Before kicking off a new series, here’s a recap of our last…
This chapel at the heart of Westminster Abbey is so named for the first king that was buried there – St Edward “the Confessor” – in early 1066.
The abbey, which had been constructed on the site of a Saxon Church at the behest of King Edward in fulfilment of a vow, was newly built when the King died. It had been consecrated on 28th December, 1065, but the king had been too ill to attend the service.
He died just a few days later some time on the night of 4th to 5th January. His burial took place on 6th January (the burial procession is actually depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry) with his body laid to rest beneath the floor of the new church (archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar believe they located the exact location of his original tomb in 2005).
He wasn’t to rest there for long. King Edward’s saintly reputation grew over the ensuing years and miracles began to be reported at the tomb – it’s also said said that when the tomb was opened in 1102, a “wonderful fragrance” is said to have filled the church suggesting that it he wasn’t embalmed the body was packed with aromatic herbs.
In 1163, two years after Edward had been made saint by Pope Alexander III, the king’s body was transferred from the tomb to a specially made shrine.
In the 13th century, King Henry III rebuilt St Edward’s church in the new Gothic-style of architecture, spending extravagant sums on the new building. His rebuilding programme culminated in 1269 when the bones of St Edward was translated into a new shrine featuring mosaics on a stone base created by Italian workmen in which the king’s coffin was placed with a wooden canopy over the top (such was his veneration of St Edward that King Henry III, his brother Richard, Duke of Cornwall, and the king’s two sons bore the coffin to the new shrine).
The shrine became a place of pilgrimage during King Henry III’s reign but his cult declined in the later years (and St Edward, who had for a time been considered patron saint of England was eventually replaced by St George).
The shrine was despoiled during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of 1540 – the jewels were removed and presented to the King – and Edward’s body removed to another location in the abbey. But Queen Mary I had the Purbeck marble base reassembled (with new jewels added) and Edward’s body returned. The tiered wooden canopy which stands above the stone stone dates from the 16th century (and was heavily restored in the 1950s).
St Edward isn’t the only king buried in the chapel space. Others buried there – around the outer edges of the chapel – included King Henry III, King Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile, King Edward III and his wife Philippa of Hainault, King Richard II and his wife Queen Anne of Bohemia, King Henry V and Catherine of Valois (King Henry V had a chantry chapel built above his tomb at the eastern end of St Edward’s Chapel). Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, is also buried there.
WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £27 adults/£24 concession/£12 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org
These two statues are listed together because they both appear on the exterior of the same building – The Sanctuary which stands next to Westminster Abbey.
This Grade II-listed building, which contains a gateway to the Dean’s Yard, was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built in Bath stone with slate roofs in the mid-1850s.
The statues, which stand in niches on the exterior of the turrets on either side of the gateway, have been identified as the two kings on London Remembers.
Their position at this location is not random. The king on the left, identified as Edward the Confessor, had St Peter’s Abbey rebuilt here in the mid 11th century (and was buried in it only a week after its consecration).
The king on the right, King Henry III, rebuilt the abbey church in the mid-13th century to provide a shrine to venerate Edward the Confessor and as a site for his own tomb.
The kings are apparently not the only monarchs adorning the building – two roundels below them depict Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
This City of London street is named for a church which once stood to the east of the thoroughfare.
The church was founded as part of a monastery the 11th century by brothers Ingelric and Girard – the former was apparently a man of some influence in the courts of King Edward the Confessor and King William the Conqueror (although there is apparently a tradition that the church was founded earlier, by the Saxon King Wihtred of Kent, in the 7th or 8th century).
The collegiate church, which had the job of sounding the curfew bell in the evenings to announce the closing of the city gates during the reign of King Edward I (the right later moved to another church), gave special rights to the precinct in which it stood including that of sanctuary for certain types of criminals. Indeed, by the 14th century, it was the largest area of sanctuary in England.
This was particularly useful for those making what was supposed to be their final journey from Newgate to their execution at Tower Hill – the precinct lay along the route and, yes, some were said to have escaped into the district as they passed by. But perhaps the most famous said to have sought sanctuary in the precinct were Miles Forrest, one of those accused of murdering the so called “Princes in the Tower” – King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.
The institution was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII and demolished in the mid-16th century but the name lived on in the precinct where it once stood – during the Elizabethan era it was apparently famous for its lace.
The site of the church was later the site of the General Post Office, built in 1829, which was eventually demolished in 1911 and replaced by a premises located to the west.
The street, which becomes Aldersgate Street in the north and runs into Cheapside in the south, was also once home to the The Bull and Mouth Inn, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and a French Protestant Church. The latter was built in 1842 but demolished in 1888 to make way for more Post Office buildings.
PICTURES: Looking south (top) and north (below) from St Martin-le-Grand (Google Maps).
• Two 13th century manuscripts from Westminster Abbey’s collection have this month gone on show in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the abbey to mark the 750th anniversary of King Henry III’s rebuilding of the church originally constructed on the orders of Edward the Confessor. Believed to have never before been displayed to the public, the manuscripts – which feature ink script on vellum and have wax seals on silk cords attached – include a royal charter dated 1246 in which King Henry III announces his intention to be buried alongside Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey and an inventory of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine dating from 1267 which shows how much gold, precious stones and jewels were taken from it and pawned to provide the king with much-needed money. The documents can only be seen until 28th October. Admission charge applies. For more, www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries. The display is one of number of special events taking place to mark the anniversary of the third consecration of the abbey church which took place in the presence of King Henry III on 13th October, 1269. While Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service to mark the occasion on Tuesday, other events aimed at the public include a special family day next Wednesday (23rd October) featuring medieval re-enactors in the cloisters, the chance to meet some of the abbey staff and to take part in a family-friendly Eucharist as well as a late opening for amateur photographers to take photographs inside the abbey (23rd October), and special family tours of the abbey (22nd and 24th October). Meanwhile, this Saturday, the abbey will host the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. For more on other events at the abbey, head to www.westminster-abbey.org/events.
