Tales from Westminster Abbey - Mrs. F. Lord

Kings and Queens

We now come to the kings and queens who are buried in Westminster Abbey, and this will be the last chapter of my book.

You remember my telling you how Henry III. built a new shrine for Edward the Confessor. Three years after this Chapel of Edward the Confessor (as it is called) was finished, King Henry III., who had reigned for fifty-six years, died, and was buried in the Abbey which he had loved so long. His son Edward, who now became Edward I., was just starting home from the Holy Land with his wife, Queen Eleanor, who always went with him on all his journeys, when his father died, and he brought with him from the East the marble for the tomb.

I expect you will all remember having heard of this Queen Eleanor, the wife of Edward I. She was so brave and so fond of him that she would go with him when he went on his crusade to the Holy Land; and when people told her that it was dangerous, and that she might be killed, and tried to persuade her to stay at home, her only answer was, "The way to heaven is as near from Palestine as from England."

She was not killed, or even hurt; but there is a story told of how, while they were in the Holy Land, Edward was wounded by one of his enemies, who stabbed him in the arm with a poisoned dagger. This would certainly have killed him, if Eleanor had not at once sucked the poison out of the wound, and so saved his life.

Edward I.—Edward Longshanks, as he was called, for he was more than six feet high—and Queen Eleanor were crowned King and Queen of England in Westminster Abbey when they came back from the Holy Land. After the coronation a great banquet was given, to which Edward and his brother Edmund and all their nobles and attendants came—five hundred of them, riding on five hundred magnificent horses. When they dismounted, the horses were let loose in the crowd, and anybody who succeeded in catching one was allowed to keep it.

When, after having been Queen of England eighteen years, Eleanor died at Hardby, in Nottinghamshire, her body was brought to Westminster, to be buried in the Abbey. From Nottinghamshire to London was a long journey in those days, and it had to be done by stages. Wherever the funeral procession stopped, Edward ordered a cross to be put up in memory of the queen. They were called the "Eleanor Crosses," and there were altogether twelve of them. The last was in London, at Charing Cross, which was the final halting-place before the procession reached the Abbey.

Edward I. was a great soldier, and gradually he "filled the Confessor's Chapel with trophies of war." One of these trophies you must specially notice when you go over the Abbey. At the west end of the Confessor's Chapel stand two chairs. One is a plain, very old-looking wooden chair, much scratched and battered, and underneath it is a rough-looking bit of stone. This old stone is called the "Stone of Scone," and on it all the Kings of Scotland had been crowned at Scone, which was the capital of Scotland up to the time when Edward I. became King of England. Edward I. and Alexander III., King of Scotland, were always at war; and when the English at last conquered the Scotch, Edward took away this ancient treasure, the "Stone of Scone," and brought it to Westminster Abbey, that our kings might be crowned upon it, as Kings of England and Scotland. The wooden chair was made by his orders, and the stone put underneath it, and there it has been ever since, for nearly six hundred years.

The other chair was made long afterwards for the coronation of William III. and Mary. Between the two are the sword and shield of Edward III., which he is said to have used in all his many wars against France. The sword is seven feet long, and weighs eighteen pounds.

Edward I., "the greatest of the Plantagenets," was buried close by Queen Eleanor, but his tomb is quite plain. There is no figure on it, and no carving, as there is on the tombs of the other kings and queens. Dean Stanley explained, when he showed us the Abbey as children, that, for many years after Edward I. died, there was a kind of belief that, although the king was dead, yet, if another war broke out with Scotland, he would once again lead his army against the enemy, as he had so often done before. And so from time to time they would come and lift off the great marble slab which covered his tomb, and which was easily moved, and look in to see if the king was still there.

The first of our kings who was crowned on the "Stone of Scone" was Edward I.'s son, Edward II. He was crowned in the Abbey, but was not buried there. The next king who was buried there was Edward III., whose sword and shield we saw just now.

Richard II., the grandson of Edward III., is sometimes called the "Westminster King," because he was crowned and married and buried in the Abbey.

He was only eleven years old when he became King of England. For a week before his coronation he had lived in the Tower of London, which was the custom in those days for all kings and queens before they were crowned. The procession from the Tower to the Abbey was one of the most splendid that had ever been seen. But the service was very long, and the sermon was longer, and before it was over the king was carried out fainting. After this there was a great banquet, at which he had to appear again, and then at last the long day was over.

