King John's thumb-bone, hose, shoe and shroud

Description

When John’s tomb was opened in 1797, its contents were described in meticulous detail, and a small number of items removed. These objects, still preserved in Worcester, are the only known remains of King John surviving outside his coffin.

A local surgeon, Mr Sandford, was present at the opening of the tomb, and it was he who interpreted the positioning of the body. John’s skeleton was aligned in the tomb exactly as the king appears in his effigy, save that his upper jaw was found near his right elbow (evidence that the body had been disturbed). According to Sandford, neither hand was visible; but a thumb-bone, reputed to be that of King John, was presented to Worcester Cathedral in 1957. The skeleton was measured by those who opened the coffin, and John was reckoned to have stood 5 ft 6½ in. tall (approximately 1.70 m).

Fragments of textile, also found in the tomb, perhaps formed part of the hose and shoe of King John, together with the shroud in which he was wrapped. The shroud was made of crimson damask, and extended from the neck nearly to the feet; some of the embroidery was found near the right knee, and this may survive as the piece decorated with a lion’s head. On the king’s skull was a monk’s cowl, rather than the crown depicted in the effigy; and to the left of the body was a sword, in a leather scabbard.

Full title:
King John's remains
Created:
1200-99
Format:
Object
Held by:
Worcester Cathedral
Copyright:
© Photograph by Mr Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist.  Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

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