The original tombs planned for Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and the Tudor monarch’s father-in-law, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, have been digitally reconstructed by a team at the University of Leicester.
The unfinished tombs, which were lost during the Reformation, have been virtually recreated to enable researchers to see what they might have looked like at their earmarked site in Thetford Priory.
The tombs were never completed, and were dismantled when the priory was dissolved in 1540. Some of the pieces were stored at the Duke of Norfolk’s home, at Kenninghall, while he had the parish church of St Michael in Framlingham, Suffolk, rebuilt as their new location.
The duke fell from power at the end of Henry VIII’s reign and was imprisoned until 1553. Upon his release the monuments were completed in a different style, and using different materials, in St Michael’s, where they remain today.
Some of the original, abandoned pieces of the tombs were excavated from Thetford Priory centuries later, in the 1930s.
A team led by Dr Phillip Lindley from the University of Leicester has now brought together all these pieces – combined with drawings in 16th-century manuscripts; 3D laser scanning (usually employed by the university’s Space Research Centre) and 3D prints – to recreate the monuments as they were originally intended to look.
Lindley told historyextra: “In 2006 I was called in to examine artefacts owned by English Heritage and stored in an East Anglian warehouse. There they had found a number of fragments of stone that had been excavated from Thetford Priory in the mid-1930s.
“We had reason to believe they related to the two monuments at Framlingham, and wanted to find out for sure.
“Of course, we could not physically take apart the monuments at Framlingham to see if these ‘jigsaw pieces’ fit, so the only way to do it was virtually.
“Using 3D scans, we have virtually disassembled the two existing tombs at Framlingham, and reassembled them using the pieces at Thetford Priory to see what was orginally planned for them.
“We can now, in effect, see what the Duke of Norfolk had intended the tombs to look like.
“We can see that some of the pieces found at Thetford Priory were baluster shafts – circular shafts which were intended to stand at the corners of the tomb.
“The tombs we see today are actually less lavish than they were originally intended to be, and are missing some of their religious imagery.
“Looking closely at the monuments and the fragments, we could see that the first phase of work, at Thetford, had been carved from a stone called ‘clunch’ – a chalk stone with occasional flint nodules.
“The later work, when the monuments were finished off at Framlingham, was carved from a different stone.
“3D technology is bringing cultural heritage to life. It is moving at an amazing pace, and while it’s usually being developed for scientific or commercial purposes, historians and archaeologists can now harness these tools.”
You can virtually explore the Priory site and the results of the tomb research using a new, free App available via the Apple store. Alternatively, the results of the project feature in an exhibition at the Ancient House, Museum of Thetford Life, which runs until 29 March 2014.