Still more astonishing documents continue to form my portfolio.
As a result of my enquiries at St George’s Chapel early in 1995, I discovered that the Royal Vault beneath the Choir had been created by George iii in 1804 to contain up to eighty-one coffins for his family. In 1898 Queen Victoria remodelled the vault and had all the coffins transferred to the side shelves placing Monarch with Consort. A stone altar was placed at the east end and stone mortuary tables were built for temporary placement after the funeral.
In 1910, Queen Mary wrote to a relative saying, “The vault looks very nice now and is well lighted and arranged.”
The coffin entrance is beneath a slab in the floor of the Choir just eastward of Henry viii’s vault, and it is at this spot that the coffin of a Monarch is lowered. In a very dramatic gesture, the Lord Chamberlain breaks his Staff of Office and throws it into the vault as the coffin descends. The shuffling around of some lesser royal persons from location to location is not without precedent, and several members of the Royal Family have been removed from Westminster Abbey to the vault in years past.
Behind the High Altar on the south side is an enclosed staircase leading down to the vault, and it is via this, that matters of ‘maintenance’ are conducted.
A perspective view of the Royal Vault was drawn in the late nineteenth century and includes the following key:
- HRH Prince Octavius 1783
- Princess Amelia 1810
- King George III 1820
- Queen Charlotte 1818
- HRH Prince Alfred
- Infant daughter of the Duke of Clarence 1821
- Duke of York
- Infant daughter of the Duke of Cumberland 1817
- Duchess of Brunswick 1813
- Princess Augusta
- King George IV 1830
- King William IV 1837
- Queen Adelaide
- Princess Charlotte
- Infant of D’
- Heard of D’
- Duke of Kent
- Heart of D’