St. George's Chapel, a fine example of English late Perpendicular architecture, is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England, is located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle, and is the chapel of the Order of the Garter, Britain's highest order of chivalry.
The chapel was founded by King Edward III in 1348, one of two new religious colleges established by the king, the other being St Stephen's at Westminster. The chapel was attached to the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor which had been built by Henry III in the early thirteenth century.
The Chapel was to become the Mother Church of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry.. A special service is still held annually in the chapel each June and is attended by the members of the order. The order once held frequent services at the chapel, but the practice was discontinued after 1805.
The ceremony was revived in 1948 by King George VI for the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Order, and has since become an annual event. The Knights of the Order of the Garter gather at the medieval carved wooden stalls in the Quire, with the mantle, helmet, crest and sword of each knight set over the stall, heraldic banners still hang over their individual stalls and about 700 engraved and enamelled brass plates of former knights are attached to the backs of the stalls.
The Yorkist King Edward IV commenced a redevelopment of St George's Chapel in 1475. The Quire was the first part of St George's Chapel to be completed. The Quire and its aisles were finished and roofed between 1477 and 1483. Originally composed of fifty stalls for the Knights and Canons, twenty one faced each other with the remaining eight 'returned stalls' placed at the west end facing the altar. In the late eighteenth century two further stalls were added taking the number to fifty two.
Building on the Nave of the chapel had commenced by 1483 and it was roofed by 1496, although the magnificent stone vaulting was not completed until 1528
Building on the chapel was continued in the reign of his his son-in-law, Henry VII , who completed the nave and the magnificent fan vaulted ceiling. The Chapel of St Edward the Confessor was extended into a huge new Cathedral like chapel. The building was completed by 1528, during the reign of Edward IV's grandson, Henry VIII,
A gothic style structure, the stone roof is a superb piece of workmanship, ellipse shaped and supported by pillars. Every part of the ceiling holds a different device, the arms of Edward the Confessor, Edward III, Edward the Black Prince, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII and Henry VIII, are amongst the many displayed there.
The chapel was a became a popular destination for pilgrims during the late medieval period. It was purported to contain several important relics- the bodies of John Schorne and Henry VI and a fragment of the True Cross held in a reliquary called the Cross of Gneth. These relics were displayed at the east end of the south choir aisle. It is said that the Cross of Gneth was brought back from the Holy Land by a Priest called Neotus, who carried it to Wales. The cross was taken by King Edward I in 1283 after the death in battle of Llywelyn, the last Prince of Wales of the native line. His son, King Edward II kept the relic at the Tower of London but King Edward III presented it to the chapel soon after he had founded the Order of the Garter. The relic disappeared in the sixteenth century.
Edward IV, who died in 1483, was the first monarch to be buried at the chapel. His tomb, (pictured left) is situated in the east end of the north aisle, is shared by his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, is covered with touchstone, a beautiful gothic style, steel monument, representing a pair of gates between two towers, is the work of John Tresilian, Master Smith to Edward IV. In the front of the monument is a black marble slab, with brass old-English lettering.
In 1789, workmen carrying out repairs in St. George's Chapel, Windsor accidentally broke into the vault of Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville, they discovered what appeared to be a small adjoining vault, which was found to contain the coffins of two unidentified children. No examination was carried out and the tomb was resealed. These coffins were assumed to be the bodies of George, Duke of Bedford, 3rd son of Edward IV who died aged around 2 in 1479, and Mary, fifth daughter of Edward IV, who died aged 14 in 1482. Both were known to have been buried in Windsor. A slab commemorating George and Mary was put in the paving above the vault.
During the later excavation for the royal tomb house of King George III in 1810-13, two lead coffins were discovered which were clearly labelled as George Mary Plantagenet, these were moved into the adjoining vault of Edward IV, but no attempt was made to identify the two lead coffins already in the vault. In the written account of Mary's funeral, it states that she was "buried by my Lorde George, her brother". In the late 1990s, work was being carried out near and around Edward IV's tomb in St George's Chapel; the floor area was excavated to replace an old boiler and also to add a new repository for the remains of future Deans and Canons of Windsor. A request was put to the Dean and Canons of Windsor to consider a possible examination of the two vaults either by fibre-optic camera or, if possible, a reexamination of the two unidentified lead coffins in the tomb also housing the lead coffins of two of Edward IV's children that were discovered during the building of the Royal Tomb for King George III. Royal consent would be necessary to open any royal tomb. The 2012 Leicester archaeological dig has prompted renewed interest in re-excavating the skeletons of the "two princes", however, Queen Elizabeth II has not granted the approval required for any such testing. The mystery of who was buried in a place of honour beside Edwaard IV remains unsolved.
