A look inside the Royal Wedding venue: St George’s Chapel
PUBLISHED: 11:17 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:17 15 May 2018
Aurelien Guichard, flickr.com
‘The Romance of St George’s Chapel’. That’s the title of a 1933 book by King George V’s chaplain, Harry Blackburne. Our ‘visit’ is naturally less detailed, but still an intriguing read!
With this ring…
St George’s Chapel became a popular choice for Royal Weddings while Queen Victoria was on the throne. She became reclusive once her beloved Albert died, and at least a marriage at Windsor overcame difficulties for her children, and later grandchildren.
And even then you couldn’t guarantee that she’d play the full part of the most important guest at the ceremony. For instance, when the Prince Wales, the later Edward VII, married Princess Alexandra, Queen Victoria was in the ‘Royal Closet’.
Originally constructed for Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and later used by his final spouse, Catherine Parr, to watch his funeral, the closet allowed Victoria to attend the wedding ‘in private’ demonstrating her abiding grief, while still being able to see the ceremony below in the Quire.
Castle or College?
We’re not talking Eton… around a quarter of what people think of as Windsor Castle is actually owned and occupied by The College of St George, founded back in 1348 alongside the Order of the Garter. There’s St George’s Chapel, of course, but also St George’s School, St George’s House, the homes of the Military Knights of Windsor, a library, archives and The Choir. Work on building the actual chapel began in 1475, with timber brought from the nearby parishes of Sunninghill, Upton and Farnham.
The people in charge
The Dean and Canons of Windsor oversee affairs here, and the current Dean is The Rt Revd David Conner, KCVO. Until 2009 he was Bishop to the Forces. He will conduct the service when Prince Harry and Meghan marry, although the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will take them through their marriage vows. James Vivian, is Director of Music as Organist and Master of the Choristers.
The Military Knights
These are some of the most fascinating people living in Windsor, probably the latest line of what is believed to be the oldest military establishment in the Army List, dating back to the mid-14th century. Known as ‘the Poor Knights’ or ‘Alms Knights’, so distinguishing them from the far nobler Garter Knights, retired military gents have lived at the Lower Ward of the castle for centuries since in return for duties including Sunday parades, State Visits, the Garter Ceremony procession and some voluntary roles.
They’re easy to spot because each wears a scarlet tailcoat in the summer, sash, cocked hat with plume, and a sword on required occasions.
The Guild of Stewards of the College of St George ensures a warm welcome for visitors to the Chapel. Take a pre-booked tour and one of their number, in a red gown, could well be showing you around. Since 1966 the Chapel has also had Lay Stewards who assist at Sunday morning services, on Garter Day and at other events. It’s a privileged position and The Captain of the Lay Stewards is Hugo Vickers, assisted by James Clark and Martin Stanford as Vice Captains.
Author Hugo’s fascination with the Chapel, Military Knights and Royal events at Windsor goes back to his schooldays at Eton. His authoritative books not only delve into the lives of famous people, but with The Kiss - The Story of an Obsession, which won the 1996 Stern Silver Pen Award for Non-Fiction, paints a detailed picture of life in Windsor and Ascot in a now bygone era, through the true story of two spinster sisters, weaving through the class system, impoverished gentry and their encounters with the Military Knights.
Final resting spot
For all the royal weddings, St George’s is known more to some for the over 40 deceased people of royal blood laid to rest there, including Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VIII and Charles I.
George III established a Royal Vault at the Chapel, close to that of Henry VIII (interred near to his beloved Queen Jane Seymour). Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle and was temporarily buried in the Chapel until the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore was completed. Victoria’s funeral was held in the Chapel before interment with her husband in the mausoleum.
More modern times have seen Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother laid to rest in 2002 with her husband King George VI, having outlived him by 50 years. At the same time the ashes of their daughter, Princess Margaret, who died in the same year as her mother, were interred.
The Garter Ceremony
The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III, so its history stretches back nearly 700 years, based on the formation of a chivalrous company of knights to match the Round Table legend of King Arthur.
Every year a Garter Service is held and 2018’s is on Monday 18 June.
Huge crowds gather in Windsor for the historic procession with its grand robes, marching band and ceremonial regalia. The 24 Knights of the Garter are chosen by the monarch and join senior members of the Royal Family for the service. Current members include Sir John Major, former Prime Minister, and The Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former Director General of MI5.
Did you know
The St George’s Chapel ceremonial steps on which members of the Royal Family and guests gather after weddings there were constructed in 1871. Before that it was simply a fairly rough mound – hardly suitable for today’s stiletto heels!
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