One of the most beautiful attractions of Worcester Cathedral is Prince Arthur’s Chantry, which surrounds the tomb of Henry VII’s eldest son. This Chantry is covered in detailed stone carvings and devotional symbols and imagery. Of particular interest is the heraldry found on the south elevation of the Chantry.
All of the heraldry shown has great significance to Prince Arthur and the Tudor dynasty, as well as Prince Arthur’s wife Katherine of Aragon and other individuals of importance. On the south side stands a line of nineteen heraldic panels spanning much of the length of the Chantry. There are royal shields specific to Prince Arthur, Elizabeth of York and the regal arms of King Henry VII; many of the other panels show badges of importance, such as ostrich feathers (for Arthur as the Prince of Wales), the Beaufort Portcullis, a single rose, the rose en soleil and the eagle and fetterlock (which were all Yorkist badges adopted by Henry VII).
These symbols are depicted together in many variations on the Chantry as standard Tudor badges. Other badges in the line depict the symbols of the pomegranate of Granada (for Arthur’s wife, Katherine of Aragon), and arrows in a cluster (for Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon). Another addition to the badges is that of the fleur-de-lis (for Prince Arthur’s great-grandmother, Katherine de Valois and France), which appears in combination with other Tudor imagery.
An interesting fact about the heraldry found on the south side of Prince Arthur’s Chantry is that it is possibly made from a different stone than the rest of the Chantry, although it could simply be that the stone was taken from a different bed in the same quarry. The shields are fashioned out of the same piece of stone as the rest of the carving but have been ‘undercut’ so that they appear to stand proud. In comparison with other Tudor tombs and monuments, in particular the tomb of Henry VII at Westminster, the heraldry appears to be in random combinations.
The chantry tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Cathedral is very symmetrical in design and decoration, whereas the chantry of Prince Arthur here in Worcester is inconsistent and in an unsymmetrical arrangement. According to Christine Buckley, this suggests some sort of redesign of the chapel after the stone had been paid for and the money allocated[i]. In her detailed research she pointed out that the coats of arms were squeezed into the panel, whereas the other heraldic devices were very large, and that this was like at Kings College Cambridge which also has outsized heraldic images[ii]. She also put forward the suggestion that if the two-bay sections had been symmetrically placed at each end and in the centre, at the level where the emblems are now, each space would have been wider than it was high and all three coats of arms would have fitted perfectly.
There also appears to be evidence of a rearrangement of the heraldic panels as some of the badges, in particular the roses, are not centred. Others show evidence of damage, believed most likely to have been caused by Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil Wars. Another explanation for the damage is that the Chantry itself was originally placed somewhere else within the Cathedral, and was rebuilt in its present location with the panels rearranged out of order. However, this theory is now thought to be less likely as the so called misplaced squint is not evidence of the chantry being in a different location but in fact enabled the priest celebrating the mass in the Arthur Chantry to indicate to the priest celebrating in what is now the St. John chapel that the host had been raised at the High Altar[i].
[i] Christine Buckley, Remembrance of Things Past, pp.3-7 in Archaeology at Worcester Cathedral Report of the eighteenth annual symposium March 2008, ed. Christopher Guy, 2009, p.5
[i] Christine Buckley, Prince Arthur’s Chantry Chapel, Worcester Cathedral: Keeping Things in Proportion, pp.12-24 in Archaeology at Worcester Cathedral Report of the twenty-first annual symposium March 2011, ed. Christopher Guy, 2012, p.21.
[ii] Buckley, op. cit., p.19