Hampton Court Chapel by Melanie V. Taylor

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Chapel  “Sung Eucharist” by Thomas Tallis

Author: Melanie V. Taylor

Editor’s Note: On 25 November Melanie V. Taylor attended at Hampton Court Chapel what was for the first time since the 16th century the exquisite music of Thomas Tallis accompanying the Roman Catholic liturgy for which it was originally written. His Christmas sung mass Missa Puer natus est nobis, accompanying the Eucharist, not only brought back memories of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor but also left Melanie in wonder of what the chapel looked like during the Tudor Era.

Video Credit: Carl Jackson (YouTube)


The Mass. Da Costa Hours.
The Mass. Da Costa Hours.


On a recent chilly 25 November 2018 Sunday night the congregation of the chapel royal at Hampton Court Palace experienced a religious service last held over 400 years ago during the reign of Mary Tudor when the form of liturgy used in the royal chapels was the Catholic Use of Sarum.

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, originally composed Missa Puer natus est nobis for Christmas morning 1554 when it was sung in St Paul’s Cathedral. The sung Eucharist was the last of three Masses celebrated on Christmas morning, the first being the Missa in gallicantu (the mass of cockcrow), the second, Missa in aurora was celebrated as the sun rose and the third, held mid-morning, being the Missa Puer natis est nobis, which Mary I and her Spanish husband attended and sat in the Holy Day Closet, well away from the general throng of worshippers.


Master of the Dresden Prayer Book (Flemish, active about 1480 – 1515)
The Nativity, about 1510 – 1520, Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 23.2 × 16.7 cm (9 1/8 × 6 9/16 in.), Ms. Ludwig IX 18, fol. 119v
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Sitting quietly in this beautiful place of worship, I wondered what the chapel must have looked like for those worshipping there in Tudor Times.  Today, all that remains of the original Tudor chapel is the ceiling, a masterpiece of timber and plasterwork created by the carvers Henry Courant and Richard Ridge.  The other wooden fittings (such as the stalls) made by these master craftsmen have long gone, but not, as you might think, destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth.  It was Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) who removed them. Oliver Cromwell auctioned off the contents of the palace, but left the fabric of the building relatively unscathed – except for the stained glass in the chapel which was smashed out.  The glass had even remained intact during the earlier iconoclasm during the reign of Edward VI (1537-1553).  Perhaps King Edward left the chapel untouched in homage to his parents. Edward had come into this world at the palace and his mother had died there some few days after his birth.  His mother’s heart is allegedly buried under the altar.[ii]

During the Restoration (Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660) Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to restore the mess made by the Puritans to the various royal palaces.  At Hampton Court Wren’s master carver, Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) created the wooden reredos we see today as the focal point behind the altar.  Gibbons created carvings in other Wren’s churches, including the reredos in St James’s Piccadilly, as well as carvings for the new St Paul’s Cathedral and various works for Windsor Castle.  Charles II was very fond of Gibbon’s work and by 1680 Gibbons was known as the King’s Carver.

Members of the court attending a service at the chapel in the 1550s would have been at ground level with many squashing themselves in at the back, under the Holy Day Closet that overlooked the chapel. On Christmas morning they would have all been dressed in their best clothes and jewellery.  My mental image was a much more colourful one than the reality of the 21stcentury congregation wearing dull greys and blacks, with the occasional flash of colour.

Overall the effect of Wren and Gibbon’s restoration is sombre compared to the original scheme commenced by Cardinal Wolsey.  From the time of Wolsey’s installation as Archbishop of York in 1514 and appointment as Henry VIII’s Chancellor and as papal legate in 1515. Because of his position within both State and Church, Wolsey was able to employ the best and most talented artists to beautify his properties and scholastic foundations. Evidently the cardinal expended some £28 (today the comparative labour cost of this is £192,100.00[iii) between March and October 1529 on stained glass for Cardinal College, Oxford.[iv]  Today the college is known as Christ Church College and still contains some fifty-two pieces of the original glass ordered by Wolsey.

Agreed designs for stained glass are called a vidimus, which are the artistic equivalent of an indenture. Two copies of the intended design are drawn up and the artist and patron each sign them and hold one to ensure that the contract and accepted design is adhered to.  It is very rare to find surviving vidumuses.


