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Royal Burials: St George’s Chapel

Governed by the Dean and Canons of Westminster, St George’s Chapel is the official place of worship at Windsor Castle. With its impressive Gothic architecture, the chapel is located within the Queen’s residences at the castle –in Windsor Castle’s Lower Ward. It has withstood significant development and conflicts over the centuries and is still a place of significance today as it has been the site of a multitude of royal burials since 1483.

Since its founding in 1348 by King Edward III, St George’s chapel has undergone extensive development in its physical appearance and symbolism. It was at that time that the King founded two religious colleges- St George’s at Windsor and St Stephen’s at Westminster. St George’s was attached to the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor, previously constructed by Henry III years before. The chapel was then rededicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St George the Martyr. The entrance of the new college was created from the Aerary Porch, also constructed by Edward III. When Edward III created the Order of the Garter in 1350 in St George’s name, he also made St George the Patron Saint of England. From then on, St. George’s Chapel became known as the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter further adding to its cultural significance.

Between 1475 and 1528 the chapel underwent considerable development in its structure mainly initiated by Edward IV and continued by Henry VII and Henry VIII. It was at this time that the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor erected in the thirteenth century, was redeveloped into a significantly larger and grander chapel, and the Horseshoe Cloister was constructed for a growing community within the chapel.

Within the medieval period, the chapel continued to rise in popularity as it already contained many important cultural relics, once of which was the body of Henry VI which had originally been buried in Chertsey Abbey but was moved to St George’s Chapel in 1484 by Richard III.

Various wars and political conflicts through time have influenced the chapel in significant ways. One of these impactful events was the English Civil War. It was at this time on 23 October 1642 that the chapel was raided and robbed of many of its important belongings. This damage continued throughout the next several years during a particularly unstable period for the monarchy. When the monarchy stabilised, an effort was made to repair the damage to the chapel.

The reign of Queen Victoria is another example of a time that brought significant changes in structure to the chapel as the Queen made changes to the east end of the choir to reflect her devotion to Prince Albert.  Along with that, she also enacted other changes –completing the Lady Chapel, building a royal mausoleum as well as a ceremonial entrance to the building by way of a set of steps on the chapel’s west end.

St. George’s chapel has been of continued use for royal burials from King Edward IV in 1483 onwards, each in specific areas of the chapel. Kings Edward IV, Henry VI, and Edward VII, for example, being laid to rest at the altar –along with Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Consort of Edward IV and Alexandra of Denmark, the wife of Edward VII.

In the Quire of the chapel, Jane Seymour, Henry VIII, Charles I and a stillborn son of Queen Anne were all laid to rest all between the years of 1537 and 1698.

The Royal Vault has seen a total of 17 royal burials and came into use in the early 1800’s for the century.  It has been the final resting place of, among others, King George III, VI and V of Hanover and Prince Adolphus, the Duke of Cambridge.

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, as well as Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence were both laid to rest in the Albert Memorial Chapel in 1884 and 1892 respectively.

George V and Mary of Teck were both laid to rest near the west door.

2002 marked the most recent of the royal burials at St. George’s with the burials of The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret within the King George VI Memorial Chapel along with the previously interred remains of King George VI following his death in 1952.

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