The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 5 Westminster Abbey

Chapel of Henry VII

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Built in 1503-19, the Chapel of Henry VII. is the finest example in England of late-Perpendicular or Tudor Gothic. Of its profuse decoration the culminating glory is the superb fan-tracery vaulting of unequalled beauty. 'On entering, the eye is astonished by the pomp of architecture and the elaborate beauty of sculptured detail. The very walls are wrought into universal ornament, incrusted with tracery, and scooped into niches crowded with the statues of saints and martyrs. Stone seems, by the cunning labour of the chisel, to have been robbed of its weight and density, suspended aloft as if by magic, and the fretted roof achieved with the wonderful minuteness and airy security of a cobweb,' -Washington Irving. The chapel, which consists of nave and aisles, with five small chapels in its apsidal east end, is 104+ feet long and 70 feet broad. Nave and aisles are now completely cut off from each other by the carved stalls of the Knights of the Bath, and have separate entrances at the west end. Originally begun as a shrine for Henry VI. (who, however, still rests at Windsor), the chapel was continued as a mausoleum for its royal founder, and many later kings and queens are buried here, most of them without a monument. In 1725, when George I. reconstituted the most honourable Order of the Bath (said, somewhat loosely, to have been founded by Henry IV.), this chapel became the chapel of the Order, with the Dean of Westminster as its perpetual dean. After 1812, however, no installation of knights was held until 1913, when the ceremony was revived with all its ancient pomp and the present banners placed in position. In 1807-22 the chapel suffered from a restoration under Wyatt. SOUTH AISLE OF HENRY VII.'s CHAPEL. At the end of this aisle, which visitors usually enter first, is a medallion portrait of Earl Cromer (1841-1917),' regenerator of modern Egypt.' The first tomb in the centre is that of Margaret, Countess of Lennox (died 1578), daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland, by her second husband, the Earl of Angus, and so niece of Henry VIII. and cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Her son, Henry Darnley, was husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and father of James I. of England; and his figure among the effigies of her children on the sides of the tomb may be identified by the remains of a crown over his head (as Henry I. of Scotland). Next, under a tall canopy, is the recumbent Figure of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), whose remains were removed hither from Peterborough Cathedral in 1612 by order of her son James I. This was the last royal tomb erected in the Abbey; though six later sovereigns have been buried in the vaults, none have any monument or inscription. In Queen Mary's vault lie several Stuarts, including Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662), daughter of James I. and grandmother of George I., and her son Prince Rupert (1619-82), the famous Royalist leader. The next Tomb, within a grate or railing, is that of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond (1443-1509), with a beautiful recumbent figure in gilt-bronze, the masterpiece of Torrigiano, noted especially for the delicate modelling of the hands. The Lady Margaret was the mother of Henry VII., but is more famous for her benevolence and her encouragement of learning; she was the patroness of Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde and she founded St. John's and Christ's Colleges at Cambridge, as well as chairs of divinity at Oxford and Cambridge, as is set forth in her epitaph by Erasmus. The grate round the tomb, made by one Cornelius Symondson, was originally erected in 1529 by St. John's College. In 1822, during Wyatt's 'restorations,' it was removed and sold, but after being lost for nearly a century it was rediscovered and restored to its position in 1914, though shorn of much of its former ornamentation. On the wall to the north is a bronze bust, likewise by Torrigiano, of Sir Thomas Lovell (died 1524), executor to Henry VII. and his queen. Adjacent, Lady Walpole (died 1737), first wife of Sir Robert Walpole and mother of Horace Walpole; the statue, a replica by Valori of the antique statue of Pudicitia or Modesty in the Vatican, was brought from Rome by her son. The monument to General Monk, or Monck, Duke of Albemarle (1608-70), restorer of the Stuarts, was designed by Kent and executed by Scheemakers. Monk is buried in the north aisle, but