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A History Of St George’s Chapel: The Modern House of Windsor

Ariel view of Windsor Castle and St George's Chapel by Duncan Sowry-House

The full ceremonial of the Garter ceremony was revived on St George’s Day, 1948, the 600th Anniversary of the founding of the Order. His Majesty King George VI held an Investiture in the Garter Throne Room and a full Installation Service in St George’s Chapel for the first time since 1805, and afterwards gave a luncheon in the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle. It was a magnificent medieval revival of ceremonial in post-war Britain, at which both Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were invested and installed. George VI continued to relish his association with the Order of the Garter until the end of his life.

In the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II there were a number of deaths amongst the older members of the Royal Family. A little over a year from the death of her son, The Queen’s grandmother Queen Mary died at Marlborough House in London. She was laid to rest in the Nave of St George’s Chapel, alongside her husband, George V.

St George’s Chapel became the focus of the nation for several days following the death of The Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, on the 28th May 1972, aged 77. The Duke’s coffin was flow to RAF Benson and then brought by hearse to Windsor Castle, where for two days it lay in State in the centre of the Nave of the chapel. The spot where the ex-King’s coffin lay is now marked with a black marble plaque in the floor. The funeral took place on Monday, 5th June and was attended by The Duchess of Windsor, The Queen, The Queen Mother, and most of the Royal Family. In the afternoon The Duke’s coffin was buried at the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore.

On the 9th February, 2002, Princess Margaret died at London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital. Her funeral took place in the chapel on 15th February, 2002, by coincidence the 50th Anniversary of the funeral of her father King George VI. Margaret’s funeral was a private service, in line with her wishes. Unlike most other members of the Royal Family, Margaret’s remains were cremated. Her ashes were brought to St George’s and placed in her father’s tomb in the King George VI Memorial Chapel. The Queen Mother flew from Sandringham House, at the age of nearly 102, to attend the service. It proved to be her last ever official outing. On 30th March, 2002, just seven weeks after the death of her daughter, The Queen Mother died in her sleep at the Royal Lodge, Windsor Great Park. Her surviving daughter Queen Elizabeth II was at her bedside. The Queen Mother’s flag-draped coffin was taken from Windsor to lie in State at Westminster Hall. An estimated 200,000 people over three days filed past the coffin to pay their respects. On the day of her funeral, 9th April, more than a million people filled the area outside Westminster Hall and lined the 23-mile route from central London to her final resting place beside her husband and younger daughter in the George VI Memorial Chapel within St George’s Chapel. At her request, after her funeral the wreath of camellias resting on her coffin was taken to Westminster Abbey and paced on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, in a gesture that echoed her wedding-day tribute 79 years previously.

As senior residents of the castle, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh continue to take a keen interest in the life of the chapel. Both chose to celebrate their 80th birthdays with family and friends at St George’s Chapel, Prince Philip in June 2001 and the Queen in April 2006. Her Majesty has also been dedicated to keeping up the traditions of The Order of The Garter, and every year (with a few exceptions over the last 66 years) Garter Day is grandly celebrated at Windsor.

Members of The Royal Family at Windsor on Garter Day, 2009. All photos by Duncan Sowry-House

The Chapel has also continued to host Royal Weddings – including those of Prince Edward (read about it here: https://bit.ly/2rOQB2X), The Prince of Wales (read about it here: https://bit.ly/2IN3g01 ), and The Queen and Duke’s eldest grandson Peter Phillips (we covered it here: https://bit.ly/2wTWwZK ). This year will see the tradition of Royal Weddings at Windsor’s St George’s Chapel continue with those of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018 and later Princess Eugenie of York and Jack Brooksbank on October 12, 2018.

- Written by Duncan Sowry-House