KING JAMES IV’s BODY

Scottish Sunday Express

Paula Murray, a news reporter for the above newspaper, telephoned the secretary of the Flodden 1513 Club in week commencing 4th February to obtain thoughts on the possible proposal to locate and DNA-test the body of King James IV who was killed at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September 1513. Of course, 2013 is the quincentenary of the battle and various projects across the borders are underway including archaeology, education for youngsters, research, churches together and a new Flodden ecomuseurm (a museuem without walls). The recent excavation in search of Richard IIIs body in a Leicester car park has raised the profile of James's body, and where it might be.

Newspaper detail - Sunday 10th February 2013

Paula alludes to the fact that the King's body is in a spot unknown, but thought to be possibly buried in Sheen in the London Burgh of Richmond upon Thames. Part of the problem was that James was excommunicated by the Pope for breaking a peace treaty with England (The Treaty of Perpetual Peace) and his body  could not be buried and Paula writes that the body remained in a storeroom until the Dissolution of Monasteries 20 years later. 

Legend has it that the skull was removed and used as a football before the master glazier to Elizabeth I took it as a souvenior. Legend also has it that the skull was eventually handed over to the Great St. Michael's Church in Wood Street in the City of London and buried there. The church is long gone, as is the church yard, the latter now ocuupied by a pub by the name of the Red Herring. Therefore many believe the following: body buried in Sheen, head in Wood Street. Paula has been in contact with Scottish Conservative MSP, Murdo Fraser, Gerald Tait of this Society and the secretary of the Coldstream-based Flodden 1513 Club, Dr. Tony Pollard of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, Dr. Chris Burgess, Archaeology Manager of the Flodden 500 Project and Northumberland's County Archaeologist and Howard Dean, Governor of the American State of Vermont, who through the Maitland line is related to James IV. All are enthused by a possible project but warn that the body may never be found.

Flodden 1513 Club Project 2013

Among the club's projects to commemorate 2013 is a contact with Paul Marshall of the Parks Department of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and the Council appear amenable to the club placing a modest plaque in Old Deer Park where the now-demolished and completely hidden Monastery of Sheen stood. There is a bit to go with the project because the site of the monastery is said to have existed on the 14th fairway of Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club. Perhaps the plaque can be installed somewhere in the vicinity and at the very least it is going to be a bit of Scotland in England, but not contributing that much to finding James's body.  

Geophysical Survey of the Shene Charterhouse Site  

Perhaps of more wider interest would be the above which was carried out in 1997 and written about by John Cloake (document provided by Scottish historian, the late David Ross). Here is the account.

The Royal Commisssion on the Historical Monuments of England is compiling a detailed study of the sites of the all the English Charterhouses, and was able to agree with the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club to be given access to the site of the Shene Charterhouse for a week in October 1997, to allow for a geophysical survey (with no excavation). GSB Prospection, the same specialist firm that works with the 'Time Team', carried out the survey.

The area surveyed was the western end of the monastic site, in which not only the monastic buildings had stood but also several of the 17th Century mansions of 'West Sheen'. This area extended southwards from a point about 1/4 of the way from the SW corner along the southern boundary of the Observatory grounds and westwards from a point about half-way along the western boundary of those grounds. (In 1983 a similar survey had been made in the SW corner of the Observatory grounds and, though the results were inconclusive, it had shown some possible traces of a line of Carthusian monk's cells on the eastern side of the original cloister). 

Other key points highlighted in the survey were:-

Cloake provided a likely plan of the monastery which seemed to cover quite an area including the 13th. 14th and 15th fairways of the golf course. He finished his piece by saying that a full report of the geophysical survey had been deposited in the National Monuments Record (the public archive of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England), National Monuments Record Centre, Great Western Village, Kemble Drive, Swindon, SN2 2GZ (tel: 01793-414600). Eventually its findings will probably be incorporated in a report by the RCHME on all the English Charterhouses.

The full Cloake account of the survey is attached. He is a member of the Richmond Local History Society.

Where is the Sheen Monastery exactly?

Well it's not in the huge Richmond Park, which is owned by the Royal Parks Authority, but is in the smaller Old Deer Park, nearer the river Thames. An older record shows a map with the monastery directly opposite the Isleworth Ait, a small island on the Thames. A look at the modern-day map of London shows that the area of Old Deer Park which hosted the monastery was actually slightly further down river opposite today's West London Institute. The part of Old Deer Park which hosted the monastery is sometimes referred to as the Little Park.

Who last saw James's body at Sheen Monastery?

 This was said to be, amongst others, as a John Stowe.

According to Stowe, the body of James IV.of Scotland was buried at this monastery after the battle of Flodden Field, in 1513. 'After that the Earl of Surrey had taken order, and set the North in good quiet, he returned to the Queene with the dead body of the Scottish king, which body being inclosed in lead,as I have been informed was conveyed to Shine, a monastery in Surrey founded by King Henry the Fifth, whose it remained for a time, in what order I am not certaine, but since the dissolution of the House, to wit, in the raigne of King Edward the Sixth Henry Grey then Duke of Suffolke there keeping house, I have been shewed the same body (as was affirmed) so lapped in lead throwne into an old wast roome, amongst old timber, stone, lead, and other rubble.' (fn. 17)  This statement is supported by a passage in a book called The Flower of Fame, printed in 1575. 'The dead body of the King of Scottes was found among the other carcasses in the fielde and from thence brought to London, and so through London streets on horseback. And  from thence it was carried to Sheene (neere unto Brentford), whereat the Queen then lay,and there the perjured carcas lyeth unto this day unburied.' The Scots however steadily maintained that the body found and conveyed to London and thence to Sheen was not that of their king; nevertheless, Stowe's statement is apparently correct.

St. Michael's Church, Wood Street, Central London.

Legend has it that the King's head was severed from his body at Sheen, after a period when the whole body had lain in a store. It was then taken to St. Michael's Church in the City where after a period the sexton was instructed to bury it in the church yard. The church and church yard are long gone.

David Ross and a plaque In London

David wrote to Trevor Swan of the Coldstream and District Local History Society to indicate that he, along with some London friends, had plans to install a plaque to James IV somewhere in Wood Street. Sadly, big Davie passed away unexpectedly a few years later and his ambition was never.realised.