Of the 10 kings buried in St George’s Chapel, King Edward IV is probably the most important as it was he who commissioned the building of the chapel back in 1475, primarily for his place of burial.
Edward was a key figure in the family conflict known as the Wars of the Roses, a series of disputes fought between the royal houses of York and Lancaster for the English throne. Edward and his Yorkist forces were the victors with Edward finally securing the throne in 1471 which he held until his untimely death on April 9, 1483.
Edward loved Windsor and in particular St George’s Chapel, and his funeral showed the Yorkist love of art and ceremony. His funeral cortege left on the 9th April passing Westminster Abbey, Syon Abbey and ending up in Windsor on April 19th . The chapel of St George was not completed at this time but the quire aisles were roofed over in timber and the quire stalls were in place, having been finished that year.
The service was held in the quire and Edward’s Knightly Achievements were received and displayed – crest, helm, mantling and sword. Sir William Parr KG and Comptroller of the Royal Household, rode the king’s horse with his coat of arms into the nave and up to the quire door (the nave was covered in hay).
Edward was buried in a tomb in the North Quire Aisle where his tomb is now, but it was more elaborate in 1483 with his jewelled sword and cap, crimson velvet coat-armour, gilt harness and jewelled banner all on display. Here they stayed until 1642 when they were seized during the Civil War. The beautiful Tresilian gates c 1478 were originally situated across the aisle here but they are now in the Quire on the other side of the tomb. Officers of the Royal Household broke staves of office and threw them into the tomb and heralds put in a coat of arms belonging to the king. These gestures were all symbolic of the final breaking of a contract or official feudal relationship with a very important person.
Did you know that the tomb has been opened since? On the 13th March 1789, Sir Henry Emlyn was conducting renovations in the chapel for King George III and the tomb was accidentally opened. The chamber was small and contained the lead coffin of King Edward with the remains of his queen, Elizabeth Woodville on top (she died in 1492). On inspection, the skeleton of the king was found to be an astonishing 6’ 31/2” tall for a man of the 15th century. This made him the tallest king to date. We know that Edward in his youth was an extremely capable and daring military commander who destroyed the House of Lancaster in a series of spectacular battles so this should come as no surprise.
Debbie Keenan is a Blue Badge Guide working in Southern England and specialising in tours of Windsor.