• Chocolate Duchess

A History Of St George’s Chapel: The Tudors

Updated: May 11, 2018

Fan vaulting of the Choir of St George's Chapel, with the Garter banners on either side below, via Creative Commons

The end of The Wars of the Roses in 1485 brought long-awaited stability to England. This meant that the new monarch King Henry VII was able to further advance building works at St George’s Chapel as well as revive the Order of The Garter Feasts in 1488. Henry’s VII’s reign saw another side chapel built by Dr Oliver King, which was completed during the reign of his son, Henry VIII.

King Henry VIII absolutely loved Windsor – hosting splendid Garter Feasts and lavishly installing his nephew-in-law Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V as a Knight of the Garter in 1522 (when the Emperor visited Windsor). For his first wife Catherine of Aragon, The King converted the chantry chapel above Edward IV’s tomb into a royal pew with windows, from which she could take part in the services of the Chapel in private and witness the Garter ceremonies. The Catherine of Aragon Loft has been not only used as a private chapel, but also as a vantage point for many queens to take part quietly in services in the chapel when they do not wish to sit in the Quire. Amongst these have been Queen Victoria at the wedding of her heir, The Prince of Wales in 1863 and the funeral of the King of Hanover in 1878; Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) at the funeral of her son The Duke of Clarence in 1892; and more recently Queen Elizabeth II at the laying-up of the banner Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

Portrait of Henry VIII by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, via Creative Commons

Despite his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York being buried in their magnificent Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey (which was commissioned by Henry VII), King Henry VIII’s wishes were to be laid to rest at Windsor alongside his third wife Queen Jane Seymour. Henry VIII’s funeral was truly splendid. His body was conveyed to Windsor by chariot, his waxen effigy laying on top of the coffin with the Imperial Crown on its head, under which was a nightcap of black satin set with precious stones. The effigy was dressed in red velvet furred with miniver and powdered with ermine, and the magnificent Collar of The Order of the Garter. Every possible accoutrement was present - a sword at its side, diamond rings on the fingers, scepter, and orb. His widow Queen Catherine Parr sat in the Catherine of Aragon Loft and watched as the coffin was lowered into the vault beside that of Jayne Seymour. Henry VIII is the only one of the five Tudor monarchs buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor; Henry VII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I are all interred at Westminster Abbey.

Henry VIII’s only surviving son the young King Edward VI was so determinedly Protestant that anything hinting at Catholicism was abhorrent to him. This led to the discontinuation the Garter Feasts and purging the Order of ‘all papistical and superstitious practices’ during his five-year reign. King Edward redirected the Order to chivalric and charitable causes, focusing on education, and he appointed 13 Garter Knights, including King Henri II of France. The staunchly Catholic Queen Mary (Edward’s older sister who became Queen after his death in 1553) restored her father’s statutes in her quest to have things as they used to be. Her first Garter Knight was her husband King Philip II of Spain, who was installed as Joint Sovereign 1554. The last Tudor monarch Queen Elizabeth I is more generally associated with Greenwich, Richmond, and Whitehall than with Windsor, though she did build the long gallery in the castle. And while Elizabeth I did take part in certain Garter solemnities, it was not always at Windsor.

Up next – The Stuarts!

- Written by Duncan Sowry-House