Vidimus for East Window of Wolsey’s Chapel at York Place, now in Edinburgh


Changes made to the Chapel by Henry VIII

However, Wolsey gave Hampton Court to the king before the royal divorce and Henry continued to decorate and improve the palace up to 1536/37.  After taking possession, the king employed a veritable army of craftsmen to construct both the great hall and create the chapel ceiling.  Work on the ceiling commenced in 1535.  Master carvers Courant and Ridge chose their oak from Windsor Forest. Today the forest is confined to some forty five square miles known as Windsor Great Park, but back in 1535 the forest stretched right down to Guildford giving these men much choice for finding the perfect trees.  Oak can be carved quite easily in the green and as it seasons it becomes as hard as iron, making it perfect for roof supports.  The workshops were at Sonning, some thirty miles further upstream to the palace, allowing the worked wood to be shipped down to the palace by boat.  The first delivery of completed beams was in August 1535 and all the carved pieces were delivered by the December of that year.  It took a further nine months for all these worked timber to be hauled into position and fixed with ‘great spykes of irne’.  The decorative plasterwork and painting was then undertaken by John Heath and Harry Blankston.

Looking up into the vault is like looking into the night sky as the whole ceiling is a rich blue, studded with gold stars.


Hampton Court Chapel Ceiling. Image © Hampton Court Palace


The red and white rose of the combined emblems of the Houses of Lancaster and York and the royal motto, Dieu et mon Droit, is writ large in gold on the beams.  The whole ceiling is a statement of royal power.  Some of the cherubs have been proclaiming that the Tudors are a power to be reckoned with ever since 1536.


Detail of ceiling bosses Image © Hampton Court Palace


We are able appreciate the Tudor ceiling thanks to the dedication of Victorian restorers who replaced some of the rotten pendants in 1845.  In 1927, the oak beams were found to be suffering from an infestation of wood boring beetles and dry rot to such an extent that it was almost beyond repair and a substantial restoration was undertaken.

The East Window

The glory of the ceiling must have complimented the beauty of the stained glass. Bernard Flower (king’s glazier since 1497) had been employed by Wolsey both in York Place and at Hampton Court.  After Flower’s death in 1517, Wolsey employed a Fleming – Gaylon Hone (d1550/51), who had replaced Flower as king’s glazier.[v] Hone worked closely with another Fleming, James Nicholson.  The Flemish stained glass craftsmen were much in demand by both king and cardinal.  Both men had workshops in Southwark near St Thomas’s hospital.  Being south of the river meant they were outside the City limits and not subject to either the control of the City elders or The Worshipful Company of Glaziers.  Their success caused much jealousy among the English glaziers, but the English were mired in traditional designs, whereas the Flemings introduced Renaissance ideas which proved popular with the king and the cardinal.

We are lucky that the vidimus for the east window of the chapel at York Place, Wolsey’s London palace, has survived (above).  This gives us a colourful idea of the stained glass that existed at Hampton Court. For the windows in the private chapels at Hampton Court and York Place, the best European designer of the day, one Erhardt Schön had been employed. Schön is thought to have been part of the workshop of, or was trained by the great German artist, Albrecht Dürer. To create the actual glass, Hone and Nicholson produced sets of windows that would have rivalled those of any major European religious institution.  You only have to look at their work at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge to realise why they were so in demand.



An album of twenty four water colour designs discovered in The Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels in 1983 attributed to Erhard Schön (1491-1542) are believed to be the designs for the stained glass in the chapel at Hampton Court. These watercolours depict scenes from the life of Christ set above a set of images that are clearly a royal family to one side and a cardinal with St Thomas, St Peter and St Paul to the other.



This vidimus shows the then royal family, Queen Katherine, Princess Mary kneel behind a king – Henry VIII.  They are accompanied by St George, St Henricus Imperator and St Catherine.

Whether or not Schön was aware of the divorce proceedings and gambled that Henry would remain married to Katherine of Aragon is unknown, but from the inclusion of St Catherine in the vidimus and later mentions in the accounts suggests that the windows were in situ earlier than 1528.

The accounts also tell us that in 1533 Hone was paid for glazing forty-eight lights at Hampton Court, each containing 4½ ft of glass.  There were other ‘lights’ containing 4½ ft 3 ins of glass, amounting to a total of 211 ft. In 1535, he received a further payment for glazing eleven side windows, two windows at the end of the great hall (also begun in the 1530s), as well as thirty pieces of the king’s and queen’s arms, forty-six royal badges, and seventy-seven ‘scryptors with the Kynges worde’.[vii]

Further payments were made to the Hone for repairs and alterations to the east window after Henry VIII’s divorce from Queen Katherine.  These accounts show that during October and November 1535 sixteen feet of decorated glazing was installed in the chapel at a cost of 32s (that is a labour cost equivalent of £11, 850),which is when it is thought St Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of Queen Katharine of Aragon, was replaced with St Anne, being the patron saint of Anne Boleyn.  We have no idea whether the king had ordered the removal of the image of a cardinal prior to this date, but it is thought that it may have been removed when Wolsey fell from grace, leaving only St Thomas as part of the visual scheme of saints on the right hand side.[vii]

The original image of the queen and that of a princess were probably left since these are representational of rank. The Schön sketches show a kneeling woman wearing a crown on top of her gable hood and a girl kneeling behind her. Schön is unlikely to have met either the queen or princess.  They were women, therefore the accurate portrayal of their features is irrelevant.   The signifier as to which queen was in post is the inclusion of their patron saint.  The king has the presence of St Henry the Emperor, plus the patron saint of England, St George. It is unlikely that Schön knew what the king looked like. Nicholson and Hone, on the other hand, probably did and they were the men who were creating the glass so I wonder if they had made a stab at creating a recognisable face of the king?  We will never know.

