Lost Tudor sculptures from Dukes of Norfolk reunited for Thetford exhibition

The free exhibition will be held at Thetford's Ancient House museum.

The free exhibition will be held at Thetford's Ancient House museum. - Credit: Archant

They have lain hidden and separated for almost 500 years – but lost Tudor sculptures from the tombstones of the Dukes of Norfolk will be reunited this month.

One of the sculptures from the tombs.

One of the sculptures from the tombs. - Credit: Archant

The sculptures were found in Thetford Priory in the 1930s and space technology used for scanning asteroids has now been used to reconstruct how they would have looked when complete.

Some remains of the tombs were left at Thetford Priory.

Some remains of the tombs were left at Thetford Priory. - Credit: EDP, Archant

The sculptures belong to the incomplete tombstones of the third Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, and Henry VIII's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond.

Researchers, who are holding the exhibition at Thetford's Ancient House Museum, also believe some of the sculptures belong to the tombs of the first and second Dukes of Norfolk, which were moved to Framlingham Church when Thetford Priory was abandoned during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Curator Oliver Bone said: 'This is the first time in 500 years that these fragments have returned to Thetford.

'By bringing them together we can explore Thetford's role in the struggle for power during Henry VIII's reign.

'This exhibition throws new light on the story of Thetford Priory and the town's connections with the leading lights of the Tudor court.'

On display will be 14 different fragments including panels on loan from the British Museum.

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The Dukes of Norfolk were buried at Thetford Priory from medieval times in large carved stone tombs as a symbol of their power. And the third duke commissioned elaborate tombs for himself and Henry Fitzroy, who was married to one of his daughters as a child.

But before the tombs were finished, Henry VIII shut Thetford Priory in the dissolution.

The unfinished tombs were then moved to Kenninghall with some pieces remaining in Thetford.

The Howards then found themselves out of favour with the Tudor Court and were imprisoned by Henry VIII, who felt the duke posed a threat to his son, the future Edward VI.

In 1553, the pieces of the tombs in Kenninghall were taken to Framlingham Church and sculptors rebuilt the tombs and added extra pieces.

Experts from across the world have tried to reconstruct what the tombs should have looked like using fragments from archaeological excavations at Thetford Priory, 16th century manuscripts and scanning technology previously used by astronomers to scan asteroids.

Thetford's Ancient House has worked with academics from Leicester University, Leicester University Space Research Centre, University of Oxford, Yale Centre of British Art and English Heritage to piece together 3D images of how the tombs would have looked.

Learning officer at Ancient House, Melissa Hawker, said: 'We can now see something that no one would ever have seen.'

Alongside the tomb fragments, which include biblical scenes, there will be a talking portrait of Thomas Howard.

The exhibition opens on Saturday July 27 and admission is free.