As already mentioned in my opening post, one of the many aspects of King Henry VII’s reign that is largely ignored, is the interest he took in architecture, as well as the advancement of the Renaissance that had swept across Europe. There is no better surviving example of one of the King’s “projects” than the King Henry VII Lady Chapel, at Westminster Abbey.
Described by the antiquarian, John Leland (1503-1552), as “one of the wonders of the entire world”, the Lady Chapel is a truly remarkable feat of design, and architecture. Tragically, the names of the master masons who actually built the chapel are lost to us. We know that Henry VII funded the entire project, and the foundation stone was set in 1503. The chapel still stands, relatively unscathed by the passage of time, and is as stunningly beautiful to see today, as it was all those centuries ago, when it was first built.
The Chapel can be accessed via a flight of steps, and is separated by the main body of the Abbey by a set of wrought bronze gates, with Tudor emblems worked in. The main, and easily most striking feature of the Chapel, is the high, pendant style, fan vaulted ceiling, that is truly breathtaking to see. Set along the front walls of the chapel, are high stained glass windows, (that these days depict soldiers who fought in the Great Wars). The stalls are lined with intricately carved misercordia, which depict a wide variety of scenes. From biblical scenes (such as David and Goliath), to scenes of domestic violence (a woman chastises her husband with a birch rod), to mythical beasts (a man riding a Unicorn is on one of them). All of that was topped off with the statues of over ninety saints that sat in niches along the walls.
Behind the altar, sits the grave of Queen Elizabeth of York, beside that of King Henry VII, himself. King Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, is also buried there. Along with King Henry’s two granddaughters, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I (interred together in the North Aisle). In the South Aisle, Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son, James I (VI of Scotland), are also interred.
From 1725, the Chapel was used for the installations of Knights of the Order of the Bath, and these days, it is used in services to commemorate British Armed Servicemen. However, I digress. This Chapel nicely represents the vision of the King, and the skill of the craftsmen who made his vision a stunning reality. Needless to say, its’ well worth a visit, if ever you’re in the locality!