The Missing Bishop

A small chapel, built during the 1490s, is annexed to the west end of the south quire aisle of St George’s Chapel. It is known as the Oliver King Chapel.

But where is its founder, Bishop Oliver King?

This simple question has no straightforward answer. Bishop King had been a prominent figure in both Church and state affairs during his lifetime. He was ordained in 1467 and was rector of several parishes, a Canon of Windsor from 1480 and eventually Bishop of Exeter (1492-1495) and then of Bath and Wells (1495-1503).

In secular life, King served as secretary to Prince Edward (son of Henry VI) and to three kings: Edward IV, Edward V and Henry VII. He was able to use his significant influence to lend financial backing to the building works in St George’s Chapel during Henry VII’s reign. Along with colleagues Christopher Urswick (Canon and then Dean of Windsor) and Sir Reginald Bray, King helped ensure that the Chapel was completed.

All three men are commemorated within St George’s: Urswick by a chapel in the north-west corner of the nave; Bray with a chapel in the south transept; and King just beside Bray in the chapel off the south quire aisle. Bray was buried in his chapel at Windsor on his death in 1503, though there is no contemporary marker for the grave. Urswick retired from Windsor in 1505 and lived out his elder years as rector in Hackney, where he was buried in 1522. There is a memorial inscription to him at Windsor.

King, like Bray, died in 1503 but there the trail goes cold. He had long supported building works at Windsor and in the last three years of his life instigated the rebuilding of Bath Abbey in his diocese of Bath and Wells. King claimed he was inspired to this work by a dream in which he saw the Trinity with angels climbing a ladder and an olive tree supporting a crown. A voice proclaimed to him ‘Let an olive establish the crown, and let a king restore the church’. This vision is commemorated in the scheme of angels on a ladder carved on the Abbey’s west front.

In his will Bishop King made a clear request to be buried in the quire of his newly built church at Bath and not in his chapel at Windsor. However, at his death the building was barely begun, making it highly unlikely that he would have been put to rest there. However it is not clear what decision was made about where to bury the bishop.

One candidate is Wells Cathedral, see of his bishopric. However, account rolls from Wells record prayers for Bishop King in the year of his death but no more substantial funeral expenses, suggesting that he was not buried there.

Another popular suggestion is his chapel here in St George’s Chapel. Its construction was almost certainly completed during King’s lifetime and the quire and quire aisles were fully built and the nave well under way by the time he died. The Oliver King Chapel is decorated throughout with King’s motto and badges; outside the door hangs a wooden panel painted with his royal masters and bearing an inscription requesting prayers for King. This suggests Windsor may have been his first intended resting place. With Bath Abbey unready, might the Bishop’s executors have turned back to Windsor instead?

However, extensive investigation of the Oliver King Chapel – including a Ground-Penetrating Radar survey – has yet to identify anything that might be his coffin. Bishop King’s final resting place remains a mystery.

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

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.