19 May 2018

Visiting St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle


On this historic day of the royal wedding, I'd like to say a little about the amazing history of the venue, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. By coincidence, the wedding falls on the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn - and the happy couple will walk over the tomb of King Henry VIII, who will be only feet away from the ceremony.  The subject if my current work in progress, Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, will also be only a few yards away.

St George’s Chapel is within the grounds of Windsor Castle and was founded by King Edward III. Many successive royals have made their own ‘improvements’ and the chapel was seriously damaged by looters during the English Civil War.

There is a real sense of being at the heart of English History as you enter, as it is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and burial place of many kings. I spotted the portcullis badge of Margaret Beaufort everywhere, as well as the Dragon and Greyhound of King Henry VII.

The chapel is also full of surprises. I found I was looking at the tomb of King Edward IV, buried with ‘Elizabeth Widvile’.  The tomb had been ‘lost’ then rediscovered during restoration work in 1789, which explains its modern appearance. (When the tomb was found many ‘relics’ were taken, including locks of Edward's hair – and liquid from the bottom of the coffin!)

I was listening to the audio tour as I entered the quire and was amazed when I was asked to look up to the left of the altar. That morning I’d been writing about Catherine of Aragon watching Henry VIII’s jousting from an ornate wooden gallery.

There above me was another - the wooden gallery from where Queen Catherine would sit to watch services in the chapel, as well preserved as if she is expected to arrive at any moment.

I think Catherine would have approved of Prince Harry's marriage - and would perhaps have some useful advice about the challenges of being a young, foreign princess in the English royal family!
Henry VIII’s tomb occupies the middle of the quire and is surprising both for its simplicity and the company we’ve chosen for him to keep in eternity – as well as Jane Seymour, Henry is buried with the beheaded body of King Charles Ist and a stillborn son of Queen Anne. (If you’d like to know more about Henry’s tomb see Natalie Grueninger's post at 'On The Tudor Trail'.)

Having failed to find the tomb of Charles Brandon, I asked a guide and discovered it in the south transit, half covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III adjacent to the tomb of King Henry VI.  Interestingly, it refers to Mary Tudor as ‘Married Mary daughter of Henry VII, Widow of Louis XII King of France.


And what about Mary Tudor’s tomb? She died in Suffolk on 25 June 1533 and Charles Brandon paid for a fine tomb Bury St Edmunds Abbey. When the abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, her remains were taken to St. Mary’s Church, also in Bury St Edmunds, and placed under a modest slab – another long trip from Wales which I'll be talking about soon!

Tony Riches

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