Henry VII's chapel found at Greenwich





As muddy holes go, they don't get much more romantic. Beneath four feet of heavy south London clay, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of Henry VII's lost chapel at Greenwich. The site is where he and a host of his Tudor successors - Henry VIII, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I - worshipped.

The existence of the chapel, part of the Royal Palace of Placentia, a Tudor favourite but pulled down in the 17th century to be replaced by Greenwich Hospital - now the Old Naval College - has long been known from paintings and records.

But until a bulldozer's bucket scraped against brickwork a month ago, no physical evidence of the chapel had ever been discovered.

Careful scratching away by a team of four archaeologists from the Museum of London has revealed the eastern walls of the chapel, a 10ft by 5ft section of floor made from black and white glazed tiles laid geometrically, and, beneath, a so-far unexplored vault.

The floor, at the eastern end of the chapel, almost certainly supported the altar before which the Tudor monarchs would have prayed.

The archaeologists may also have unearthed the spot where Henry VIII stood during his marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves.

Both weddings took place in the Palace of Placentia - which means pleasant place to live - but records do not show whether they were in the chapel itself or, more probably as some historians believe, in a private room or closet in his quarters overlooking the chapel.

To the east of the chapel, more works have unearthed the foundations and fireplaces of its vestry.

"This is an astonishing survival," declared Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage and author of a study of Tudor palaces.

"For the first time ever we can see close up and in detail the east end of a Tudor royal chapel. Unlike Hampton Court and St James's Palace, where the chapels have been altered, here we can see what Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth would have seen. These have the potential to throw fresh light on the inner workings of the Tudor court."

The historian Dr David Starkey was equally enthusiastic. He said: "This gives us a real sense of the absolute heart of the palace.

"When Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves in the first-floor closet, what he saw through the window was the tiled floor and altar that have now been revealed."

Julian Bowsher, the Museum of London's senior archaeologist, said: "This is the most important find I've made in the past 10 years."

Placentia is the least known of London's Tudor palaces. Formerly a manor called Bellacourt, it passed to Henry VI who named it L'Pleazaunce or Placentia because of its agreeable situation.

It was the favourite residence of Henry VIII during the first half of his reign, and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth were born there.




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