Windsor Castle

Author: William Harrison Ainsworth

III. Comprising the Fourth Epoch in the History of the Castle—And Showing How Saint George’s Chapel Was Rebuilt by King Edward the Fourth.

Finding the foundation and walls of Saint George’s Chapel much dilapidated and decayed, Edward the Fourth resolved to pull down the pile, and build a larger and statelier structure in its place. With this view, he constituted Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, surveyor of the works, from whose designs arose the present beautiful edifice. To enable the bishop to accomplish the work, power was given him to remove all obstructions, and to enlarge the space by the demolition of the three buildings then commonly called Clure’s Tower, Berner’s Tower, and the Almoner’s Tower.

The zeal and assiduity with which Beauchamp prosecuted his task is adverted to in the patent of his appointment to the office of chancellor of the Garter, the preamble whereof recites, "that out of mere love towards the Order, he had given himself the leisure daily to attend the advancement and progress of this goodly fabric."

The chapel, however, was not completed in one reign, or by one architect. Sir Reginald Bray, prime minister of Henry the Seventh, succeeded Bishop Beauchamp as surveyor of the works, and it was by him that the matchless roof of the choir and other parts of the fabric were built. Indeed, the frequent appearance of Bray’s arms, sometimes single, sometimes impaling his alliances, in many parts of the ceiling and windows, has led to the supposition that he himself contributed largely to the expense of the work. The groined ceiling of the chapel was not commenced till the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Henry the Seventh, when the pinnacles of the roof were decorated with vanes, supported by gilt figures of lions, antelopes, greyhounds, and dragons, the want of which is still a detriment to the external beauty of the structure,

"The main vaulting of St. George’s Chapel," says Mr. Poynter, "is perhaps, without exception, the most beautiful specimen of the Gothic stone roof in existence; but it has been very improperly classed with those of the same architectural period in the chapels of King’s College, Cambridge, and Henry the Seventh, at Westminster. The roofing of the aisle and the centre compartment of the body of the building are indeed in that style, but the vault of the nave and choir differ essentially from fan vaulting, both in drawing and construction. It is, in fact, a waggonheaded vault, broken by Welsh groins—that is to say, groins which cut into the main arch below the apex. It is not singular in the principle of its design, but it is unique in its proportions, in which the exact mean seems to be attained between the poverty and monotony of a waggonheaded ceiling and the ungraceful effect of a mere groined roof with a depressed roof or large span—to which may be added, that with a richness of effect scarcely, if at all, inferior to fan tracery, it is free from those abrupt junctions of the lines and other defects of drawing inevitable when the length and breadth of the compartments of fan vaulting differ very much, of which King’s College Chapel exhibits some notable instances."

Supported by these exquisite ribs and groins, the ceiling is decorated with heraldic insignia, displaying the arms of Edward the Confessor, Edward the Third, Edward the Black Prince, Henry the Sixth, Edward the Fourth, Henry the Seventh, and Henry the Eighth; with the arms of England and France quartered, the holy cross, the shield or cross of Saint George, the rose, portcullis, lion rampant, unicorn, fleur-de-lis, dragon, and prince’s feathers, together with the arms of a multitude of noble families. In the nave are emblazoned the arms of Henry the Eighth, and of several knights-companions, among which are those of Charles the Fifth, Francis the First, and Ferdinand, Infant of Spain. The extreme lightness and graceful proportions of the pillars lining the aisles contribute greatly to the effect of this part of the structure.

Beautiful, however, as is the body of the chapel, it is not comparable to the choir. Here, and on either side, are ranged the stalls of the knights, formerly twenty-six in number, but now increased to thirty-two, elaborately carved in black oak, and covered by canopies of the richest tabernacle-work, supported by slender pillars. On the pedestals is represented the history of the Saviour, and on the front of the stalls at the west end of the choir is carved the legend of Saint George; while on the outside of the upper seat is cut, in old Saxon characters, the twentieth Psalm in Latin. On the canopies of the stalls are placed the mantle, helmet, coat, and sword of the knights-companions; and above them are hung their emblazoned banners. On the back of each stall are fixed small enamelled plates, graven with the titles of the knights who have occupied it. The ancient stall of the sovereign was removed in 1788, and a new seat erected.

