St George’s Chapel was founded by Edward III in 1348, and over the years it became commonplace for the nobility of the country to give presents and money to the Chapel as a means to ensure the security of their souls and safe passage to heaven on their death. The Chapel therefore built up a rich collection of plate, vestments and jewels which were used in daily service as a visual display of the glories of God. The inventory of 1534 shows that there were over 160 items of “jewells and very precyous relycks pertayning to the Collegge of Wyndesor belonging to the hyghe awter.” This number did not even include the opulently embroidered vestments, many adorned with pearls, rubies and other precious stones.
During the Protestant rule of Edward VI, many of these treasures were sold off or had to be given up to make way for the new, plainer style of celebrating services. Following his death and the accession of Mary, many items were repurchased and the collection began to build up again. Beautiful pieces of gold plate and wonderfully embroidered vestments re-entered the collection during the early 17th century, and the trappings of the services seemed secure, until 1642 and the arrival of Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians.
According to the posthumously published memoirs of Christopher Wren, Dean of Windsor, on 25 October 1642, Captain Fogg of the Parliamentary Forces, demanded the keys to the Treasury, claiming to have a warrant from the King. He threatened the Dean and Canons that if they did not allow him access, he would “pull down the Chapel about their Ears”. Not finding the 3 key-keepers, he forced open the door with iron bars and carried out several pieces of plate. This included:
1) All the rich treble gilt plate made by Van Vianen, estimated at above three Thousand Pounds
2) Two fair double gilt Chalices with covers
3) Two fair double gilt Flagons
4) A gilt basin for the bread at Communion
5) The gilt coat of mail of King Edward IV, covered with crimson velvet richly embroidered with pearl, gold and rubies
6) The hangings across the Quire, of crimson velvet and gold
7) Thirteen rich copes, embroidered and wrought in gold
8) Two rich copes of gold wire
9) A large carpet of gold wire for the Communion table
10) The blue velvet Garter robe of Gustavus Adophus, King of Sweden, embroidered with pearls and gold, with jewels
11) The great basin or font for Christenings, given by Edward III
It was a devastating loss for the Chapel. On the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II encouraged his Garter Knights to donate money to enable more plate to be purchased, but never again would the plate of the Chapel be so splendid and vast.
Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)