Most people in Windsor know and love the castle, many worship regularly at St George’s Chapel within its walls. Since William the Conqueror built the castle in about 1087 there have been religious facilities available to residents. The first Chapel in the Lower Ward was built by Henry III in 1240 and further embellished by Henry VII in 1498, it stands to the east of its huge successor with which many of are familiar. This was started by Edward IV in 1475 and completed 50 years later.
Unsurprisingly during all these centuries many extraordinary characters have been associated with the Chapel. A new exhibition in the South Quire Aisle celebrates a large selection of these, some well-known others unheard-of but fascinating nevertheless. The exhibition consists of a series of explanatory panels with illustrations about the personalities. Below these are display cases containing artefacts from the Chapel Archives associated with each of those described.
Amongst these ‘People of St George’s’ are –
Author of The Canterbury Tales and called the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer was also a courtier, bureaucrat, diplomat and ‘Clerk of the King’s Works’. He supervised many construction and repair projects on behalf of King Richard II. In 1390 Chaucer was instructed to oversee the restoration of St George’s Chapel, managing vital repairs and providing a temporary place for worship while they were carried out.
Between 1531 and 1585 the theological writer John Marbeck played the organ and sang in the choir at St George’s. A Protestant, in 1543 he narrowly escaped execution for heresy and contempt of the Catholic Church. Although he was pardoned, all of his writings were destroyed.
Most famous now for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral and many other London churches after the Great Fire in 1666, part of Christopher Wren’s childhood was spent at St George’s. In 1635, when he was three years old, his father and namesake was appointed Dean of Windsor.
In 1642 disaster struck St George’s when Parliamentarian forces occupied Windsor Castle. The clergy and their families were forcibly evicted, taking with them only what they could carry. Wren’s father famously rescued the Registers of the Order of the Garter as he left Windsor.
That was not to be Sir Christopher’s last association with St George’s, however. The Chapel fell into disrepair and in 1682 he produced a survey of its condition recommending a seven year programme of restoration.
Poor Knights were veteran soldiers, given support through hard times. One of these, Sir John Dineley was landless and penniless despite being the fifth baronet of Burhope. A famous sight in Windsor, from 1798 until his death, for his eccentric clothes, dirty silk stockings and old wig, he gained national renown for his persistent quest for a wealthy wife to bring him the status he felt he deserved.
Dineley had several marriage advertisements printed, in which he specified the sums he expected his wife to bring to the union. He was prepared to accept less money for a younger wife. In return for her money, the lucky woman would gain the title of ‘Lady’. Dineley died a bachelor aged 80 in 1809!
The exhibition is open until the end of March 2020 and access to St George’s Chapel and the exhibition is included in a ticket to Windsor Castle. Entry to the Castle is via the Admissions Centre and is free to Royal Borough residents on production of an Advantage Card. Services are held daily in St George’s Chapel and are freely open for anyone to attend. For details of service times please see the St George’s Chapel website https://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/worship-music/services/
The photo shows Sir Christoper Wren (left) and Sir John Dineley (right)
(©️ Photo Copyright – The Dean & Canons of Windsor))
Grateful thanks to Kate McQuillian, Archivist and Chief Librarian, St George’s Chapel for her inspiration and co-operation in the preparation of this article.