Mary and James 1st buried Elizabeth. They both had what they wanted and by the time Mary died, she was almost irrelevant to the country as a whole.

  4. Gemma says:

    I think Henry would be turning in his grave esp since we had to pay something like £12 million pounds and our country is Church of England! Next time he can stay in Rome!

  5. Heather says:

    Very interesting. I did not realize that is how the sisters ended up together. Rest in peace to both and I hope they have found reconciliation in the after-life.

  6. mariella says:

    Especially here, in Italy, we all know the Roman Catholic Church’s wrongs throughout the centuries. But Pope Benedict came in peace, and whoever offers peace should be welcomed and appreciated.
    Catherine, a Catholic, was a good Queen for England. Mary, her daughter, a Catholic, was a bad Queen. Elizabeth, an Anglican, was a marvellous Queen: and what would have been of Shakespeare without her support?
    Let them all rest in peace, and all of us, let’s pray for peace.
    Mariella (forgive my English!)

  7. Ceri C says:

    I reckon Henry would either have sunk the Pope in the Channel or just imprisoned him, coercing him into doing exactly what he wanted. (After all, didn’t Charles V, a good Catholic monarch, keep the Pope under virtual house arrest for a few years?)
    I think this is a classic case of someone – the Pope or his advisors – alighting on what seems like an apposite illustration of a point, without really understanding the full context. Mind you, how many people in the UK would know any better?
    Didn’t Benedict’s 16th century predecessor encourage his followers to assassinate Elizabeth, by the way?

  8. Fiz says:

    Ceri C, yes, indeed he did! The 1570 “Regnans in Celsio” was the declaration that made it the duty of catholics to try and murder Elizabeth

  9. Fiz says:

    Make that “Regnans in Excelsio”!

  10. lisaannejane says:

    I’d first like to see Henry react to the changes in the English government and how the prime minister is politically much more important than the monarchy. This would be a great skit for Henry 8.0. After he has quieted down, then attempt to tell him the current pope was allowed into the country. Remove any breakable objects before even hinting at joining up with Rome.

  11. Claire says:

    I do think it’s sad that the monument is all about Elizabeth and people could be forgiven for not realising that Mary was even buried there. Neither she or Elizabeth got what they wanted for their burial.

    I’d love to see Henry 8.0 do a sketch about Henry realising that it’s the prime minister who is in charge these days and not the monarch, he’d be furious!

  12. shtove says:

    It was the first state visit by a pope. Try and see it from Queen Elizabeth’s point of view. Hehe.

    No doubt that all the reformation symbolism was taken into account. I reckon the Newman beatification marks the end of the constitutional C of E: it will soon suffer the final reformation and divorce – just a question of who gets the property, the catholics or the socialists. Hopefully no one loses the head.

    The pope’s notorious Regensburg lecture is worth reading – language a bit academic, but it’s an oasis of reason in this naughty world of bankers and their political collaborators:


  13. Tina says:

    Claire — Thank you so much for the background on how Elizabeth and Mary I ended up buried together. I had thought that was…weird. LOL You are so right that Mary would have been appalled that she was buried with a half-sister she ended up despising. Elizabeth — one of England’s greatest monarchs — has to share her tomb with a half-sister that nearly had her executed. I always figured James just needed the space to put his own mother (as some final swipe to Elizabeth). Good grief — it’d be like putting Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn side by side in the same vault! But I never knew Elizabeth was originally in her grandparents’ area. I appreciate that clairification. As someone said, a ruler of her stature deserved a magnificent tomb along the lines of any equally great predecessors (although I fear Cromwell and his Commonwealth might have destroyed it). Too bad she didn’t get it, and I doubt now she ever will, but I know Mary wouldn’t like the fact that the sign outside indicates ELIZABETH I (or did in 2000 when I visited) and most visitors ilkely have NO idea Mary is there!

    But hey, at least she has one. Henry’s now relegated to some sarcophagus with Jane Seymour, Charles I and a dead baby of Queen Anne, and with a plaque above ground that most people probably walk across without even knowing about it! (I only saw it thanks to the guide brochure I was using). Curious — any ideas why Elizabeth asked to be buried with her grandparents and great-grandmother and not her father up at Windsor? (Maybe because Henry’s buried with Jane?)

    As for the Pope’s visit — what visit? Henry would NEVER have allowed it! When I heard that Benedict was in England, I was laughing and thinking “If I feel an earthquake, it’s Henry spinning in his grave!” And when IS Rome going to return Henry’s love letters??? That would have been a proper gesture last year for the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession.

  14. Tina says:

    Sorry to be back so soon LOL but I couldn’t resist — I HAD to find out about James’ tomb and decided to go to my favorite Find a Grave site: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1974. THAT’S IT? That little fading tombstone? Please tell me the photographer just couldn’t be too obvious since you’re not supposed to take pics in there anyway. Then figured since I was in there, I’d look up a few other Tudors:

    Edward VI: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1970
    Mary: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=1972&PIpi=99081
    Edmund Tudor: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39045303
    Owen Tudor: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39205911 (buried at Church of the Grey Friars in Hereford, but no photos available)
    Catherine of Valois: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8344315 (no photos of actual grave)
    Henry VIII: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=473&PIpi=82808 (That’s just kind of pathetic considering it’s HENRY).

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