Susan A. Raich
Williams College: Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors in History, Williamstown, Massachusetts
As six centuries passed, a Plantagenet king lay undisturbed near the shrine to Saint Edward the Confessor in the church at Westminster Abbey, until November of 1871 when his tomb was opened. For the purpose of cleaning the monument, Society of Antiquaries led by the Dean of Westminster conducted a thorough study of the tomb’s materials and assembly. First, the dean’s party lifted away the heavy cast bronze effigy from the tomb’s top. The investigators then examined the two marble chests stacked below, each of which retained the stone and glass mosaics which had lent the tomb opulence since its construction.
The Very Reverend Arthur Penrhyn Stanley and his colleagues then proceeded to remove the lid of the upper tomb chest in order to see the coffin within, which contained the embalmed royal body. This action concluded the antiquarians’ study; Stanley recalls, “A feeling was found to prevail that there did not seem, upon historical grounds, to be sufficient motive to warrant the opening of the coffin… The sepulchral case was closed, but interest in the tomb among scholars of and visitors to the Abbey persists.