Five years later he was married in the Abbey to Queen Anne. Alter reigning for twenty-five years, he was deposed by Henry of Lancaster, and murdered at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire by his enemies—for he had made many during his life. He was buried in Hertfordshire. When Henry V. came to the throne, he ordered that Richard's body should be brought to Westminster, and then at last it was laid in the same tomb in which, many years before, his wife, Queen Anne, had been buried. Henry V. when he was a boy was so wild that he was called "Madcap Harry." But he was particularly fond of the Abbey, and although most of his reign was spent in fighting with France, he did a great deal to improve and decorate his great church, and when the English won the battle of Agincourt (of which you may have heard or read), his first thought was to order a Thanksgiving Service to be held at Westminster. He had always said he wished to be buried in the Abbey; so, when he died in France his body was brought to England. "The long procession from Paris to Calais, and from Dover to London, was headed by the King of Scots, James I. . . .  As it approached London it was met by all the clergy. The services were held first at St. Paul's, and then at the Abbey. No English king's funeral had ever been so grand. His three chargers were led up to the altar, behind the effigy (a wax model of the king carried outside his coffin), which lay on a splendid car, accompanied by torches and white-robed priests innumerable, . .  and at the extreme eastern end of the Confessor's Chapel was deposited the body of the most splendid king that England had to that time produced."

Above his tomb, on a bar which stretches across the steps leading out of the chapel, are hung his helmet and saddle. The helmet is probably the very one which he wore at the battle of Agincourt, and which twice saved his life on that day; it is much dinted, and shows the marks of many sword-cuts.

Henry VI. was crowned king when he was only nine years old, and on the day of his coronation it is said that he "sat on the platform in the Abbey beholding all the people about sadly and wisely." But as he was so young the service was shortened and he had much less to endure than the last boy-king, Richard II.

There is a story told of how, toward the end of his reign, King Henry VI. used to come and wander about in the Abbey between seven and eight o'clock in the evening, when it was growing dusk. He generally came quite alone, and only the abbot who carried a torch went with him round the dark and silent church. One night he went into the Confessor's Chapel, where he spent more than an hour, wondering if room could be, by-and-by, made for his own tomb. "It was suggested to him that the tomb of Henry V. should be pushed a little on one side, and his own placed beside it; but he replied, 'Nay, let him alone; he lieth like a noble prince; I would not trouble him.' But close beside the shrine of the Confessor there seemed to be room for another tomb. 'Lend me your staff,' he said to Lord Cromwell, who was with him that evening; 'is it not fitting I should have a place here, where my father and my ancestors lie, near St. Edward?' And then, pointing with a white staff to the place indicated, he said, 'Here, methinks, is a convenient place;' adding, 'Forsooth, forsooth, here will we lie; here is a good place for us.' " Three days afterwards the tomb was ordered to be made; but it was never even begun, for Henry was deposed by Edward IV. and died in the Tower, and from there his body was taken and buried in the Abbey of Chertsey.

Close by all these great kings and queens are several tombs of children. Among them is a monument to a little deaf and dumb girl of five years old, the Princess Catherine, daughter of Henry III. "Close to her, as if to keep her company, are buried her two little brothers, and four little nephews."

So far I have told you principally of kings who are buried in Westminster Abbey, but now we come to the tombs of some of the Queens of England.

You remember that Henry VII. had built a great and magnificent chapel which was called after him. The first queen buried there was his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who was the mother of Henry VIII.

She had had a life full of adventures. She was the daughter of Edward IV., and sister of the two poor little princes who were murdered in the Tower by their uncle Richard.

