Interior of St. Peter's Chapel. — George Cruikshank. February 1840. Twelfth illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. wood-engraving, 8.1 cm high by 9.1 cm wide, vignetted, p. 39. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

Already described as one of the most perfect specimens of Norman ecclesiastical architecture, this venerable structure, once used as a place of private worship by the old monarchs of England, and now as a receptacle for Chancery proceedings, has, from its situation in the heart of the White Tower, preserved, in an almost unequalled state, its original freshness and beauty; and, except that its floors are encumbered with cases, and its walls of Caen stone disfigured by a thick coat of white plaster, it is now much in the same state that it was at the period under consideration. It consists of a nave with broad aisles, flanked (as has been mentioned) by twelve circular pillars, of the simplest and most solid construction, which support a stone gallery of equal width with the aisles, and having an arcade corresponding with that beneath the floor is now boarded, but was formerly covered with a hard polished cement, resembling red granite. The roof is coved, and beautifully proportioned; and the fane is completed by a semicircular termination towards the east.

Old Stowe records the following order, given in the reign of Henry the Third, for its decoration: — "And that ye cause the whole chapel of St. John the Evangelist to be whited. And that ye cause three glass windows in the same chapel to be made; to wit, one on the north side, with a certain little Mary holding her child; the other on the south part, with the image of the Trinity; and the third, of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, in the south part. And that ye cause the cross and the beam beyond the altar of the same chapel to be painted well and with good colours. And that ye cause to be made and painted two fair images where more conveniently and decently they may be done in the same chapel; one of St. Edward, holding a ring, and reaching it out to St. John the Evangelist." These fair images — the cross — the rood, — and the splendid illuminated window, are gone — most of them, indeed, were gone in Queen Jane's time — the royal worshippers are gone with them; but enough remains in its noble arcades, its vaulted aisles, and matchless columns, to place St. John's Chapel foremost in beauty of its class of architecture. [Book One, Chapter V. — "Of the Misunderstanding That Arose Between Queen Jane and her Husband, Lord Guilford Dudley," p. 36]

While he was debating upon the best means of crushing this danger in the bud, a page from Lady Hastings suddenly presented himself, and informed him that the Queen was at that moment engaged in deep conference with M. Simon Renard, in St. Peter's Chapel. On inquiry, the Duke learned that Jane, who had been greatly disturbed in mind since her husband's departure, had proceeded to St. Peter's Chapel — (a place of worship situated at the north end of the Tower Green, and appropriated to the public devotions of the court and household,) — accompanied by her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, and her sisters, the Ladies Herbert and Hastings; and that the train had been joined by the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel, De Noailles, and Simon Renard — the latter of whom, when the Queen's devotions were ended, had joined her. Tarrying for no further information, the Duke summoned his attendants, and hastened to the Tower Green. Entering the chapel, he found the information he had received was correct. The wily ambassador was standing with the Queen before the altar. [Book One, Chapter V. — "Of the Misunderstanding That Arose Between Queen Jane and her Husband, Lord Guilford Dudley," p. 38]


As a result of Henry II's expansion, St. Peter ad Vincula, a Norman chapel which had previously stood outside the Tower, was incorporated into the castle. Henry decorated the chapel by adding glazed windows, and stalls for himself and his queen. It was rebuilt by Edward I at a cost of over £300 and again by Henry VIII in 1519; the current building dates from this period, although the chapel was refurbished in the 19th century.

Curiously, the eighteenth-century Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, entirely rebuilt after a fire in 1512 and subsequently substantially altered, does not look to be a Tudor room in Cruikshank's illustration, even though some significant Tudor prisoners executed at the Tower are buried here. Jane lies here with her husband, Lord Guildford; both her father-in-law, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (executed on 22 November 1553) and his old enemy, Edward Seymour, Protector and Duke of Somerset (executed in 1552). Other prominent figures who were behead are buried here are Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Katherine Howard. The chapel with its high pews and altar to the left, facing the pulpit on the right, as one might have seen it in 1840, bears little resemblance to the Norman chapel of St. John in the White Tower, with thick columns, that the reader has already seen in Queen Jane's first night in the Tower (facing page 32). Today's sensibly laid out Protestant place of worship the illustrator has faithfully recorded, foiling the room's present tranquil appearance with that unstable Tudor world full of menace that Ainsworth has utilized in his narrative.

Ainsworth does not provide an antiquarian discussion of what will become a significant setting until Chapter 10, when Jane dares to interpose in a quarrel between the Duke of Northumberland, her father-in-law and the military power behind her throne, and the cunning Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard, who ias plotting to bring back "the old religion":

Erected in the reign of Edward the First, the little chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula (the parochial church — for the Tower, it is almost needless to say, is a parish in itself), is the second structure occupying the same site and dedicated to the same saint. The earlier fabric was much more spacious, and contained two chancels, with stalls for the king and queen, as appears from the following order for its repair issued in the reign of Henry the Third, and recorded by Stow: — The king to the keepers of the Tower work, sendeth greeting: We command you to brush or plaster with lime well and decently the chancel of St. Mary in the church of St. Peter within the bailiwick of our Tower of London, and the chancel of St. Peter in the same church; and from the entrance of the chancel of St. Peter to the space of four feet beyond the stalls made for our own and our queen’s use in the same church; and the same stalls to be painted. And the little Mary with her shrine and the images of St. Peter, St. Nicholas, and Katherine, and the beam beyond the altar of St. Peter, and the little cross with its images to be coloured anew, and to be refreshed with good colours. And that ye cause to be made a certain image of St. Christopher holding and carrying Jesus where it may best and most conveniently be done, and painted in the foresaid church. And that ye cause two fair tables to be made and painted of the best colours concerning the stories of the blessed Nicholas and Katherine, before the altars of the said saints in the same church. And that ye cause to be made two fair cherubims with a cheerful and joyful countenance standing on the right and left of the great cross in the said church. And moreover, one marble font with marble pillars well and handsomely wrought."

Thus much respecting the ancient edifice. The more recent chapel is a small, unpretending stone structure, and consists of a nave and an aisle at the north, separated by pointed arches, supported by clustered stone pillars of great beauty. Its chief interest is derived from the many illustrious and ill-fated dead crowded within its narrow walls. [Book One, Chapter X. — "How the Duke of Northumberland Menaced Simon Renard in Saint Peter's Chapel on the Tower-Green; and How Queen Jane Interposed Between Them," pp. 72-73]


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Last modified 23 September 2017