Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THE chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, situated at the north end of the fatal "Tower Green," where Anne Boleyn, and so many royal and illustrious persons, suffered under the stroke of the executioner, is a building of ancient date, but not remarkable for any architectural merit, beyond that of simplicity, and a certain justice of proportions which is always pleasing to the eye. It is inconceivable what pains have been taken, in comparatively modern times, to disfigure this interesting chapel. During the reign of George II. directions were given to adapt it for the reception of the troops for Divine Service, when, instead of the obvious expedient of throwing out a gallery or clerestory, on the north side and exterior to the main wall, the interior of the Chapel was defaced and encumbered by a projecting gallery along the north and west sides, such as may be seen in the worst style of country church of the last century. The handsome old doorway to the west was built up, and a brick and plaster porch was thrown out from the south front, for the entrance to the body of the Chapel. From this porch was carried up a narrow and inconvenient wooden


staircase, giving access to the west end of the soldiers' gallery.

In the year 1862 the old doorway was accidentally discovered concealed by a thick coat of plaster, and on the late Constable's representation, the First Commissioner of Works sanctioned its restoration, and the removal of the unsightly porch and staircase on the south side. One or two modern tablets which had been awkwardly fixed up across part of the windows were shifted, and an inspection being made of the ancient roof, by removal of the plaster over the chancel, brought to view the original woodwork, which was not in a bad condition. The whole of the ceiling was then carefully removed, and the woodwork of the roof now appears as originally intended by the architect. Near the Communion table there are two curious monuments of the Blounts, father and son, who were both Lieutenants of the Tower, and one of Sir Richard Cholmondeley and the Lady Elizabeth his wife, at the north-west corner of the Chapel. But the chief interest of St. Peter's Chapel consists in the number of royal and illustrious persons whose corpses lie buried beneath its pavement.

To enumerate some of the most remarkable:-

Queen Anne Boleyn.

Queen Katherine Howard.

Fisher, Bishop of Rochester.

Gerald, ninth Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy of Ireland, one of the few who died a natural death. After a long confinement, he had at length every hope of release and restoration to his estates and honours, when the


news arrived that his eldest son, "Silken Thomas," deceived by treacherous friends, had broken out into an open rebellion, which so grieved him that he died of a broken heart, 1534.

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, the leading actor in Henry VIII.'s suppression of papal supremacy.

In Edward VI.'s reign was buried here, after decapitation, Thomas Seymour, the Lord Admiral, brother of the Protector Somerset. The Protector himself fell a victim soon after to the combination of his enemies, and was buried by the side of his brother.

In Mary's reign this Chapel received the headless bodies of Lady Jane Grey and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley.

In Elizabeth's reign, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk; Devereux, Earl of Essex, and other nobles were here interred after execution.

In James I.'s reign, Sir W. Raleigh here found rest after his life of vicissitude and trouble. There also lies among these noble persons, the body of Sir Gervase Elways, a man whose infamy should have excluded him from a spot where so many eminent persons found their last repose. This wretch, who had borne an active part in the poisoning of Overbury, was allowed his last request of being buried in St. Peter's Chapel, after being hanged on Tower Hill instead of Tyburn, a favour granted to his earnest entreaty, and to which in his dying speech he alluded with a singular satisfaction.

A visit to St. Peter's Chapel is recorded by Pepys in his 'Diary' with much complacency:-



"Lord's day, Feb. 28, 1663-4. The Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir J. Robinson, would needs have me by coach home with him, where the officers of his regiment (? of the Tower) dined with him. After dinner to chapel in the Tower with the Lieutenant, with the keys carried before us, and the Warders and Gentlemen porters going before us; and I sat with the Lieutenant in his pew, in great state. None, it seems, of the prisoners in the Tower that are there now (though they may) will come to prayers there."

In the vestry of St. Peter's Chapel may be seen the three leaden coffin-plates of the Scotch lords Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and Lovat (beheaded in 1746, and interred within the Tower). After the great fire in the Tower of 1841, some excavations were found necessary to obtain a solid foundation for the present Barracks, when a great number of old coffins were, with a vast quantity of bones, removed into the vaults on the north side of the Chapel. On that occasion these coffin-plates were discovered, and placed in the vestry, where they are carefully preserved in glass frames.

Against the south wall of the Chapel is affixed a small rough tablet, rescued from among a heap of rubbish when the pavement of the Chapel was repaired, about 1852. It records the burial of Talbot Edwards, the brave old guardian of the Regalia, at the time of the desperate attempt of the notorious Blood to carry off the crown, of which an account will be given in another place.

Plans have lately been submitted for the removal of the modern gallery, occupied by the troops, when


attending Divine Service, and for converting the close pews into open seats; and, as this would be a work of no great expense, it may be hoped that, at no distant period, so manifest an improvement may be carried out.

The public take more interest daily in the Tower of London; and the best proof that the restorations effected within the last ten years have given general satisfaction, is the great increase in the receipts for admission tickets at the gate. When restorations and improvements of any ancient and historical building are properly explained, the House of Commons is not disposed to be illiberal, but the difficulty generally arises from the desire on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut down the public expenditure in every branch which does not come prominently before the public observation.