The Chapel Royal at Greenwich Palace

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  • The Chapel Royal at Greenwich Palace


    INJANUARY 2006 remains of the chapel royal at Henry VII's GreenwichPalace were discovered during routine archaeological monitoring of drainagetrenching to the east of Hawksmoor's Lesser Queen Anne Building. Althoughan archaeological report is yet to be finalised, this volume offered a timely oppor-tunity to discuss briefly the significance of this discovery.! The importance of thenew information about the Tudor chapel royal, which was such a focus for themajesty of monarchy and the setting for occasions of great splendour, ceremonyand music, cannot be under-estimated.

    This paper will first describe what was found and then go on to discuss its con-text and significance. The earliest structural feature found in the excavations wasa 3 metre long conglomeration of flint blocks set within a hard mortar (Plate16A). The full dimensions or orientation of this foundation remains uncertain,though its construction is characteristically late-medieval. Overlying this featurewas a Tudor building consisting of three 'rooms'. The first (westernmost) room,truncated by the Hawksmoor building, is identified as the chapel itself. Only afraction of its original length survives but its internal north-south width iscomplete and measures 8.5 metres. Its tiled floor survives and an integraldoorway, with finely carved stone jambs (Plate 16B), in its south-east corner leadsto another room measuring, internally, the same width of 8.5 metres (north-south) by 5.75 metres (east-west). These two 'rooms' are of one contemporarybuild and the second has been labelled 'vestry one'. A third room to the east isabout 8 metres long, the uncertainty being caused by alterations associated witha fireplace in its east wall, and 5.54 metres wide, north-south. This room was alater addition to the westernmost two but it is almost certainly of (later)sixteenth-century construction. At present we have defined this room as 'vestrytwo'. The northern walls of these rooms lay along the original riverfront and asmall area of ground surface was recorded to the north. Immediately to the eastof vestry two, fragments of a cobbled road surface (also found farther south) havebeen identified with the lane known on later maps as 'The Way to the Crane'.

    The chapel is clearly identified at the eastern end of the palace complex on adrawing by Anthonis van den Wyngaerde in 1558 and on an anonymous paintingat Kingston Lacy, dated to after 1634. The chapel proper has three round-headed

    ! The Museum of London Archaeology Service is grateful to the Greenwich Foundation for the OldRoyal Naval College) particularly Mr Duncan Wilson) for commissioning and funding the excava-tions and this interim discussion. The excavations were recorded under the Museum of Londonsite code RNDo5. The author is also grateful to the following people for advice during and afterthe excavations: David Baldwin) John Bold) Nicholas Cranfield) Philip Dixon) Michael Egan) KentRawlinson) Simon Thurley and Michael Turner. The plan was prepared by Eamonn Baldwin andKenneth Lymer and the photograph was taken by Maggie Cox.



    windows on its riverfront side, and the cross-gabled projection to the right (orwest) housed the ante-chapel at ground floor level with the royal closets above.2

    The chapel (though not the ante-chapel or closets) was one of the few elementsof the palace that escaped demolition in the 1660'S. In 1670, the architect JohnWebb noted that 'the old Chappell at Greenwich' measured 52 feet 10 inches (16.1metres) long by 27 feet 8 inches (8.4 metres) wide} The chapel can be seen on arecently discovered painting by Isaac Sailmaker of the Greenwich riverfront in the1670's.4 It also appears on late seventeenth-century plans drawn up at the timethat the royal estate was given to the new Royal Hospital for Seamen. Two of theserepresent the gabled chapel in three-dimensional perspective and another build-ing, the vestry, behind to the east.S Another is a two-dimensional plan of 1695which shows the disposition of the rooms and doorway exactly as revealed in theexcavations.6 The width of the chapel as found concurs almost exactly withWebb's measurements and the scale of the plans. Although the full length of thechapel does not survive, Webb's measurement again would seem to be confirmedby the illustrations, excepting the plan of 1695where the chapel is almost doubledby mistake.

