Richard III and St George’s Chapel

In 1484 the bodily remains of Henry VI were removed from Chertsey Abbey, where they had lain since his death in 1471, and were relocated to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, apparently on the orders of Richard III.  The motive for this action remains unclear. Professor Ralph Griffiths suggests that the move to Windsor may have offered a chance to keep under closer supervision the grave of the saintly king which had become a centre of pilgrimage.* However, an alternative view may be offered – that, at this stage in his reign, Richard was considering burial at Windsor for himself and his wife, Anne, in the Chapel constructed by his brother, Edward IV. Interment in proximity to the sacred bones of Henry VI would have been seen as advantageous to their souls, a sentiment later shared by Henry VII.

Traditionally, Richard III is believed to have had little connection with Windsor, which he visited only infrequently both before and after he became King. However, documents in the St George’s Chapel Archives suggest that, as Duke of Gloucester, Richard favoured the Chapel.**  The first, dated 1478, is a covenant between Richard and the Dean and Canons of Windsor, concerning the grant of manors of Bentfield Bury, Essex, Knapton, Norfolk,  and Chelsworth, Suffolk, to fund an annual obit for Richard, Duke of York, and masses for Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his wife Anne, during their lives and after their deaths. This is followed by a conveyance of the lands in 1480. The third, a licence from Edward IV to his ‘most beloved brother ‘, Richard, and his wife to grant the advowson of the Parish Church of Olney, Buckinghamshire, to the Dean and Canons of Windsor is dated 1482 and  is followed by the conveyance in the form a final concord in 1483. If Richard was planning to set up a chantry at Windsor, for his father, himself and his wife, might he not also have been intending to be buried there?

However, even if this were the case, Richard had clearly changed his mind by March 1485 when, on the death of his wife Anne, he arranged for her interment not at Windsor but at Westminster Abbey. Moreover, both the conveyances proved ineffectual, with the Dean and Canons failing to gain possession of the lands in Essex and East Anglia and the advowson of Olney which had been promised to them.  It appears that by 1485, in the words of Professor Griffiths, ‘Richard wanted to have as little to do with Windsor as he could’.

Clare Rider, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

*Ralph Griffiths ‘The burials  of King Henry VI at Chertsey and Windsor’ in Nigel Saul and Tim Tatton-Brown(eds.) St George’s Chapel, Windsor: History and Heritage (Dovecote Press, 2010) pp.104-105

** SGC XI.P.7, 9, 11 &12

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.