The altar was formerly adorned with costly hangings of crimson velvet and gold, but these, together with the consecrated vessels of great value, were seized by order of Parliament in 1642 amid the general plunder of the foundation. The service of the altar was replaced by Charles the Second.

The sovereign’s stall is immediately on the right on the entrance to the choir, and the prince’s on the left. The queen’s closet is on the north side above the altar. Beneath it is the beautiful and elaboratelywrought framework of iron, representing a pair of gates between two Gothic towers, designed as a screen to the tomb of Edward the Fourth, and which, though popularly attributed to Quentin Matsys, has with more justice been assigned to Master John Tressilian.

One great blemish to the chapel exists in the window over the altar, the mullions and tracery of which have been removed to make way for dull colourless copies in painted glass of West’s designs. Instead of

-" blushing with the blood of kings, And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings"

steeping the altar in rich suffusion, chequering the walls and pavement with variegated hues, and filling the whole sacred spot with a warm and congenial glow, these panes produce a cold, cheerless, and most disagreeable effect.

The removal of this objectionable feature, and the restoration of framework and compartments in the style of the original, and enriched with ancient mellow-toned and many-hued glass in keeping with the place, are absolutely indispensable to the completeness and unity of character of the chapel. Two clerestory windows at the east end of the choir, adjoining the larger window, have been recently filled with stained glass in much better taste.

The objections above made may be urged with equal force against the east and west windows of the south aisle of the body of the fane, and the west window of the north aisle. The glorious west window, composed of eighty compartments, embellished with figures of kings, patriarchs, and bishops, together with the insignia of the Garter and the arms of the prelates—the wreck gathered from all the other windows— and streaming with the radiance of the setting sun upon the broad nave and graceful pillars of the aisles—this superb window, an admirable specimen of the architecture of the age in which it was designed, had well-nigh shared the fate of the others, and was only preserved from desecration by the circumstance of the death of the glass-painter. The mullions of this window being found much decayed, were carefully and consistently restored during the last year by Mr. Blore, and the ancient stained glass replaced.

Not only does Saint George’s Chapel form a house of prayer and a temple of chivalry, but it is also the burial-place of kings. At the east end of the north aisle of the choir is a plain flag, bearing the words—

King Edward IIII. And his Queen Elizabeth Widville

The coat of mail and surcoat, decorated with rubies and precious stones, together with other rich trophies once ornamenting this tomb, were carried off by the Parliamentary plunderers. Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, it was thought, slept beside him; but when the royal tomb was opened in 1789, and the two coffins within it examined, the smaller one was found empty. The queen’s body was subsequently discovered in a stone coffin by the workmen employed in excavating the vault for George the Third. Edward’s coffin was seven feet long, and contained a perfect skeleton. On the opposite aisle, near the choir door, as already mentioned, rests the ill-fated Henry the Sixth, beneath an arch sumptuously embellished by Henry the Eighth, on the key-stone of which may still be seen his arms, supported by two antelopes connected by a golden chain. Henry’s body was removed from Chertsey, where it was first interred, and reburied in 1484, with much solemnity, in this spot. Such was the opinion entertained of his sanctity that miracles were supposed to be wrought upon his tomb, and Henry the Seventh applied to have him canonised, but the demands of the Pope were too exorbitant. The proximity of Henry and Edward in death suggested the following lines to Pope—

"Here, o’er the martyr-king the marble weeps,
And fast beside him once-fear’d Edward sleeps;
The grave unites, where e’en the grave finds rest,
And mingled here the oppressor and the opprest."

In the royal vault in the choir repose Henry the Eighth and his third queen Jane Seymour, together with the martyred Charles the First.