in the vault here beneath his monument lie the remains of Charles II. (died 1685), Mary II. (died 1694), her husband William III, (died 1702), Queen Anne (died 1714), and her husband Prince George of Denmark (died 1708). The carving on the end wall should be noticed. NAVE OF HENRY VII.'s CHAPEL. The beautiful bronze covered doors at the entrance date from the 16th century. The heraldic devices that appear on them and recur elsewhere in the decoration of the chapel refer to Henry VII.'s ancestry and to his claims to the throne. The Welsh dragon indicates his Tudor father; the daisy-plant and the portcullis refer to the names of his Lancastrian mother, Margaret Beaufort; the falcon was the badge of Edward IV., father of Elizabeth of York, Henry's wife, and the greyhound that of the Nevilles from whom she was descended. The crown on a bush recalls Henry's first coronation on Bosworth field; while the roses are those of Lancaster and York united by his marriage. Other emblems are the lions of England and the fleur de lis of France. Within, on each side, are the beautiful carved stalls of the Knights of the Bath, each with the arms of its holder emblazoned on a small copper plate and his banner suspended above. The lower seats are those of the esquires, with their coats-of-arms. Beneath the seats are a number of grotesquely carved miser cords, which should be examined. One dates from the 13th century. Beneath the pavement between the door and the altar reposes George II. (died 1760; the last king buried in the Abbey), with Queen Caroline and numerous members of his family. The present altar incorporates the Renaissance frieze and the pillars of the original altar, which was destroyed at the Reformation. Below it is the grave of Edward VI. (died 1553). Immediately behind the altar is the beautiful Tomb of Henry VII. (died 1509) and Elizabeth of York (died 1503), an admirable work by Pietro Torrigiano, of Florence, completed about 1518. The noble effigies of the king and queen repose on a black marble sarcophagus, with a carved frieze of white marble and adorned with gilt medallions of angels. The fine but mutilated grate is of English workmanship. James I. (1566-1625) is buried in the same vault as Henry VII, and his queen. Of the five east chapels, the first on the south is entirely filled by a huge monument of the Stuart period. In the next chapel is buried Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-81), Dean of Westminster for 17 years. The fine recumbent statue, by Boehm, is a faithful likeness. In the east chapel were buried Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and several of his family and friends, including Henry Ireton (1611-51), John Bradshaw (1602-59), and Admiral Blake (1599-1657). At the Restoration all were removed from the Abbey; Blake was reinterred in St. Margaret's churchyard, but the bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were treated with ignominy, and their heads were struck off at Tyburn and afterwards exposed on Westminster Hall. At the end of the chapel is the Coronation Chair made in 1689 for Mary II. and subsequently used by Queen Alexandra and the present Queen Mary. In the next chapel but one we may notice the large tomb of the Duke of Buckingham (assassinated in 1628), the favourite of James I. and Charles I. NORTH AISLE OF HENRY VII.'s CHAPEL. To the right as we enter is a monument to Charles Montagu (1661-1715), statesman and patron of literature. In the vault in front lie his friend Addison and General Monk. The tall canopied Tomb in the centre of the aisle, by Pewtrain and De Critz, was erected by James I. to Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), and forms an interesting pendant to the richer tomb of Mary Stuart in the south aisle. Elizabeth rests here in the same grave as her sister, Mary I.:' consorts in throne and tomb, here we sisters rest, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of the resurrection' (epitaph). The east end of this aisle was called 'Innocents' Corner' by Dean Stanley, for here are commemorated two infant Children of James I. (died 1607), one represented in a cradle which is the actual tomb; and in a small sarcophagus by the east wall are some bones, supposed to be those of Edward V. and his brother the Duke of York, sons of Edward IV., who were murdered in the Tower in 1483 by order of Richard III.. As we descend the steps from Henry VII.'s Chapel we see in front of us the Chantry of Henry V., at the entrance to the Confessor's Chapel. In the pavement of the ambulatory is a slab commemorating Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-74), the historian.