In October 1642, Colonel John Venn and twelve companies of foot soldiers took possession of Windsor Castle on behalf of Parliament. With Parliamentary troops occupying the Castle, it was merely a question of time before Governor Venn would seek to have the Royalist Dean and Canons ejected from the Lower Ward. The House of Lords attempted to preserve the College of St George from harm, ordering the Speaker to write to Colonel Venn “to take care that there be no disorders and disturbances made in the Chapel at Windsor; and that the evidences, registers, monuments there and all things that belong to the Order of the Garter, may be preserved without any defacings; and that he permit the Prebends to live in their own houses”. However, it was not to be and on 23 May 1643 the Dean and Canons, accepting the inevitable, petitioned the Lords that “they may have liberty to carry forth all their goods, utensils, household stuffs and books to their several abodes, and that an order might be made for their safe conveying and quiet enjoying of the same”.
With the Dean and Canons departed, Colonel Venn set about plundering the Chapel, from a combination of religious and financial motives. The coat of mail belonging to Edward IV, with its surcoat of crimson velvet decorated with pearls and rubies, was seized from above his tomb and much of the woodwork and metalwork removed, including the brass statues designed for Henry VIII’s unfinished tomb. The Chapel plate was melted down and coined to finance Fairfax’s northern campaign. But all was not lost. The Dean, Dr Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, managed to recover and preserve the three registers of the Order of the Garter (the Black, Blue and Red Books), and these are now held in the Chapel Archives. Meanwhile the Poor Knights of Windsor, an integral part of the College of St George since its foundation in 1348, were allowed to remain in residence in the Castle. Although depleted in number and in financial distress, they kept the spirit of the College alive throughout the Commonwealth and were there to greet the new Dean, Bruno Ryves, and his fellow Canons at the Restoration in 1660.
Clare (Archivist and Chapter Librarian)