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Archaeologists find grave of Henry VIII’s elder brother

Grave found 500 years after Arthur died of ‘sweating’

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LONDON — Five hundred years after King Henry VIII's elder brother, Arthur, died of a mysterious "sweating" illness at age 15, archaeologists believe they have found his grave — and will now use modern equipment to search it for his remains and the cause of death.

Historians have known for centuries that Arthur was buried somewhere in Worcester Cathedral, southern England, which has a chantry, or chapel, dedicated to the first Prince of Wales from the Tudor clan.

Using radar devices, archaeologists say they have now located Arthur's grave beneath the cathedral's limestone floor.

"No one has really thought much about Arthur until now, but since it's the 500th anniversary of his death, we decided to have a look — and we think we have identified the grave," said Christopher Guy, the cathedral's archaeologist.

Guy said radar had revealed a grave inside the chantry, built for the little-known Arthur in 1504, two years after his death.

The grave is partly underneath Arthur's tomb chest — a carved stone chest that acts as a memorial — and probes showed excavations of soil and rubble, indicating the presence of a grave, but not whether there were any human remains inside, he said.

"The next step is to use an endoscope to search the grave," said Guy, who will present details of the discovery this week at the Cheltenham Science Festival in southern England. If the body is found, he said, it may "give some clues to how he died."

Because it is a royal burial site, cathedral officials need the permission of Queen Elizabeth II to open the grave. Officials say they won't consider approaching the monarch until a body is found.

Born in 1486, Prince Arthur was the first son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

While still barely a toddler, he was betrothed to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, a move designed to create a political bond between Spain and England and sideline England's old enemy, France.

The couple married in November 1501, when Arthur was 15, and went to live in Ludlow castle in northwest England. But Arthur died just six months later from what was only described as "sweating" sickness and was buried at Worcester Cathedral.

Catherine later married his younger brother, King Henry VIII, but he divorced her after she failed to provide him with a male heir, separating the English church from Rome and creating the Church of England.

Historian Julian Litten said one of the main questions about Arthur's illness was whether it was genetic, pointing out that Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, was also just 15 when he died in 1537.

"What is it that carries off first Arthur and then Edward when they are so young?" he asked in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"As yet, no one has been able to come up with an answer. But the death of Edward meant that the Tudor dynasty was terribly short-lived."

A historical group, the Worcester Prince Arthur Committee, which recently staged a re-enactment of Arthur's funeral, speculates that because Arthur wasn't a strong character, unlike his younger brother, there may have been attempts to get him out of the way so Henry could rule.

Guy, the archaeologist, questions why a sickly person like Arthur was sent to remote Ludlow, far from the physicians of London.

But most historians, including Litten, dismiss talk of foul play. Far from being banished to the provinces, Arthur was actually on business in Ludlow, working as an ambassador for his father, Litten said.