Palaces aside, the Queen also owns a series of chapels – the Chapels Royal – in London which, although not as grand as Westminster Abbey, have each played an important role in the history of the monarchy. 

The term Chapel Royal originally referred to a group of priests and singers dedicated to serving the Sovereign’s personal spiritual needs and as such would follow the monarch around the country. It was in Stuart times that they became more settled establishments with the two main Chapels Royal – the Chapel Royal and the Queen’s Chapel – located in St James’s Palace.

• The Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. Constructed by King Henry VIII, the chapel was decorated by Hans Holbein the Younger in honor of the king’s (short) marriage to Anne of Cleves. Queen Mary I’s heart is said to be buried beneath the choir stalls and it was here that Queen Elizabeth I apparently prayed waiting for news of the progress of the Spanish Armada. King Charles I took the Sacrament of Holy Communion here before his execution in 1649 and the chapel was where Queen Victoria married Prince Albert (her marriage certificate still hangs on the wall). In more recent times, the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was placed before the altar so family and friends could pay their respects before her 1997 funeral. Among the composers and organists associated with the chapel are Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.

• The Queen’s Chapel, St James’ Palace (pictured right). Now located outside the palace walls, this chapel was built by King James I for the Catholic Henrietta Maria, the bride of his son, then Prince Charles (later King Charles I). Designed by Inigo Jones, Grinling Gibbons and Sir Christopher Wren were also involved in its creation. The chapel was used by Henrietta Maria until the Civil War and later became the home of the Danish Church in London. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.For more on this chapel or the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, follow this link.

• The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. Built in the Middle Ages to serve the now long gone Savoy Palace, London home of Count Peter of Savoy (uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, the original building was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The current building, located in Savoy Hill, off the Strand, was built on the orders of King Henry VII in the late 15th and early 16th century to serve the hospital he founded on the site of the palace. The chapel since served many other congregations – including a German Lutheran congregation – but remains royal property via the Duchy of Lancaster, which is held in trust for the Sovereign and used to provide an income for the British monarch. It is officially the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order. For more, see www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/duties-of-the-duchy/the-queens-chapel-of-the-savoy/.

• Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace (pictured right). There has been a chapel here since the Knights Hospitallers occupied the site in the 13th century but it was Cardinal Wolsey who built the chapel to its present dimensions after acquiring the property in 1518. The current building, however, dates from the later ownership of King Henry VIII – Wolsey surrendered the property to him when he fell from favour – and further works in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many subsequent monarchs have worshipped here. The chapel, with its stunning ceiling, is open to the public when visiting Hampton Court Palace. For more, see www.chapelroyal.org. PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

• The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. Originally a parish church, this was incorporated into the walls of the Tower in the reign of King Henry III. It was subsequently rebuilt at least twice – in the reign of King Edward I and King Henry VIII – and is home to the graves of important personages executed at the Tower including Henry VIII’s one-time wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well as Jane Grey, the nine day queen, and Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. The chapel can be accessed during a Yeoman Warder’s tour of the Tower of London. For more, including details of an appeal for its restoration, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/thechapelproject.

• Chapel Royal of St John the Evangelist, Tower of London. Located within the White Tower, this beautiful chapel – arguably the oldest church in London – dates back to the construction of the tower by King William the Conqueror the late 11th century and remains one of the best preserved examples of Anglo-Norman architecture in England. King Henry III added stained glass windows but for much of its later history the chapel was used for records storage. Tradition records that King Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, was laid in state here following her death in childbirth and that it was here Queen Mary was betrothed by proxy to Philip of Spain. This can be visited as part of a visit to the Tower of London. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/Sightsandstories/Prisoners/Towers/ChapelofStJohns

For more on churches in London, check out Stephen Millar’s London’s City Churches
and Stephen Humphrey’s London’s Churches and Cathedrals: A Guide to London’s Most Historic Churches and Cathedrals, Leigh Hatt’s London’s 100 Best Churches: An Illustrated Guide or the Pevsner Architectural Guide London: City Churches.

