Westminster Abbey

Another  in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Westminster Abbey (Henry IV Part II; Henry VI Part I)

Westminster Abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island (according to legend, on the site of a church founded under Sebert in 604 – the same year that St Paul’s was founded).

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It was rebuilt as an Abbey under Edward “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065 …

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… and rebuilt again, in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century …

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… and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth, in part by the master mason Henry Yevele; and refounded as a Cathedral after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 (becoming a “Royal Peculiar” in 1556).   The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century …

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… although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.

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Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, built between 1503-08,  almost certainly under the supervision of the master mason Robert Jannings, is at  the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic: in its time, it was referred to as “orbis miraculum” (“the wonder of the world”).

There are a great many important monuments in the interior of the abbey, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held here, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, in 1066.  The first  “King’s Great Council”, the fore-runner of Parliament, was held in the  Chapter House here in 1257.

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