When it comes to the portrayal of royal women in stained glass or documents do not expect realistic portraits, unless it is a stand alone portrait.  Women were mere chattels of the male head of their families.  The intellectual medieval dilemma regarding the status of women was that for a man to come into this world, he has to come via a woman.  This conundrum is the central issue of the medieval Madonna/Whore debate i.e. The Virgin –v- Eve.  You only have to read John Knox’s manuscript, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, to understand the prevailing attitude male attitude to women.[viii]  Knox may have written this with certain princesses in mind, but his views reflected the general attitude to all women.  The concept of a queen having dominion over men in any way, was ‘monstrous’ that is to say, unnatural. The current theory regarding this sung Eucharist is that it was composed to celebrate the news that by Christmas 1554, the queen had announced she was pregnant.  Knowing Tallis’s composition Missa Puer atus est nobis (A Child is Born) was probably written as a Christmas celebration of Mary’s pregnancy, makes it very poignant as her condition was to prove incorrect.

Only a matter of months after the installation of the image of St Anne there is a  reference in the royal accounts (E39/239) for the period 23rd September – 21st October, 1536, which very specific to the Hampton Court private chapel. Herewith the entry for removing the specific image of a certain female saint and of St Thomas.

Itim for the translatynges and the remowfing off a ymmages of Saynt Anna and other off Saynt Tomas in the hye alter window off the chappell pryce le pyce vis viiid = xiijs iijd

The cost of ‘translatynges’ (removing) these two specific images has a modern labour value of £5,999 and while expensive, is a lot less than would have been paid for the original installation.

The window with St Thomas Becket had clearly survived Wolsey’s fall, presumably because he was an English saint and had been Archbishop of Canterbury, the foremost prelate in the English church.



The removal of the specific female saint, with no reference to removing the light showing a kneeling queen, establishes that the identity of the queen was updated by the inclusion of her patron saint to represent the next candidate expected to provide Tudor male heirs.  In 1536 there were two princesses of the blood royal, but at this point in time only one was considered legitimate by the father.

St Thomas Becket is identified as the saint behind the kneeling cardinal.  Again, we recognise the kneeling figure as a cardinal by his robes and galero, but his identity is revealed by the presence of St Thomas Becket, Thomas Wolsey’s namesake.[ix]  Had the kneeling cardinal been removed earlier, or had he been allowed to remain?

It is apparent this is a payment for the removal of two very specific patron saints that represented Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey.  We do not know what replaced these windows, but there must have been some form of decorative glass.   Perhaps this was designed, created and installed by the Flemish craftsmen, if so the designs have not survived.  Any reminder of Wolsey might have been uncomfortable not only for the king, but also for his administrator (and ardent religious reformer), Thomas Cromwell.  Perhaps the order to remove the offending images was given by Cromwell who was mopping up some loose ends by removing any visual references to past marital and religious conflicts that might irritate or cause embarrassment to his royal master.

Jane Seymour was Henry’s third consort and on 13thOctober 1537 gave birth to Prince Edward at Hampton Court . Prince Edward was baptised in the chapel, with his half-sister Mary standing as godmother. What would be interesting to know is whether the palace was chosen as her place of confinement because Hampton Court was where she had conceived the longed for male heir.  Perhaps the removal of the references to images of Anne Boleyn and St Thomas in September 1536 were undertaken because the king had decided that Hampton Court was where the royal family were to spend Christmas.  If anyone knows where the king and his new wife spent Christmas in 1536, please let me know.

Sunday 25th November 2018

To return to the experience of hearing Tallis’s sung Eucharist on that chilly Sunday in November, my mental comparison of the Grinling Gibbons carved reredos to the stained glass of the east window was complimented by the polyphony of seven adult male voices and the majesty of the service.  The glistening silk vestments of the celebrants, the glint of the gold artefacts, the architecture (especially the glorious Tudor roof) had transported me back to the 1550s.