Space only permits the hasty enumeration of the different chapels and chantries adorning this splendid fane. These are Lincoln Chapel, near which Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, is buried; Oxenbridge Chapel; Aldworth Chapel; Bray Chapel, where rests the body of Sir Reginald de Bray, the architect of the pile; Beaufort Chapel, containing sumptuous monuments of the noble family of that name; Rutland Chapel; Hastings Chapel; and Urswick Chapel, in which is now placed the cenotaph of the Princess Charlotte, sculptured by Matthew Wyatt.

In a vault near the sovereign’s stall lie the remains of the Duke of Gloucester, who died in 1805, and of his duchess, who died two years after him. And near the entrance of the south door is a slab of grey marble, beneath which lies \one who in his day filled the highest offices of the realm, and was the brother of a king and the husband of a queen. It is inscribed with the great name of Charles Brandon.

At the east end of the north aisle is the chapter-house, in which is a portrait and the sword of state of Edward the Third.

Adjoining the chapel on the east stands the royal tombhouse. Commenced by Henry the Seventh as a mausoleum, but abandoned for the chapel in Westminster Abbey, this structure was granted by Henry the Eighth to Wolsey, who, intending it as a place of burial for himself, erected within it a sumptuous monument of black and white marble, with eight large brazen columns placed around it, and four others in the form of candlesticks.

At the time of the cardinal’s disgrace, when the building reverted to the crown, the monument was far advanced towards completion—the vast sum of 4280 ducats having been paid to Benedetto, a Florentine sculptor, for work, and nearly four hundred pounds for gilding part of it. This tomb was stripped of its ornaments and destroyed by the Parliamentary rebels in 1646; but the black marble sarcophagus forming part of it, and intended as a receptacle for Wolsey’s own remains, escaped destruction, and now covers the grave of Nelson in a crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Henry the Eighth was not interred in this mausoleum, but in Saint George’s Chapel, as has just been mentioned, and as he himself directed, "midway between the state and the high altar." Full instructions were left by him for the erection of a monument which, if it had been completed, would have been truly magnificent. The pavement was to be of oriental stones, with two great steps upon it of the same material. The two pillars of the church between which the tomb was to be set were to be covered with bas-reliefs, representing the chief events of the Old Testament, angels with gilt garlands, fourteen images of the prophets, the apostles, the evangelists, and the four doctors of the Church, and at the foot of every image a little child with a basket full of red and white roses enamelled and gilt. Between these pillars, on a basement of white marble, the epitaphs of the king and queen were to be written in letters of gold.

On the same basement were to be two tombs of black touchstone supporting the images of the king and queen, not as dead, but sleeping, "to show," so runs the order, "that famous princes leaving behind them great fame do never die." On the right hand, at either corner of the tomb, was to be an angel holding the king’s arms, with a great candlestick, and at the opposite corners two other angels hearing the queen’s arms and candlesticks. Between the two black tombs was to rise a high basement, like a sepulchre, surmounted by a statue of the king on horseback, in armour—both figures to be "of the whole stature of a goodly man and a large horse." Over this statue was to be a canopy, like a triumphal arch, of white marble, garnished with oriental stones of divers colours, with the history of Saint John the Baptist wrought in gilt brass upon it, with a crowning group of the Father holding the soul of the king in his right hand and the soul of the queen in his left, and blessing them. The height of the monument was to be twenty-eight feet.

The number of statues was to be one hundred and thirty-four, with fortyfour bas-reliefs. It would be matter of infinite regret that this great design was never executed, if its destruction by the Parliamentary plunderers would not in that case have been also matter of certainty.

Charles the First intended to fit up this structure as a royal mausoleum, but was diverted from the plan by the outbreak of the civil war. It was afterwards used as a chapel by James the Second, and mass was publicly performed in it. The ceiling was painted by Verrio, and the walls highly ornamented; but the decorations were greatly injured by the fury of an anti-Catholic mob, who assailed the building, and destroyed its windows, on the occasion of a banquet given to the Pope’s nuncio by the king.

