Peterborough Cathedral: Old Scarlett


Robert Scarlett was born in 1496 and became the gravedigger at Peterborough Cathedral. He lived to be 96 years old and may have been the model on whom Shakespeare based the character of the gravedigger in ‘Hamlet’. Near to the end of his life, he claimed to have buried 3 Queens – Katherine of Aragon, Mary of Scotland and his own wife Margaret. He was held in such esteem by the people of the town and the Cathedral that when he died he was buried inside the Cathedral, an honour granted to few people of his social status.

Robert Scarlett’s tomb


  1. Scarlett was 98 when he died. There is no firm evidence that John Fletcher, son of an Elizabethan Dean of Peterborough, met Shakespeare before ‘Hamlet’ was first staged in 1603. The idea that Yorick is based on Robert Scarlett is, at best, fanciful.

    1. Thank you for the correction about the age at Scarlett’s death. He was indeed 98, not 96. The story about his connection with Shakespeare was taken from Peterborough Cathedral and an article in the Independent and whilst I agree it is unproven is a good story.

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