Elizabeth I, Mary I and Pope Benedict XVI

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 thoughts on “Elizabeth I, Mary I and Pope Benedict XVI

  1. 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!

  2. 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:


  3. 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.

  4. 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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