At one time the grandest of medieval townhouses in London, the history of the Savoy Palace, also known as the Palace of the Savoy, goes back to at least the 13th century.

A mansion was built here by Simon de Montfort, the ill-fated Earl of Leicester, in 1245. Following his death, it and the land between the Strand and the Thames were gifted by King Henry III to Peter, Count of Savoy, and it was renamed the Savoy Palace (apparently originally spelt Savoie).

The uncle of the king’s young wife Eleanor of Provence, Peter had accompanied his niece to London for her wedding to the king at Canterbury Cathedral on 14th January, 1236, and decided to stay. In 1241, the king named him the Earl of Richmond and in 1246 granted him the land upon which the property was built.

After being briefly given to a religious order, Queen Eleanor gifted the property to Prince Edmund (“Edmund Crouchback” – a term referring to his entitlement to wear a crusader’s cross, not a hunchback), the 1st Earl of Lancaster and younger brother to King Edward I.

It was subsequently occupied by Edmund’s successor earls and, later, dukes. Among the ‘guests’ to visit the palace during the 14th century were the French King Jean (John) II, held there for three years following his capture by the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years War in 1356.

Interestingly, as the property of the Dukes of Lancaster, the precinct around the palace was considered part of County Palatine of Lancaster (created in 1351), meaning that the rule of the dukes was applied here instead of that of the king – a situation which remained in place until the 1800s.

The palace eventually became the property of John of Gaunt, the 2nd Duke of Lancaster and third son of King Edward III. The richest and most powerful man in the kingdom (he was all but king in name during the younger years of King Richard II in whose name he ruled), Gaunt’s home was said to be sumptuous.

It’s perhaps not surprising then that it become a focus of the rebels during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 (it had been attacked unsuccessfully a few years earlier). They attacked and destroyed the property, razing it to the ground. (The story includes the tale that 32 men drank themselves to death after becoming trapped in the cellar while the palace burned).

The site, however, continued to be referred to as that of the Savoy and in the early sixteenth century King Henry VII, by order of his will, financed the founding of the Savoy Hospital on the site for the poor people (the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy is a relic of this building – see our earlier post here). The hospital closed in 1702 and was later demolished (we’ll deal with this in more detail in a later Lost London post).

The site, which stands on the north side of the Thames just west of Waterloo Bridge,  is now occupied by the salubrious Savoy Hotel (the entrance of which is pictured above) and the Savoy Theatre, which, like the hotel, was founded by impressario Richard d’Oyly in the 1880s (the theatre was the first building in the country to be entirely lit by electric lighting).

The name of the Savoy Palace is also remembered in street names around the site including Savoy Street, Savoy Hill, Savoy Steps, Savoy Way and Savoy Place.

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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.