On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).
Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.
Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus, in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401. It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016. Together with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70). It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.
On this day in 1559 (*), Elizabeth was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey in London. Her coronation procession, which saw her borne amid the throng on a golden litter, paused on its way for the staging of five pageants in her honour. The first pageant symbolised her Genealogy, and emphasised her “Englishness” and Protestantism (in contrast to her late sister Mary’s “Spanishness” and Catholicism), and her descent from Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, whose marriage had unified the country after the Wars of the Roses. The second, her Government, and its virtues of True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice. The third, during which the Lord Mayor presented her with a gift of gold, the Interdependence of the Crown and the City. The fourth, during which a figure representing Truth presented her with a copy of the Bible bearing the English inscription “The Word of Truth”, the Thriving – English, Protestant – Commonwealth. The fifth, Elizabeth as Deborah, the prophetess of the Old Testament who rescued the House of Israel and went on to rule for forty years.
The symbolism and Elizabeth’s own words greatly reassured the anxiously watching public, and her dignified demeanour and common touch further warmed her to them. At one point in the proceedings, she pledged “And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and be Queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever Queen was unto her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall there lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all I will not spare if need be to spend my blood. God thank you all”.
(*) The date was chosen as a particularly auspicious one by Elizabeth’s astrologer John Dee.
This year sees the 500th anniversary of the consecration of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The anniversary is being commemorated by a series of events at the Abbey. Last night’s event was a *free* lecture by Christopher Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Architectural History at University College London, on the architecture and fittings of the Lady Chapel, entitled “Of suche as apperteigne to the gifte of a Prince”.
It appears from the sparse surviving documentation that work on the Lady Chapel began in 1503, almost certainly under the supervision of the Master Mason Robert Jannings, and was substantially complete by 1508. The Lady Chapel is the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic, and in its time, it was referred to – by John Leland – as “orbis miraculum” (“the wonder of the world”).
Perhaps the most famous feature of the interior is the truly spectacular fan-vaulted ceiling, from which pendants drip like drops of Christ’s blood. The similarly delicately-wrought and life-like statuary is almost certainly the work of Brabantian masters.
On the outside, too, the “domelets” resemble those in depictions of Jerusalem in Netherlandish paintings.
The Lady Chapel houses the tombs of Henry VII and his wife, in the apse, and also those of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Mary I, James I and Charles II. It was evidently also originally intended to re-house the tomb to Henry VI, but that lies still in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, as it has since 1484.