King Stephen of England's Tomb Image Rachael Hale

Is this the final resting place of King Stephen of England?

King Stephen of England's Tomb Image Rachael Hale
King Stephen of England’s Tomb Image Rachael Hale

The exact whereabouts of the remains of King Stephen, the grandson of William the Conqueror – also known as Stephen of Blois – will never be verified but a small brass plaque that reads ‘In memory of Stephen, King of England’ inside St Mary of Charity’s Church in Faversham could provide a clue.

When King Stephen died on 25 October 1154, he was placed inside a family sarcophagus with his wife and son at Faversham Abbey, which had been founded by the Royal couple. Queen Matilda (aka Countess of Bolougne)  had quietly succumbed to a fever at Hedingham Castle in Essex in May 1152 but Prince Eustace is said to have been suddenly ‘struck down by the wrath of God while plundering church lands near Bury St Edmunds’ in August 1153.

For the next four hundred years they were able to rest in peace, that is until King Henry VIII decided that the Abbey was far too powerful, and rich to lie so close to London and had it dismantled during the dissolution of the monasteries.  What exactly happened to the tomb of King Stephen and his family is unknown but one tale is that they were all thrown into the river and that some of the locals risked their necks to recover their bones while King Henry’s men melted down their casket and made into 1000 musket balls. The other, and I personally think a little more likely, is that the monks at the Abbey asked those at the parish church to look after the royal remains until things had settled down a bit and they were eventually re-buried within a corner of the parish church.

One thing that is for certain is that the truth will never be known.  The brass plaque could have been erected, exactly as it says, as a memorial to the King who had lived in the town. Or King Stephens remains, and that of Queen Matilda and Prince Eustace, could actually have been saved and safely interred beneath the plaque. As all three of them died from natural causes, they will never be disinterred, and therefore the mystery will never be solved.  And in many ways I think that’s better.  What do you think?

Rachael

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8 Comments

  1. Colin

    The brass plaque is, in itself, no evidence of the existence of the bones of Stephen and his family in our parish church. The plaque was put up in the late Victorian period and there is no evidence of a tomb or casket in the immediate vicinity. Nevertheless, it has been a long-standing tradition that the bodies were reinterred here at the dissolution of Faversham Abbey.
    I conduct guided tours of Faversham on behalf of the Faversham Society and this is, along with the murder of Thomas Arden, one of the most popular stories with visitors. I believe it is credible that Stephen is buried here but we will never know for sure.

  2. calderman2013

    The plaque is not, on its own, evidence of the presence of Stephen’s bones. The plaque was erected in the late Victorian period and so of no historical value. As a town guide in Faversham, I am careful to offer a balanced view of the story, although I do believe it is most likely that the remains ended up in our parish church, the largest in Kent, after the dissolution of Faversham Abbey. The story sits alongside that of the murder of Thomas Arden as one of the most popular with visitors.

    1. Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

      Hi Colin, many thanks for commenting. I went on a private tour with Antony Millet, who as you know is the co-ordinator for the Faversham Walking tours, and he was of the same opinion. I didn’t know when the plaque was erected though. Have to say the murder of Thomas Arden is one of my favourite Kent stories and it will no doubt feature on here in the not too distant future. I want to go to the Kent History and Library Centre first though as they have all the trial records.

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