When Elizabeth came to the throne in November 1558 the services had reverted to Cranmer’s services contained in his Book of Common Prayer.  The stained glass had still be there and when the sun shone, continued to illuminate services with jewel colours.  While Gibbons’s carved reredos is a beautiful, it is a shame we are unable to experience the original windows.  However, the exquisite singing of the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal provided the key for me to imagine the splendour of the original Tudor chapel.

The Sunday event was organised to coincide with the release of the recording of “Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal”. This is the first recording by the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in twenty years and includes Missa Puer natis est nobis.   The CD is released under the Resonus Classics label.



[i]Dr Christian Goursand; booklet given to those attending the service; p15.

[ii]Queen Jane’s body was interred in St George’s Chapel, Windsor and Henry VIII was buried with her in 1547, but her heart was placed under the altar of the chapel.  If you disagree, then take it up with Hampton Court Palace. http://www.chapelroyal.org/altar.html


[iv]www.measuringworth.com This website provides a straight inflation value comparison (real value), plus comparative values for labour, income, economic status and economic power.

[v] Essay byHilary Wayment; Wolsey and Stained Glass; Cardinal Wolsey: Church, state and art: eds. S.J. Gunn & P J Lindley; Cambridge University Press, 1991

[vii]Mary Bryan Curd has written on the Netherlandish glaziers and how they stirred up much jealousy within the English stained glass craftsmen.  The Flemings brought in new ideas and designs of which Wolsey, and the king took full advantage.  Foreign craftsmen were restricted in the number of apprentices they were allowed to take on. Hone was allowed to have five more apprentices than allowed for under the 1523 Act Concerning the taking of Apprentices by Strangers (foreigners).  Their success brought them into conflict with the English craftsmen members of The Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Hone and Nicholson ended up in prison.  However, with their royal and Church patronage these Flemish glaziers were not imprisoned for long and grew rich.  Some of their work still survives, in particular King’s College chapel and Christ Church College, Oxford.

[vii]Essay by Hilary Wayment; Wolsey & Stained Glass: Cardinal Wolsey: Church, state and art: eds. S.J. Gunn & P J Lindley; Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[viii] There was one 16th century voice crying in the wilderness that women were the equal of men and that voice was Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, writing in 1529.  Agrippa’s book “Declamation on the Nobility and Pre-eminence of the Female Sex”has been translated by Albert Rabil Jr and is well worth a read.  Cornelius was a man well ahead of his time.

[ix]The galero is the name for the broad brimmed hat with tasseled strings worn by cardinals.

The sketch of the east window of the palace and the black and white photographs of the vidimuses in Brussels were scanned from Cardinal Wolsey: Church, state and art: eds. S.J. Gunn & P J Lindley; Cambridge University Press, 1991.


National Archives, Kew.  Accounts E36/239, 243, 399.

Knox, John: The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Esterly David; Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving; V&A Publications; 2000



Essay: Wayment, Hilary; Wolsey and Stained Glass; Cardinal Wolsey: Church, state and art: eds. S.J. Gunn & P J Lindley; Cambridge University Press, 1991.





Melanie V. Taylor
Melanie V. Taylor

Having studied the History of Art, Architecture & Design at Kingston University, Surrey (UK), in 2005, Melanie V. Taylor embarked on a full-time Master of Arts degree in Medieval & Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent, graduating in the summer of 2007.

Now living in Surrey with her terrier, she lectures on both art history and history. The various courses she has taught in art history are Art & Architecture in Renaissance 1350-1500; The Exchange of Ideas between Southern & Northern Europe 1400-1600The Italian High Renaissance & MannerismThe Stranger Painters of the Tudor Court (stranger is a way of describing foreigners); The Marketing of Monarchy;  Elizabeth I – the Age of GlorianaThe Golden Age of Dutch Art.  My medieval history courses include The Normans in EuropeThe Reconquest of SpainThe Rise of the Venetian RepublicThe Albigensian Crusade; France 1450 – 1500; I also run study days on the Life and Works of Hans Holbein the Younger;  The History of the Tudor MiniatureNicholas Hilliard – Elizabeth I’s Miniature Portraitist.  In addition, she gives talks to art clubs on all various art movements, which tend to be technical as opposed to lots of the history of the period and the artists.

In November 2007, she started Ashtead Art Lovers, which meets on the last Friday of the month. You can see what they have looked at over the past ten years on the What we have looked at before page. Art is a very much a matter of opinion, which is why Mell steers away from the artists of the latter part of the 20th century and concentrates on earlier periods.

In the past, she has written articles for the Tudor Society. Now she is able to continue her research into the creators and imagery of illuminated manuscripts of the late 15th and 16thcentury. Why not visit Melanie V. Taylor – Art Historian with an Interest in Visual Messages occasionally to see what Mell is up to.

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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