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The Quire at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor

The Quire of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor is an area extraordinarily rich in the history of the English Monarchy, yet this sacred and mystical space in the Chapel enshrining the Order of the Garter – the Order’s spiritual home – is as much associated with royal weddings as well as royal burial. The marble floor of the Quire carries with it quite literally, the strata of centuries and is full of royal footsteps. We might imagine the long procession of brides up the nave beginning with the first to be married here, Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, through to the most recent, Autumn Kelly, in 2008. With its magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling, great Garter banners and crests, the Quire was the first part of the Chapel to be completed. It is a space where royalty has walked for over six centuries.

High above is the Queen’s Closet, first built for Henry VIII’s first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon to watch Garter ceremonies and used by his sixth queen, Catherine Parr, to observe his burial, as women were not expected to attend funerals for reasons of prevailing royal etiquette. Queen Victoria used the Queen’s Closet to attend the first royal wedding ever to be celebrated at St. George’s Chapel, that of the Prince of Wales and the Danish-born Princess Alexandra in 1863. Today, instead of the gaze of these three queens, the space is normally reserved for the glare of the media cameras belonging to those press crews which use the Closet instead as a filming platform.

To walk up the Quire of St. George’s Chapel is to follow the feet of thirteen royal brides with the single exception being that of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, whose marriage to the Prince of Wales was dedicated and blessed in St. George’s Chapel, following the ceremony at Windsor’s Guildhall, in 2005. Six royal brides stood here during the reign of Queen Victoria; but only one of her daughters – Princess Louise – who married the Marquess of Lorne and future 9th Duke of Argyll here, in 1871. To retrace their bridal procession up the aisle means literally, stepping on history. Only once did Queen Victoria, in the rawness of the first years of widowhood, omit to stand before the altar at the St. George’s Chapel weddings during her reign; this was the occasion that she observed the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra, as captured by the painter William Powell Frith. The other weddings, she describes as walking up the nave; movingly, she processed up to the altar for the penultimate St. George’s Chapel wedding in her lifetime, to escort Princess Frederica of Hanover, giving her away in 1880, in the place of Frederica’s father, King George V of Hanover, who had died two years previously, and was interred in the Royal Vault at St. George’s.

For The Quire is as much associated with royal burial and funerals as royal weddings. The North Quire Aisle is the burial place of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Wydeville as well as of Princess Louise of Saxe-Weimar, a niece of William IV’s German-born consort, Queen Adelaide. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, whose marriage had been celebrated at St. George’s in 1863, now share a tomb in the South Quire Aisle to the right of the altar, in whose area is also located the tomb of King Henry VI. In front of the altar, close to the entrance to the Royal Vault established by King George III, is a small brass plaque which records that Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent was briefly interred here until the completion of her mausoleum at Frogmore. The Royal Vault itself, into which the respective royal coffin descends at a given moment in the funeral ceremony, is the great vault of the Hanoverian dynasty, containing the resting places of George III, Queen Charlotte, George IV, William IV, Queen Adelaide and many of their children, including George IV’s only (legitimate) daughter, Princess Charlotte and the young Princess Elizabeth of Clarence. Also interred there is Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent.

It also contains the Cambridge vault, which houses the remains of the parents of George V’s consort, Queen Mary, Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. The last royal funeral service to be held at St. George’s Chapel was that of Sir Angus Ogilvy in 2005, whose body was taken directly to Frogmore.

Further back down the Quire between the high altar and the Garter Knights Stalls is the vault of Henry VIII, containing the tomb of the great King and his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour. The King’s coffin was let down in a ‘vice’ by sixteen Yeoman of the Guard after which the staves of the respective officials were broken over the open tomb, to denote a termination of their service to the dead King. The vault was joined by the body of the executed King Charles I on a wintry night at Windsor in February 1649. An infant child of the last Stuart, Queen Anne, was interred here in 1696. Today, a slab of black marble commemorates the presence of these remains, placed there by command of William IV in 1837.

Also within the Quire is the fifteenth century Sovereign’s Stall, carved by William Berkeley in 1478-1485 with a later canopy added in 1787 by Henry Emlyn. It features a magnificent misericord depicting the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475. It is this Stall which is used by Her Majesty The Queen when attending annual services at St. George’s Chapel, such as that on Easter morning, Garter Day or the special service to give thanksgiving for the Order of the Garter and the College of St. George on the 660th anniversary of its founding, celebrated on St. George’s Day, 2008.

HRH The Duke of Cambridge was confirmed at St. George’s Chapel in 1997; HRH Prince Henry of Wales was also baptised there on 21 December 1984, a ceremony performed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.

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