Born to be King, but …

In the counties of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in the Heart of England, the River Severn (Britain’s longest river) flows past two Cathedrals and an Abbey, each being the burial place of a member of a medieval royal family who was heir to the throne; had their lives have been different they would have been king and the history of England may have taken a different turn.

We will start in Gloucester and follow the course of the river north to Worcester. As we do so we will encounter heirs apparent from the 11th, 15th and 16th centuries.

Gloucester Cathedral. Coyright Philip Halling

Robert, Duke of Normandy
Robert is thought to have been born in 1051, some fifteen years before his father became King William I (the Conqueror) of England, after he defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Thus making his oldest son Robert, heir and someone who would normally expect to inherit the Crown.

However, when William the Conqueror died in 1087 his lands where divided, his oldest son became Robert II, Duke of Normandy and his second son became King William II (Rufus) of England. Robert’s nickname was “Curthose” originating from the Norman French word courtheuse meaning ‘short stockings’ a nickname given him by his father.

As Duke of Normandy his rule was problematic, with him losing authority and struggling to control his rebellious vassals. His relations with his brothers William II and Henry I in England was often difficult. He participated in the First Crusade, where he salvaged his reputation and proved an important commander. After the death of his brother William II, who was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest, with Robert away on Crusade, his younger brother Henry became king of England. Robert challenged the throne but this ended with defeat in the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106. Following his defeat Robert was imprisoned for the rest of his long life. He eventually died imprisoned in Cardiff Castle in 1134 at a grand old age.

The effigy of Robert, Duke of Normandy at Gloucester Cathedral. Copyright Philip Halling 

He was interred in St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester, which became Gloucester Cathedral in 1541. There you will see an effigy of him. The effigy is painted Irish bog oak which dates from a century or so after his death, the chest it lies on is much later.

The irony is, it wasn’t until 800 years after his death, that Robert actually came closest to the throne. This was during World War II when, for safe keeping, his effigy was placed in the Crypt of Gloucester Cathedral, also in the Crypt for the same reason was the Coronation Chair which had been removed from Westminster Abbey.

Tewkesbury Abbey. Copyright Philip Halling

Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales
In the north of the county of Gloucestershire is the town of Tewkesbury, a town dominated by its magnificent Norman Abbey. The town was the site of a decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses between the rival royal houses of Lancaster and York. With the Yorkist King Edward IV on the throne of England,  and his Lancastrian rival King Henry VI deposed and imprisoned, Henry’s wife, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and their son and Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward, sought to reclaim the throne. The Lancastrian forces landed on the 14 April 1471 at Weymouth, however, on this very same day Richard Neville, known to history as ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’, was killed at the Battle of Barnet. This was a significant blow to the Lancastrian cause because Richard Neville, having for many years supported King Edward IV and the Yorkists, had switched his allegiance to support this new Lancastrian attempt on the throne. Queen Margaret, Prince Edward and their army were aiming to cross the River Severn and join with supporters in Wales. The gates of Gloucester, the lowest river crossing, had been closed so they continued to Tewkesbury. By the time they arrived in Tewkesbury, Edward IV’s army was just a few miles from the town. The Lancastrians held the stronger and more defensive position and rather than risk attempting to cross the river, they took up battle positions. Despite the Lancastrians command of a stronger position, their battle was soon lost and, in their desperation to get away, many Lancastrian men were cut down in a field which still to this day is known as ‘bloody meadow’.

All that is known for sure is that the 17 year old Prince Edward was killed that day, where exactly it is not known. There is a report he was killed by George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV; another account is that he was beheaded on an improvised block on the battle field.

William Shakespeare dramatises the events in Henry VI, Part 3, Act V, scene v. Here Edward is captured and brought before the victors, Edward IV and his brothers, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Gloucester, before being killed.

Prince Edward memorial plaque at Tewkesbury Abbey. Copyright Philip Halling

In Tewkesbury Abbey, directly below the tower, there is a brass memorial plaque to the Prince Edward, though this is not the location of his burial. To serve as a reminder of the victors’ supremacy on that day, directly above on the ceiling, is the ‘Yorkist Sun in Slender’. Edward’s widow was Anne Neville, who later married Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

The Yorkist Sun in Splender, Tewkesbury Abbey. Copyright Philip Halling

Prince Arthur
Travelling a few more miles up the road into Worcestershire we reach Worcester and its cathedral sited proudly above the River Severn. Here we will find the chantry chapel of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. Of the three would be kings in this article it is perhaps the premature death as a teenager of Prince Arthur which has potentially had the most profound effect on the history of England. The big question being had he lived to become king and have children would England still have broken from the Church of Rome and become a Protestant country!

Worcester Cathedral. Copyright Philip Halling

The story of Prince Arthur is fairly well known, he was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon at the age of eleven and they were married in 1501 and settled in Ludlow Castle, but within six months he died there aged just fifteen on 2 April 1502. His heart was buried in St Laurance’s church in Ludlow, a wonderful church known as the ‘Cathedral of the Marches’. His embalmed body was then taken to Worcester Cathedral where his chantry chapel can be seen just a few feet away from his ancestor King John’s tomb.

Seven years later in 1509 Catherine of Aragon married Prince Arthur’s younger brother who, by then, was King Henry VIII. And the rest is history…!

Prince Arthur memorial, Ludlow. Copyright Philip Halling



About the Author 

Phil Halling is Heart of England Blue Badge Guide. Born in Gloucestershire, Phil grew up on a working farm in the north of the county. He has worked in the photographic industry and as a tutor in further education. After early retirement, Phil retrained as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide and now enjoys sharing his knowledge gained though his years of exploring the region. Although widely travelled around the world, he has lived in the counties of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire all his life. You can contact and book one of Phil’s tours HERE