• The National Gallery launched its first mental health awareness tour to mark World Mental Health Day last week. The tour, which is available as a smartphone app, aims to improve understanding of mental health among gallery visitors with an alternative perspective on the collection which draws on young people’s experiences of mental health – gleaned through workshops with 16 to 25-year-olds – and connects visitors with the gallery’s paintings to challenge common myths about mental health. The tour includes a focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the gallery’s architecture and figures from its portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. The tour – co-created by researchers from King’s College London, the McPin Foundation, a group of young people affected by mental health issues and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme and funded by Medical Research Council and the British Academy – is available free to visitors for six months. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Kenwood House in Hampstead is hosting a special display commemorating 350 years since Rembrandt’s death on 4th October, 1669. The exhibition – Rembrandt #nofilter – centres on the artist’s Self-portrait with Two Circles which has been taken from its usual place in the former dining room and represented in the dining room lobby alongside a digital photo mosaic of the painting made of “selfies” taken by visitors to Kenwood. Entry is free Runs until 12th January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/.
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The minster – popularly named ‘west’ minster to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the ‘east’ minster) – was rebuilt when King Edward refounded the abbey between 1042-52, ostensibly to provide himself with a royal church in which he could be buried.
An abbey had apparently originally been founded on the site in the 7th century during the time of Bishop Mellitus, first Bishop of London (see our earlier post here).
The abbey church isn’t believed to have been completed when it was consecrated – this it’s suggested didn’t take place until 1090, well after the Norman Conquest. Unfortunately Edward was too ill to attend the consecration – he died on the 5th January and was buried a week later in the church (his wife Edith followed nine years later).
King Harold Godwinson – King Harold II – was apparently crowned in the church the day after Edward’s death but the first recorded coronation is that of King William the Conqueror on Christmas Day, 1066.
Very little survives of Edward’s church – most of what was see now is the Gothic masterpiece constructed in the mid 13th century by King Henry III with later additions such as King Henry VII’s Lady Chapel.
It wasn’t until four days after the battle which had taken place on 25th October, 1415, that news of King Henry V’s stunning victory over the French reached the English capital.
At 9am, a solemn procession of clergy made their way from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey (pictured) to give thanks.
Other attendees at the abbey included the Mayor-elect, Nicholas Wotton (this was the first of two occasions on which he was elected Lord Mayor), and the alderman of London, as well as the Queen Dowager, Joan of Navarre.
A few days later, on the 4th November, King Henry V’s brother – John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford, announced the news to Parliament.
King Henry V, meanwhile, arrived back in Dover on 16th November (apparently as a great snowstorm was making its presence felt) and headed for London. After pausing in Canterbury to give thanks in the cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey, he reached the manor of Eltham (now in south-east London) on 22nd November.
He was met the next day on Blackheath by Wotton and City dignitaries who then, along with what were recorded as a crowd of 20,000 citizens, accompanied him and his small retinue, which included some of his most high profile prisoners such as Charles d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans (who spent 25 years as a prisoner in England), and Marshal Boucicaut (he would die six years later in Yorkshire), towards London.
There, welcomed as Henry V, “King of England and France”, he processed through the City which had been elaborately decorated – the decorations included the hanging of various coats of arms from various prominent sites as well as the positioning of statues of the likes of St George – ahead of his arrival.
Travelling down Cheapside, the king – who was modestly dressed in a purple gown and had eschewed wearing a crown for the event – stopped at St Paul’s where he performed his devotions, before proceeding to Westminster where he did the same before taking up residence for the night in the nearby Palace of Westminster.
On the king’s orders, a solemn mass was held in St Paul’s the next day for the fallen of both sides. The victorious king had returned!
A fortunate few last weekend had the chance to have a look inside King Henry V’s elaborately carved chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey as part of commemorations marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
The chapel, which is located on a sort of mezzanine level above the king’s tomb at the east end of the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It was constructed on the orders of the king – who died Vincennes in August, 1422, and was buried in the abbey on 7th November that year – so prayers could be said in perpetuity for his soul.
The tomb was completed in 1431 and the chantry chapel was built above between 1437 and 1450. The latter is entered via narrow stairways of worn steps hidden inside a pair of stone turrets which flank the tomb.
For centuries the Henry V’s funeral ‘achievements’ – the king’s saddle, helm and shield – were displayed on a wooden beam above the chantry chapel but these were restored and moved to the abbey museum in 1972.
Henry V’s wife, Catherine de Valois, who survived her husband by 15 years was eventually – in the Victorian age – buried under the chantry chapel altar (originally buried in the old Lady Chapel, King Henry VII had her removed and placed in an open coffin in the open air next to the tomb of King Henry V, when building his new chapel – among visitors to her mummified body was diarist Samuel Pepys who even kissed her. In 1778 she was buried in a vault before being relocated to her current position in 1878).
An inscription on the altar in the chantry chapel reads: “Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438”.
The chantry chapel is still occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues.
Westminster Abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600. The day before, 28th October, it will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled ‘Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V’. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.
Above – King Henry V’s chantry chapel; Below – King Henry V’s tomb which sits below the chantry chapel. PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Dean & Chapter of Westminster