Category Archives: Westminster Abbey

The Monarch’s Champion

If you ever have a tour of the Houses of Parliament it is in Westminster Hall where you meet your guide. This is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, dating back to around 1100 when it was commissioned by William II (William Rufus), the son of the Conqueror.

Inside Westminster Hall

In this hall, with its magnificent hammerbeam ceiling, kings, queens and commoners have lain in state before their funerals; great trials have taken place, including those of William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes, and ‘King and Martyr’, Charles I.

It was also the scene for the Coronation Banquets, celebrations after the crowning of the new monarch in the nearby Westminster Abbey.

The most lavish of these – so lavish in fact, that future monarchs did away with the tradition for fear of appearing too profligate – was in 1821 for the coronation of that most extravagant of kings, George IV. The former Prince Regent’s banquet cost over £25,000 (the equivalent of £2.5-£3 million today) – the total cost of his coronation was £238,000, or well in excess of £25 million.

This was also the last time that the King’s Champion made their traditional appearance. Riding into the hall in full armour, the champion throws down his gauntlet three times, challenging to trial by combat anyone who disputes the new monarch’s right.

As with much of British society, the role of champion is an inherited one, belonging to the feudal holder of the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, which has been held since the 1300s by the male head of the Cymoke family.

Although not part of coronations since the 1821 Banquet, anyone wishing to challenge a future Charles III to be ‘the right heir to the Imperial Crown’ might want to note that Francis Dymoke, the present champion, is a 66 year old chartered accountant.

Scientists’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

isaac newton westminster abbeyYou’ve almost certainly heard of Poets’ Corner, the spot within Westminster Abbey given over to the commemoration of the nation’s authors, poets and playwrights. Amongst dozens of others you’ll find Chaucer’s tomb, plaques to Edward Lear, Wordsworth, D H Lawrence and the Bronte sisters, the graves of Dickens and Browning, a statue of Shakespeare and the bust of Longfellow, windows to the memory of Marlowe, Oscar Wilde and Mrs Gaskell.

But it’s not the only such grouping within the Abbey. There’s ‘musicians’ aisle’, the ‘statesmen’s aisle’ and, in front of the choir screen that divides the nave, ‘scientists’ corner’.

This is the group of graves and memorials centred on the grave and commemorative statue to Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), the eminent scientist of the period. Responsible for advances in mathematics, optics, physics, astronomy; deviser of calculus, laws of motion and gravitational theory, he is one of the towering figures of science. “Hic depositum est, quod mortale fuit Isaaci Newtoni” says the epitaph on the grey marble slab that covers him: “here lies what was mortal of Isaac Newton”. The English translation is repeated on the nearby memorial stone to Stephen Hawking, a successor to Newton as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Hawking’s ashes were interred in the Abbey in 2018. Continue reading

coronation chair westminster abbey

The Coronation Chair

Whenever I’m taking Americans around Westminster Abbey, I like to mention that when Columbus stumbled across the Americas, King Edward’s Chair (commonly known as the Coronation Chair) was already nearly 200 years old; when the rebellious colonists laid out their Declaration of Independence, some two dozen monarchs had already sat here to be crowned.

It really is that old – created in 1300/01, used in its first coronation (of Edward II) in 1307. It predates all but one of the objects in the Crown Jewels (the Coronation Spoon), and comes from a time before the concept of ‘Britain’ or a’United Kingdom’ exercised any minds. Elizabeth II sat in it in June 1953, as did Elizabeth I in January 1559. Charles III will be crowned in it, as were Charles I and II; Henry VIII, Richard III, Henry V and most of those other kings you remember from Shakespeare were crowned in it. English history is in its very grain. Continue reading

Westminster Abbey

IMG_0425The blog has been a bit neglected over the past few months as the work level for my London Blue Badge course has ramped up, but once I’m through next month’s final course exams you’ll be hit with a superabundance of posts as I type up my notes on the British Museum, the Tower of London, St Paul’s – and Westminster Abbey.

One of the great things about doing the Blue Badge has been the opportunity to go around some of those London sites that tourists never miss, but which we Londoners rarely, if ever, visit.

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