Princess Elizabeth was born in Westminster, and christened in the Abbey, but she lived afterwards in the country at the palace of Sheen. When she was four years old, her father, Edward IV., was defeated in battle, and King Henry VI. was made King of England in his stead. The queen, the Princess Elizabeth, and her two baby sisters had to leave Sheen and come back to Westminster, where they were hidden in a place of safety while all these wars (the Wars of the Roses, as they were called) were going on. After two years, however, her father was victorious. Henry was deposed, and Edward IV. was once more King of England. To celebrate the victory, a great ball was given at Windsor Castle, and the little six-year-old princess, who was a special pet of her father's, came down and danced first with him, and then with some of the great nobles. When she was nine years old, her father and Louis XI., the King of France, decided that, as soon as she was grown up, she should marry the Dauphin, his eldest son, who, if he lived, would in time become the King of France. Then began a busy time for the little princess who might one day be Queen of France. Besides all her English lessons, she had to learn to speak and write French and Spanish, and she was always called "Madame la Dauphine," even while she was a little girl in the schoolroom. At last she was old enough to be married, but when the time for the wedding came, the King of France said he had found another wife for his son. Edward IV., who had set his heart on seeing his favourite daughter the Queen of France, was so disappointed and angry that he became very ill, and died. Then it was that Elizabeth's little brother Edward became Edward V., and the day was fixed for his coronation in the Abbey. A great banquet was arranged, and all the guests were invited; but before the day came, the little king and his younger brother, the Duke of York, were both killed by the order of their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who then made himself King Richard III. of England. Now began a sad time for Princess Elizabeth, who was first taken away from her mother and sisters, and afterwards kept a prisoner in a lonely old castle in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, during the time she was shut up here, many things had been going on about which she probably knew nothing.

Richard III. was hated by every one, and two years after he had become king, Henry, Earl of Richmond, one of the greatest nobles in England, decided to try and depose him, and set free Princess Elizabeth. So he got together an army and marched to Leicester, where the king was then living. On the evening of a summer day the two armies camped at a place called Bosworth Field, and there the next day a great battle, the Battle of Bosworth, was fought, and Richard III. was killed. It is said that the crown of England had, at the beginning of the battle, been hidden in a hawthorn bush, and when afterwards it was found by a soldier, the Earl of Richmond was at once crowned King Henry VII., and all the soldiers who had been lying down, resting after the long fight, stood up round him and sang the Te Deum.

When Princess Elizabeth, in her far-away lonely castle, heard cries of joy from the people who came crowding to the doors of her prison she guessed that something had happened and that a better time might be coming for her. And soon came a messenger from the king, who had been sent straight from the field of battle, with orders to set the princess free and bring her to London.

The end of this story is really almost like the end of a fairy tale, for her many troubles were now over, and the next year she married Henry VII., and so became Queen of England. And when after many years she died, she was buried—as I told you at the beginning of this story—in the Chapel of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey. Some years later the king was buried beside her; and inside the bronze railings surrounding the tomb (which stands behind the altar) you will see the figures of Henry VII. and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, lying side by side.

Three other queens who are buried here are known to all of you. Two of them were sisters, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the daughters of Henry VIII.; and the third was their cousin, another Mary—Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded by the order of Queen Elizabeth, because she was afraid that Mary wanted to make herself Queen of England in her stead. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth though they were sisters, had all their lives been enemies. They differed about everything, but especially about their religion, for Mary had been brought up a Roman Catholic, and Elizabeth and their little brother Edward (who afterwards became Edward VI.) were Protestants. Elizabeth and Edward were very fond of one another, and it is said that Elizabeth used to spend a great deal of her time when she was quite a little girl in doing needlework for her brother. On his second birthday she gave him for a birthday present a little shirt which she had made for him all herself, though she was then only six years old.

Both these queens, when little girls, were made to do a great many lessons, and were taught Latin and Greek with their brother, as well as French and Italian and Spanish. Queen Mary was always very fond of music, and there is a story told of how, when she was only three years old, some friends of her father's (King Henry VIII.) came down to see her at Richmond, where she was then living. The little princess—for this was a long time before she became queen—was not in the least shy: she welcomed her visitors, and after talking to them "and entertaining them with most goodly countenance"—for so one of the gentlemen who was there wrote about her afterwards—she played to them on the virginal (a kind of piano), after which strawberries and biscuits and wine were brought in, and the baby princess had nothing more to do but enjoy herself These three children, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward, became in turn Queens and King of England.

When Henry VIII. died, Edward, the youngest of the three, became King Edward VI. But he had all his life been very delicate, and when he had been king just six years, and was sixteen years old, he died, and then Mary, his eldest sister, became queen. The reign of Queen Mary—Bloody Mary she is sometimes called— was a terrible time in England, for, as I told you, she was a Roman Catholic, and so determined was she that all English men and women should be Roman Catholics too, that she ordered those who were Protestants to change their religion and become Catholics; and if they refused, they were burnt alive. Hundreds of people were killed in this cruel way; and Queen Mary became at last so much hated, that when she died, and the Princess Elizabeth became queen, there was rejoicing almost all over England. For in spite of all the queen had done to make England a Roman Catholic country, by far the greater part of the people had remained Protestants, and now once again had a Protestant queen to reign over them.

