The chapel, which served as the House of Commons from the mid-16th century until it was destroyed in the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, was first recorded as part of the palace in the reign of King John (1199-1216).
It was rebuilt in the late 13th century, on the orders of King Edward I. The king, apparently impressed by the Sainte Chapelle, built as a royal chapel by King Louis IX in Paris, ordered the chapel rebuilt to rival it.
The two storey, richly decorated stone chapel featured two levels, the upper floor for use of the Royal Family (it could only be entered from the Royal Apartments), the lower for courtiers and the Royal Household – was largely complete by 1348.
The then 15-year-old King Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in the chapel in 1382 and the ill-fated Richard, Duke of York (the younger of the two so-called Princes in the Tower) married Anne Mowbray here while still young children. Richard’s father, King Edward IV, had laid in state here for eight days after his death in 1483. Thomas Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury here in 1533.
The Palace of Westminster was no longer used as a royal residence following the death of King Henry VIII in and in 1547 it was deconsecrated under the Abolition of Chantries Act instituted by King Henry’s son, King Edward VI, after which it was used as a debating chamber for the House of Commons (which had hitherto been meeting in xxx).
During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell had the chapel’s crypt white-washed and, so the story goes, used it for stabling his horses.
The chapel’s architecture was amended several times over the ensuing centuries to better accomodate MPs – it included the addition of extra seats and among the architects who worked on it was Sir Christopher Wren – before the fire of 1834 while completely destroyed the main chapel, leaving just the crypt below and adjoining cloisters.
The crypt, now known as the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, was subsequently restored to its original use as a place of worship (it had been used for various purposes over its life). Interestingly, women’s suffragist Emily Davison had spent the night in a broom cupboard in the crypt in 1911 so, as woman banned from the premises, she could address the House of Commons the next day.
The site of the chapel is now covered by St Stephen’s Hall and its porch, constructed as part of the rebuild after the fire.
To see modern revisualisations of what the chapel may once have looked like, head to www.virtualststephens.org.uk.