In this state it continued till the commencement of the present century, when the exterior was repaired by George the Third, and a vault, seventy feet in length, twenty-eight in width, and fourteen in depth, constructed within it, for the reception of the royal family. Catacombs, formed of massive octangular pillars, and supporting ranges of shelves, line the walls on either side.

At the eastern extremity there are five niches, and in the middle twelve low tombs. A subterranean passage leads from the vault beneath the choir of Saint George’s altar to the sepulchre. Within it are deposited the bodies of George the Third and Queen Charlotte, the Princesses Amelia and Charlotte, the Dukes of Kent and York, and the last two sovereigns, George the Fourth and William the Fourth.

But to return to the reign of Edward the Fourth, from which the desire to bring down the history of Saint George’s Chapel to the present time has led to the foregoing digression. About the same time that the chapel was built, habitations for the dean and canons were erected on the north-east of the fane, while another range of dwellings for the minor canons was built at its west end, disposed in the form of a fetterlock, one of the badges of Edward the Fourth, and since called the Horseshoe Cloisters. The ambulatory of these cloisters once displayed a fine specimen of the timber architecture of Henry the Seventh’s time, when they were repaired, but little of their original character can now be discerned.

In 1482 Edward, desirous of advancing his popularity with the citizens of London, invited the lord mayor and aldermen to Windsor, where he feasted them royally, and treated them to the pleasures of the chase, sending them back to their spouses loaded with game.

In 1484 Richard the Third kept the feast of Saint George at Windsor, and the building of the chapel was continued during his reign.

The picturesque portion of the castle on the north side of the upper ward, near the Norman Gateway, and which is one of the noblest Gothic features of the proud pile, was built by Henry the Seventh, whose name it still bears. The side of this building looking towards the terrace was originally decorated with two rich windows, but one of them has disappeared, and the other has suffered much damage.

In 1500 the deanery was rebuilt by Dean Urswick. At the lower end of the court, adjoining the canons’ houses behind the Horse-shoe Cloisters, stands the Collegiate Library, the date of which is uncertain, though it may perhaps be referred to this period. The establishment was enriched in later times by a valuable library, bequeathed to it by the Earl of Ranelagh.

In 1506 Windsor was the scene of great festivity, in consequence of the unexpected arrival of Philip, King of Castile, and his queen, who had been driven by stress of weather into Weymouth. The royal visitors remained for several weeks at the castle, during which it continued a scene of revelry, intermixed with the sports of the chase. At the same time Philip was invested with the Order of the Garter, and installed in the chapel of St. George.

The great gateway to the lower ward was built in the commencement of the reign of Henry the Eighth; it is decorated with his arms and devices—the rose, portcullis, and fleur-de-lis, and with the bearings of Catherine of Arragon. In 1522 Charles the Fifth visited Windsor, and was installed I knight of the Garter.

During a period of dissension in the council, Edward the Sixth was removed for safety to Windsor by the Lord Protector Somerset, and here, at a later period, the youthful monarch received a letter from the council urging the dismissal of Somerset, with which, by the advice of the Arch-bishop of Canterbury, he complied.

In this reign an undertaking to convey water to the castle from Blackmore Park, near Wingfield, a distance of five miles, was commenced, though it was not till 1555, in the time of Mary, that the plan was accomplished, when a pipe was brought into the upper ward, "and there the water plenteously did rise thirteen feet high." In the middle of the court was erected a magnificent fountain, consisting of a canopy raised upon columns, gorgeously decorated with heraldic ornaments, and surmounted by a great vane, with the arms of Philip and Mary impaled upon it, and supported by a lion and an eagle, gilt and painted. The water was discharged by a great dragon, one of the supporters of the Tudor arms, into the cistern beneath, whence it was conveyed by pipes to every part of the castle.

Mary held her court at Windsor soon after her union with Philip of Spain. About this period the old habitations of the alms-knights on the south side of the lower quadrangle were taken down, and others erected in their stead.