Almost the last time a Catholic Mass (or service) was held in Westminster Abbey was at the funeral of Queen Mary. The procession, led by monks, who knew that this was most likely the last service in which they would ever take part, came from St. James's Palace, where she died, down to Westminster, and at the great West Door of the Abbey were waiting four bishops and the Abbot of Westminster in all the magnificent robes which Catholic priests wear.

The body of the queen was carried into Henry VII.'s chapel, and all night the Abbey was dimly lighted by the hundred wax torches which were held and kept alight by the soldiers of the Queen's Guard. The next day she was buried, and the Catholic Bishop of Winchester preached before Elizabeth, who, although she hated the religion, did not refuse to come to the funeral of her sister, as Queen Mary had done years before on the death of their brother Edward, when, rather than come to a Protestant service in the Abbey, she ordered a separate funeral mass to be said before her in the Tower.

A little more than a month after this, Queen Elizabeth was crowned in the Abbey, and for the next forty-five years "good Queen Bess," as she is often called, reigned over England, and did much that was wise and good. One thing she did, however, that was neither wise nor good, and that one thing I spoke about when I told you that two Queen Marys were buried here, one of whom was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Elizabeth. The story of Mary Queen of Scots is a long and very sad one. You will some day read about her, if you have not already done so, and when you hear how she was imprisoned in Fotheringay Castle, and at last beheaded, you will perhaps feel that in some ways Elizabeth could be as cruel as her sister Mary.

These three queens are all buried in Henry VII.'s Chapel—Elizabeth and Mary together in a white marble tomb, on the outside of which lies the statue of Queen Elizabeth, and on which these words in Latin were written by James I.: "Consorts both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection." And not far from them lies Mary Queen of Scots. After she had been beheaded at Fotheringay Castle her body was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, and from there it was brought to Westminster by her son, James VI. of Scotland, who was also James I. of England, "that the like honour," so he wrote, "might be done to his dearest mother" as had been done to Queen Elizabeth and the other Queen Mary.

We are now coming to the end of these stories, and I must only mention in a very few words some of the other graves in this chapel of Henry VII.

Oliver Cromwell who, after Charles I. had been beheaded, made himself Protector of England, was buried here among the kings and queens. It is said that his funeral was more magnificent than any king's had ever been, and that an immense sum of money was spent upon it. Close by him was buried Elizabeth Claypole his favourite daughter, and many of his soldiers and followers.

Three years afterwards his body was dug up and taken to Tyburn. There his head was cut off, on the 30th of January, the anniversary of the day Charles I. had been beheaded, after which his body was buried under the gallows, instead of in Westminster Abbey.

"Here are also buried," says Dean Stanley, "some of our young princes and princesses. There was that wonderfully gifted boy, Edward VI." (of whom we have already spoken), "who was only sixteen when he died, and who before that time had by his diligence and his honesty made himself beloved and trusted by all about him. There is the good Prince Henry, eldest son of James I., who when his foolish attendants provoked him to swear because a butcher's dog had killed a stag that he was hunting, said, 'Away with you! All the pleasure in the world is not worth a profane oath.' Then there was, again, that other Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who sat on the knees of his father, Charles I. on the day before his execution, and who when his father said to him, 'They will try to make you king instead of your elder brother,' fired up like a little man, and said, 'I will be torn in pieces first!' Then there are two small tombs of the two infant daughters of James I. (one of which is made in the shape of a cradle). And to these tombs of these two little girls were brought, in after-days, by King Charles II., the bones of the two young murdered princes (Edward V. and Richard, Duke of York), which in his time were discovered at the foot of the staircase in the Tower. Well might all these princes be mourned and have a place in this Abbey, because many of them, though they died early, showed of what stuff they were made, and that they would have been fit to be kings and to be with kings."

As I copied down these words of Dean Stanley's, I was once more reminded of him, and once more I seemed to hear him telling the children gathered round him in the Abbey some of these stories which I have just been telling you. And as the last words in this book about the Abbey are his words, so the last grave which I want to tell you of is his, and when you some day go to the Abbey you must not forget to see (also in Henry VII.'s Chapel) the place where, together in one tomb, are buried Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, and his wife, Lady Augusta.

