May 16: boy-king at the Lady-chapel

2012/05/16 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1220 King Henry III laid the foundation stone for a new Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Henry (1207-1272) succeeded his father in 1216, so by the time he started on the chapel he was an old hat at kingly affairs, even though he was just thirteen.  His biographers tell us that Henry was eager to introduce the French manner of building at Westminster, and this might be a little hard to swallow for those of you with thirteen-year-old boys in your lives but, as they say, history is like a foreign country, and they do things differently there.  Today, Henry might spend all his time poring over Pokémon cards; in 1220 he was a student of French Gothic.

H3’s chapel sufficed for some time, but in the early sixteenth century another Henry wanted to update it.  In 1503–very close to the date that very different things were happening on the continent–Henry VII (1457-1509) ordered its demolition and directed the construction of a new chapel in its place.  This is the famed Lady Chapel that you see now when you visit Westminster (or if you’re a princess and decide to get married there): a blend of French proportions and planning with English mouldings and materials, and the extraordinary vaults that soar over the foundations begun by the boy-king, Henry III.

Image: the sixteenth-century vaults (from this source)


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