Fewer additions were made to Windsor Castle by Elizabeth than might have been expected from her predilection for it as a place of residence. She extended and widened the north terrace, where, when lodging within the castle, she daily took exercise, whatever might be the weather. The terrace at this time, as it is described by Paul Hentzner, and as it appears in Norden’s view, was a sort of balcony projecting beyond the scarp of the hill, and supported by great cantilevers of wood.

In 1576 the gallery still bearing her name, and lying between Henry the Seventh’s buildings and the Norman Tower, was erected by Elizabeth. This portion of the castle had the good fortune to escape the alterations and modifications made in almost every other part of the upper ward after the restoration of Charles the Second. It now forms the library. A large garden was laid out by the same queen, and a small gateway on Castle Hill built by her—which afterwards became one of the greatest obstructions to the approach, and it was taken down by George the Fourth.

Elizabeth often hunted in the parks, and exhibited her skill in archery, which was by no means inconsiderable, at the butts. Her fondness for dramatic performances likewise induced her to erect a stage within the castle, on which plays and interludes were performed. And to her admiration of the character of Falstaff, and her love of the locality, the world is indebted for the "Merry Wives of Windsor."

James the First favoured Windsor as much as his predecessors; caroused within its halls, and chased the deer in its parks; Christian the Fourth of Denmark was sumptuously entertained by him at Windsor. In this reign a curious dispute occurred between the king and the dean and chapter respecting the repair of a breach in the wall, which was not brought to issue for three years, when, after much argument, it was decided in favour of the clergy.

Little was done at Windsor by Charles the First until the tenth year of his reign, when a banqueting-house erected by Elizabeth was taken down, and the magnificent fountain constructed by Queen Mary demolished. Two years after wards "a pyramid or lantern," with a clock, hell, and dial, was ordered to be set up in front of the castle, and a balcony was erected before the room where Henry the Sixth was born.

In the early part of the year 1642 Charles retired to Windsor to shield himself from the insults of the populace, and was followed by a committee of the House of Commons, who prevailed upon him to desist from the prosecution of the impeached members. On the 23rd of October in the same year, Captain Fogg, at the head of a Parliamentarian force, demanded the keys of the college treasury, and, not being able to obtain them, forced open the doors, and carried off the whole of the plate.

The plunder of the college was completed by Vane, the Parliamentary governor of the castle, who seized upon the whole of the furniture and decorations of the choir, rifled the tomb of Edward the Fourth, stripped off all the costly ornaments from Wolsey’s tomb, defaced the emblazonings over Henry the Sixth’s grave, broke the rich painted glass of the windows, and wantonly destroyed the exquisite woodwork of the choir.

Towards the close of the year 1648 the ill-fated Charles was brought a prisoner to Windsor, where he remained while preparations were made for the execrable tragedy soon afterwards enacted. After the slaughter of the martyr-monarch the castle became the prison of the Earl of Norwich, Lord Capel, and the Duke of Hamilton, and other royalists and cavaliers.

Cromwell frequently resided within the castle, and often took a moody and distrustful walk upon the terrace. It was during the Protectorate, in 1677, that the ugly buildings appropriated to the naval knights, and standing between the Garter Tower and Chancellor’s Tower, were erected by Sir Francis Crane.


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Chicago: William Harrison Ainsworth, "III. Comprising the Fourth Epoch in the History of the Castle— And Showing How Saint George’s Chapel Was Rebuilt by King Edward the Fourth.," Windsor Castle, trans. Evans, Sebastian in Windsor Castle Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2023,

MLA: Ainsworth, William Harrison. "III. Comprising the Fourth Epoch in the History of the Castle— And Showing How Saint George’s Chapel Was Rebuilt by King Edward the Fourth." Windsor Castle, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in Windsor Castle, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Ainsworth, WH, 'III. Comprising the Fourth Epoch in the History of the Castle— And Showing How Saint George’s Chapel Was Rebuilt by King Edward the Fourth.' in Windsor Castle, trans. . cited in , Windsor Castle. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2023, from