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Sitting on the bank of the Thames at Old Isleworth in the city’s west stands The London Apprentice public house.

The pub’s licence dates back to at least 1731 and it has been associated with the likes of such luminaries as King Henry VIII (it’s suggested he met Catherine Howard here – she was later imprisoned in nearby Syon House), King Charles I and King Charles II (the latter apparently cavorted with his mistress, actress Nell Gwynne, here), as well as the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Others whose names come up in reference to the pub include the ever-present author Charles Dickens (this is said to have been one his favorite pubs) and notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

While there remain some doubts over its origins, the name of the pub – which stands opposite the small isle known as the Isleworth Ait – is said to stem from the fact that it was here that London apprentices, having faithfully served their masters, came to while away the hours in their downtime. They are said to have entertained themselves by playing about in decorated barges on the river.

There is said to be a tunnel, now blocked, which links the pub with the nearby All Saint’s Church – the story goes that this was used by smugglers to get their contraband into the pub’s cellars.

For more information or to pay a visit, see www.thelondonapprentice.co.uk.

This week we look at another “lost” palace of London but this time it’s not one built primarily for kings and queens. Rather we’re taking a look at the former Thameside home of the Bishops of Winchester.

Located in Southwark, Winchester Palace (also known as Winchester House) was built in the 12th century as the London residence of the bishop, a major landowner in the area.

The palace’s hall was extravagantly decorated and is known to have played host to royalty including King James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort whose wedding feast was held there in 1424. It’s also suggested that King Henry VIII may have met wife number five, Catherine Howard, there.

The remainder of the palace was arranged around two courtyards and as well as buildings including its own prison and brewhouse, it also boasted a tennis court, bowling alley and pleasure gardens. It was used up until the Civil War – during which it served as a prison – before, in a growing state of deterioration, being let out for tenements and warehouses. Much of what remained was destroyed by fire in 1814.

Today all that remains above ground is a wall which stood at the west end of the great hall, mostly dating for the 14th century. Now in the care of English Heritage, it features a magnificent (albeit glassless) rose window, 13 feet in diameter, and three doors, believed to have led to the buttery, pantry and kitchen.

The palace was located in what was known variously as the ‘Manor of Southwark’, the ‘Liberty of Winchester’ or the ‘Liberty of the Clink’ (the word ‘clink’ refers to the bishop’s notorious prison – more on this another time). This was an area of land under the direct jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester and outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and become particularly known for prostitution – the Bishop was granted the power to licence prostitutes in the 12th century – with the prostitutes referred to as “Winchester Geese”.

The current ruins were found during the area’s redevelopment in the 1980s. Remains of Roman buildings were also found underneath where the palace once stood.

WHERE: Clink Street, Southwark (nearest tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/winchester-palace/

Nestled on Tower Hill, somewhat overshadowed by the monumental memorial to the merchant naval casualities of World War I and II nearby, lay a series of plaques commemorating more than 125 people who were executed there.

The plaques, which stand on the site of the former scaffold, list the names of some of the most prominent who died there including Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was beheaded by an angry mob during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, and former chancellor Sir Thomas More – both of whom were executed in 1535 on the orders of King Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell, another chancellor who fell foul of King Henry VIII and was executed in 1540.

Later executions include William Laud, another Archbishop of Canterbury who was executed in 1645, James, Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of King Charles II who was executed in 1685, and Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, who became the last man to be executed there in 1747 (and the last man in England to be beheaded) after his capture following the Battle of Culloden in Scotland.

An inscription at the site reads that the memorial was created to “commemorate the tragic history and in many cases the martyrdom of those who for the sake of their faith, country or ideals staked their lives and lost”.

It’s worth noting that contrary to popular belief only 10 people were ever executed on Tower Green inside the Tower of London including two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Anne Boelyn (1536) and Catherine Howard (1542) – as well as the tragically young Lady Jane Grey, queen for only nine days before she was beheaded in 1554, and three Black Watch soldiers who were shot in 1743 after being charged with mutiny.