    With the location of the Tudor chapel now established, some comments canbe added to the information we have for the layout of the palace and its predeces-sor. It has never been established with certainty when the first royal occupationoccurred at the site. Greenwich was held by the Abbey of St Peter in Ghent, whose'hostel' is known to have been 300 metres"downstream. Ghent's tenure was finallyterminated in 1414, although Henry IV signed his will at Greenwich in 1408.Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, was given Greenwich in 1415and must havehad a house there, either inherited or built by him, as he died there in 1426. Sucha building may have been that defined as period one in Philip Dixon's excavationsof 1970-1.7 Following Exeter's death, the site, now known as Bella Court, wasacquired by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. In 1433,he gained a licence to embel-lish his manor, which wording suggests that he was altering, even enlarging, an

    2 Both reproduced in S. Thurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England (London and New Haven,1993), fig. 264, p. 197 and fig. 49, p. 35, see also plans 3 and 4. The architectural setting, and 'spatialdynamics', of the chapels royal is also discussed by P. E. McCullough, Sermons at Court: Politicsand Religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean Preaching (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 13-14 and F. Kisby,"'When the King Goeth a Procession": Chapel Ceremonies and Services, the Ritual Year and Reli-gious Reforms at the Early Tudor Court, 1485-1541', Journal of British Studies, 40, I, January, 2001,pp. 44-75,49

    3 J. Harris, Catalogue of the R.I.B.A. Drawings Collection: Inigo Jones and John Webb (Farnborough,1972), p. 94, no 120.

    4 S.Morris, Marine Painting in the Age of Nelson (London, 2005), cat no 1. There is no absolute dateknown for the painting but the presence of the roof over the new King Charles building gives aterminus post quem of 1669. I am grateful to Susan Morris for bringing this painting to myattention.

    5 TNA, MR1/329 (2) and MR 1/329 (1) reproduced in J. Bold, Greenwich: An Architectural History ofthe Royal Hospital for Seamen and the Queen's House (London and New Haven, 2000), fig. 58,p. 42 and fig. 130)p. 97.

    6 National Maritime Museum,ART/I, reproduced in The Wren Society, VI (Oxford, 1929), plate X.7 P. Dixon, Excavations at Greenwich Palace, 1970-1971 (Greenwich & Lewisham Antiquarian

    Society, 1972), p. 9.


    existing building.8 The full extent of Humphrey's manor is not known but itprobably had all the usual palatial appurtenances including a chapel, most likelyat its eastern end. After Humphrey's death, the Greenwich manor was taken overby Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou, and renamed Pleasaunce or Placentia.Almost immediately she embarked on widescale alterations and improvements tothe complex. Significantly, this included work on the chapel, indicating that thishad been an integral part of the manor since it was built. The work, whichappears in the accounts for 1451-2, included the construction ofa royal closet nextto the chapel, the creation of a bay window in the closet and the provision of tilesfor roofing it. In addition the accounts refer to the provision of an altar (perhapsalso in the closet), a new door between the chapel and vestry, three new windowsfor the vestry, security bars in the vestry windows (as jewels were kept there), fire-places in the king's and queen's closets and the vestry and the reglazing of the altarwindow (theJast perhaps in the chapel itself rather than the closet).9 Any furtheralterations to the chapel under Edward I~ Richard III or even during the earlyyears of Henry VII's reign are unknown.

    As has been demonstrated by Philip Dixon, and is shown by the accounts ofthe Office of the King's Works, Henry VII's palace (only ever known as 'Green-wich Palace') was an entirely new development.lO Among the earlier buildingsthat were demolished to accommodate it was the old chapel, which came downin the years 1500-2.11 Construction of the new palace proceeded apace andbetween March 1500 and July 1504 the accounts include payments to the mastermason Robert Vertue and the master carpenter Thomas Benks for work on 'thechapel, gallery and two closets at Greenwich'.12 It is likely that the new Tudorchapel was built on the already consecrated ground of its predecessor, and it ispossible that the medieval masonry found in 2006 formed part of the founda-tions of the earlier chapeL

    The new palace was formed of three courtyards behind the main river front-age. The outer or Chapel Court was defined to the north by the chapel, to the westby a range extending south from the riverfront and to the south by the great hall.13The eastern limit of this court, indeed of the whole palace, was 'The Way to theCrane'. The great hall can be located by the survival of its later undercroftincorporated into the cellars of Wren's Queen Anne building (Plate 16A).14

    8 Excavated remains from Humphrey)s time are defined by Dixon as periods two and three.9 H. H. Drake) ed.) History of Kent: Part 1. The Hundred of Blackheath (London) 1886) p. 56) n. l.10 Dixon) Excavations at Greenwich Palace) pp. 5) 15; H. M. Colvin) ed.) The History of the King)s

    Works) 6 vols (1963-82) IV (2) p. 97.11 Noted in the accounts of Thomas Warley) Clerk of the King)s Works) Colvin) The History of the

    King)s Works) IV (2) p. 97; David Baldwin) The Chapel Royal: Ancient and Modern (London) 1990)P94

    12 Exchequer Accounts) Colvin) The History of the King)s Works) IV (2).13 A similar arrangement to Whitehall and York Place) c.f Thurley) The Royal Palaces of Tudor

    England) plans 13 and 15.14 See its location plotted in Bold) Greenwich) fig 120) p. 161.