Dean Stanley knew more about Westminster Abbey than almost any other man; and not only did he know  more, but by writing books and by telling stories to his friends as he showed them over the great church, he helped many other people, who but for him perhaps would not have thought much about the Abbey at all, to know something of the Church of St. Peter on Thorney Isle.

And it is because I hoped that what interested us as children many years ago might interest others now, that I have tried to remember, and collect, and write down these tales from Westminster Abbey in something the same way as they were told to us by the Dean.

And now we leave the Abbey, but instead of going out at the door by which we came in, we will go out through the little door in the nave, and walk round the quiet cloisters.

Here are the graves of many men, and women too, about whom there is much you would like to know if there were only time to tell you, and here too, as in the Abbey, the children are not forgotten. I remember Dean Stanley pointing out to us a touching memorial of a little sister and brother. Her parents put nothing on her monument but the words, "Jane Lister, dear child, died, October 7th, 1688," aid underneath the record of her brother Michael's death, twelve years before. It is an inscription which, as he says, "goes to the heart of every one." It was in the year 1688, just a month before the great English Revolution, but the parents thought only of "Jane Lister," their "dear child."

The musician, Muzio Clementi, whose name and some of whose music you may many of you already know, lies in the Cloisters. His grave was for a time almost forgotten, but his grandchildren have now had it seen to, and the inscription restored, so that those who come here may not seek for his name in vain, as we do in the case of Henry Lawes, who wrote the music for Milton's "Comus" and many charming songs which you will be sure to know some day. Although buried here, no one knows exactly where his grave is; but he will not be forgotten, as long as there are musicians to appreciate his works.

Several of the head-masters of Westminster School are buried here in the Cloisters. You have many of you, boys especially, heard of Dr. Busby, the great head-master, who is buried in the Abbey. His successor, Knipe, who had worked altogether in the school, first under him, and afterwards as head-master, for fifty years, lies in the north cloister; and not far from him is the grave and monument of another head-master, Markham, who became Archbishop of York, but who was, after he died, brought back to Westminster to "be buried in his old haunts."

One more grave there is, in the east cloister, which you must not forget to see, the grave of Dr. Troutbeck, who was a Minor Canon of Westminster for thirty years, and for the last five was also Precentor of the Abbey. In 1869 Dean Stanley was the Dean, and among the many good and wise things he did for Westminster, one of the very best was when, in that year, he persuaded Mr. Troutbeck, as he then was, to leave Manchester Cathedral, where he was a minor Canon and Precentor, and come and work under him and with him in the Abbey. The next year, in 1870, a great work, the new translation, or Revised Version, as it is called, of the New Testament was begun by a company of learned men who met together week by week, and month by month, in the Jerusalem Chamber, for eleven years. Mr. Troutbeck was chosen secretary, and in all those eleven years he missed, so he once said, only one meeting. "And I can never forget," he added, "the lessons of those eleven years which vibrate in the memory, though all but four or five of that illustrious company have passed away." The translation was finished in 1881, the very year Dean Stanley died, and soon afterwards Minor Canon Troutbeck was made, by Archbishop Benson, a Doctor of Divinity, and became Dr. Troutbeck.

Among the innumerable services that he rendered to Westminster Abbey, there is one that you may always remember when you go to service there. He it was who collected and edited the hymns in the book always used. In that book there are several hymns which were written by Dean Stanley, and several which were translated from foreign languages by Dr. Troutbeck. He was himself a musician, and it would take far too long to tell you of all the work he did in the world of music for which music lovers will always be grateful to him.

After he became Precentor in 1895, the musical services in the Abbey became every year more beautiful, more reverent, and more dignified, for he it was who had entire choice of the music to be sung, who supervised the choir, and who toiled unceasingly, both in his work as Precentor and his work as Minor Canon, to help to make and keep this "Fortress of the Church of England," as Dean Stanley tells us Westminster Abbey was once called, the centre of "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report."

He died on the 11th October, 1899, and was buried here in the quiet cloister, where the green grass, and the sound of the birds, and the sunshine flickering through the open archways make us forget the busy, noisy, fighting world of London, and think once again of the old Church of St. Peter on Thorney Isle.