In 1484, Richard III moved the body of the murdered King Henry VI from Chertsey Abbey in Surrey to the choir of the chapel. The tragic King Henry's tomb, which lies to the south of the high altar, is marked by a black marble slab. Due to controversy over the manner of his death, George V gave permission to exhume the body of King Henry VI in 1910. The skeleton was found to have been dismembered before being placed in the box and not all the bones were present. Three very worn teeth were found and the only piece of jaw present had lost its teeth before death. The bones were recorded as being those of a strong man measuring five feet nine to five feet ten inches tall. Light brown hair found matted with blood on the skull confirmed that Henry VI had died as a result of violence.
The eighteenth century English poet, Alexander Pope (1646-1717) composed lines after a visit to St George's Chapel:-
'Let softer strains ill fated Henry mourn,
And palms eternal flourish round his urn.
Here o'er the martyr-king the marble weeps.
And, fast beside him, once-fear'd Edward sleeps
Whom not extended Albion could contain,
From old Belerium to the northern main,
The grave unites; where ev'n the great find rest,
And blended lie the oppressor and the oppress'd!'
The formidable Henry VIII, who died on 28th January 1547, also lies in St George's Chapel, along with his third and best loved wife, Jane Seymour, who died of childbirth fever on 24th October 1537, after giving birth to Henry's only legitimate son, the future King Edward VI. The site in St. George's Chapel was originally intended as a temporary grave until the opulent tomb King Henry had requested was completed. It was never constructed and the grave in St. George's Chapel was to become become his permanent resting place.
The tomb of Henry's brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk is situated near the south door of the choir, Brandon was the second husband of Mary Tudor, Queen Dowager of France, and the sister of Henry VIII. Brandon was the grandfather of the ill fated Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as England's Queen for a period of nine days.
During the Civil War, Parliamentary forces broke into the chapel and plundered the treasury on 23 October 1642, stealing the costly altar hangings of red velvet and gold and trophies of honour over Edward IV's tomb, which were richly ornamented with pearls, rubies, and gold. In 1643 the fifteenth-century chapter house was destroyed, lead was stripped from the chapel roofs, and parts of Henry VIII's unfinished tomb stolen.
Following the execution of King Charles I by Oliver Cromwell at the end of the Civil War in 1649, he was buried in a vault in the centre of the choir, which he shares with his distant relative, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and a stillborn son of his granddaughter Queen Anne. The tomb is marked with a simple black stone slab and is situated in the centre aisle of the choir.
After the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, a programme of repair was undertaken. The reign of Queen Victoria witnessed further changes in the architecture of the chapel. The Lady Chapel, situated at the east end of St George's Chapel, and separated from it by a passage, was originally built by Henry VII, as his burial-place but later abandoned for a tomb at Westminster. The chapel was then bestowed on Cardinal Wolsey by King Henry VIII and was long referred to as the Wolsey Chapel or Wolsey's Tomb-House. The magnificent tomb prepared for himself by the Cardinal, but never occupied, was broken up during the Civil War, and nothing of it remains except the black and white marble sarcophagus now enclosing Nelson's coffin in St. Paul's Cathedral.
When the Catholic King James II celebrated Mass in the chapel, it was wrecked by an angry mob. It remained unused until the time of George III, who rebuilt part of it in connection with his tombhouse. The chapel was converted into the Albert Memorial Chapel between 1863-73 by George Gilbert Scott to commemorate the life of Victoria's much mourned consort, Prince Albert.
The ornate chapel features lavish decoration and works in marble, glass mosaic and bronze by Henri de Triqueti, Susan Durant, Alfred Gilbert and Antonio Salviati. In front of the altar, with its elaborate reredos, is the Cenotaph of Prince Albert by Triqueti, with a white marble figure of the prince.
In front of the altar, with its elaborate reredos, is the Cenotaph of Prince Albert by Triqueti, with a white marble figure of the prince resting on a sarcophagus. In the middle of the nave is the monument of Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, the elder son of Edward VII, who died of pneumonia at Sandringham House in Norfolk on 14 January 1892. Near the west door is that of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. Leopold had haemophilia, he died on 28 March 1884 at the age of 30, from a cerebral haemorrhage, which was caused by a fall.
The east door of the Albert Memorial Chapel, which is covered in ornamental ironwork, is the original door from 1246. To the north of the Albert Chapel are the Dean's Cloisters, built by Edward II, the south wall of which is a fragment of the old chapel of Henry III.
Other monarchs buried in the chapel include George III, William IV, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, George V and Queen Mary, George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The Hastings Chantry is the burial place of Lord Hastings who was hurriedly executed on a block of wood by order of Richard III in 1483. An elaborate carved memorial to Princess Charlotte, only child of King George IV, who died in childbirth, lies in a side chapel toward the back of the nave.
To the north of the Albert Chapel are the Dean's Cloisters, built by Edward III, the south wall of which is a fragment of the old chapel of Henry III. The battle sword of King Edward III, measuring 6 feet 8 inches long, is displayed in the chapter house chapel. The sword hangs beside a whole length portrait of the King.