    Previous reconstructions of the palace layout had postulated a chapel fartherwest,I5 opposite the great hall, but the discovery of its actual location reveals thatthe south -eastern side of the court must have been bounded by further buildingseast of the great hall. A medieval, or more likely Tudor, well also found during theexcavations would have been situated within these buildings. The hall may nowbe identified in Wyngaerde's drawing as the western (right-hand) east-westgabled building shown behind the river-front range.I6

    The area to the east of 'The Way to the Crane' was occupied by the Office ofWorks, probably from an early date, and numerous accounts refer to variousstorehouses and workshops there. The area is defined in a map of 1728,made afterthe construction of the main blocks of the new Greenwich Hospital. 'The Way tothe Crane' is clearly shown, with 'the King's work yard with some tenements of yeKing's Office of Works' to the east. To the west lies 'The Treasurer's house &garden', which was the surviving 'vestry two' (possibly incorporating 'vestry one',with additional building(s) to the south).17

    To turn, now, to the question of the dating and usage of the chapel royal atGreenwich. The site of the earliest Saxon church in Greenwich is not known,though its successor, St Alphege's, was clearly built on the site of that prelate'smartyrdom. There were other medieval chapels in Greenwich, including thechapel of the Blessed Mary. and the Rood chapel of All Saints.I8 From the 1490's,worship was also possible at the church of Greenwich Friary.I9 As we have seen,there was a chapel royal at Greenwich from the early fifteenth century. HenryVII's palace appears to have been completed by 1506, with the chapel and otheroffices ready for use. In 1519,however, Henry VIII paid 'Thomas Forster towardsthe fynisshing of the chapel at Greenwytche'.20 It is unlikely that the chapel tooknearly nineteen years to 'finish', so Henry VIII was presumably undertaking somefurther decoration or alteration.21

    The surviving remains of the Tudor chapel are of its eastern - altar - end.Its floor is laid with three distinct areas of tiles. In the centre are glazed Tudortiles, possibly original, formed in a chequered pattern with diagonally laid tiles atthe surviving western edge. Whether these represent the proximity of the edge ofthe altar step is not clear. Linear breaks in the floor either side of these tiles are

    15 Note the estimated location of the chapel in the reconstructions of Dixon, Excavations atGreenwich Palace, 1970-1971, plan 1;Colvin, The History of the King's Works, IV (2),fig. 8,p. 98andThurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, plans 3, 4.

    16 The difficulty of identifying the hall on the drawing is noted by Colvin, The History of the King'sWorks, IV (2), p. 97. The drawing shows two east-west buildings of two rooms each; at least, twobuildings with roofs of different heights.

    17NMM, ART 2/3. A detailed plan of the Works area, also dated 1728,survives as TNA, CRES 6/38.Many of these buildings were probably seventeenth- or even sixteenth-century survivals.

    18M. Egan, 'The Church in Medieval Greenwich', Archaeologia Cantiana, CXXIII (2003),pp. 233-54,p. 238;Drake, History of Kent: Part 1. The Hundred of Blackheath, p. 54n. l.

    19A. R. Martin, 'The Grey Friars of Greenwich', Archaeological Journal, LXXX (1923),pp. 81-112.20 Colvin, The History of the King's Works, IV (2), p. 101; S. Thurley, 'Greenwich Palace', in D. Starkey,

    ed., Henry VIII: a European Court in England (London, 1991),p. 22and n. 22.21 Limited space renders reference to the numerous accounts of minor alterations, services and

    ceremonies within the chapel impossible here.


    suggestive of partition bases. Beyond these, to the north and south, are later plainFlemish tiles, though the southern end is much obscured by a vaulted passagewayadded in 1707 (Plate 16B).

    The floor level of 'vestry one' has disappeared; there may have been a cellarinserted at a later date, but the fine brick floor of 'vestry two' is at the same heightas the tiled floor of the chapel and the ground surface just south of the chapel.How much higher the altar step was than the body of the chapel cannot be fullygauged at present, though this may have been accommodated by the slightwestwards slope in the natural terrain.22

    The east wall, surviving in some places to a height of 0.7 metres above the floor,has no trace of any rendering. It has been assumed that any surface at ground-floor level would have been furnished with wooden panelling and plastered at thefirst -floor level. There are, however, two putlog holes (for supporting timber-work) within the brick face towards the southern end, dearly created during con-struction.

    The floor of the chapel seems to have been supported by two pairs of bri...


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