There is no one place more deeply connected to the monarchy in Britain, aside from Westminster Abbey, than Windsor Castle and the Chapel of St. George.
Just how much of that history weighed upon Meghan Markel as she then was during her recent wedding to HRH Prince Harry now Duke of Sussex is unclear, but it could hardly be more profound.
Kings Henry VIII and Charles I are buried beneath the Quire and elsewhere lie
Edwards IV (1483), VI (1484) and VII (1910);
George III (1820), George IV (1830) William IV (1837),
as well as George V (1936) and Queen Mary (1957).
Poignantly for Her Majesty the Queen, both her parents (George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) are buried in a side chapel together with the ashes of her sister the late Princess Margaret and unthinkable as it must seem there is also the vault where one day Her Majesty will be laid to rest herself as will HRH Prince Phillip.
It was on 1348 that King Edward III founded two religious “colleges” namely St Stephen’s Westminster and St George’s Windsor.
The former, as the chapel within the Palace of Westminster was originally a two storey edifice inspired by the Sainte Chapelle in Paris and later (after the abolition of chantries) it served as the meeting place of the House of Commons from 1547 to 1834 a fact that had much influence on the shape of the chamber down to the present day, with the Speaker on the steps of the Altar and access to the voting hallways on either side of what had been the choir screen at the opposite end, while the members of the House were placed adversarially aligned as though in the stalls that had originally been present.
Thomas Cranmer was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury there while it was still a chapel on the 30thof March in 1533.
That chapel, or rather the Hall of St Stephen as it had become, was largely destroyed by fire in 1834 save that the crypt below was eventually restored as the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and it stands to this day in the current Palace of Westminster which is the seat of Parliament (and the Chapel was the place where the body of Margaret Thatcher was placed overnight before her State Funeral on 17thApril 2013).
Meanwhile in Windsor, the religious College of St George was initially added to the pre-existing Chapel of St Edward the Confessor which had been constructed by Henry III earlier in the thirteenth century. The chapel was then rededicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St George the Martyr.
St George’s Chapel also became the home of Britain’s most prestigious Order of Chivalry which was instituted in 1348 by Henry III as the Order of the Garter.
An elaborate procession and special service is still held in the chapel every June and is attended by the members of the order which are limited in number to 24 and appointed at the sole discretion of the Sovereign. It is their spectacular heraldic banners together with their sword, helm, mantling and crest that hang above the upper stalls of the choir (and under the great fan vaulted roof seen in the picture above) where each member has a seat for life.
The Chapel next underwent major architectural change in the period 1475–1528 started by Edward IV and then continued by Henry VII and Henry VIII. This culminated in the huge and spectacular chapel that survives to this day – mostly undertaken under the supervision of Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, and the master mason Henry Janyns.
Finally two curiosities are perhaps worth recalling.
The first is that the chapel later adapted to memorialize Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria was at one point given by Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey who had a splendiferous tomb built for himself but never occupied on account of his fall from the King’s good graces before his death.
Wolsey was much taken by Pietro Torrigiano’s gilt tomb for Henry VII at Westminster Abbey, and he therefore commissioned Benedetto Da Rovezzano to confect the lavish tomb in the Renaissance style he planned for himself. Of this the angels have survived down to this day, as have the vast candelabra commissioned by Henry VIII after he had taken back the tomb. While the originals are now in St bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent copies of these candelabra are in use around the High Altar in St Paul’s Cathedral.
But when Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar and was buried on 9 January 1806, King George III decreed that the sarcophagus that had been intended for the Cardinal would finally be brought to London where it stands in considerable grandeur in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral containing (beneath it) the remains of Horatio, Admiral Lord Nelson.
While in a somewhat more humbling vein, there is the monument to the much mourned Princess Charlotte who died unexpectedly in childbirth in 1817. She was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) by his wife Caroline of Brunswick, and had been married a mere seventeen months before her death to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha amid much pomp and circumstance. Though her grandfather, George III, had 7 sons and 5 daughters, Charlotte was the only legitimate grandchild which made her death with that of her still born son all the more sad.
While she was immensely popular –and her death occasioned paroxysms of grief unequalled perhaps till that of Diana Princess of Wales, it would appear that her fine monument did not meet with parallel approval.
As one commentator observed in 1848:
“The cenotaph of the lamented Princess Charlotte is also liable to much censure. The principal figure is indelicate, and those reclining are formal, and in bad taste, as well as stiff and uninteresting.
It is a pity that a curtain is not drawn over the whole.”
from Windsor Castle and its environs by Leitch Ritchie (1848)