The Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace – Princess Beatrice and Edo’s wedding venue

With the announcement that Princess Beatrice’s wedding is to take place on 29th May in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, we take a closer look at the history of the chapel and the role it has placed in the important celebrations in royal lives.

What is a ‘Chapel Royal’?

The term Chapel Royal refers to an establishment in the Royal Household serving the Monarch’s spiritual needs, as Head of the Church of England. Historically, it was a body of priests and choral singers that travelled with the Sovereign to fulfil these spiritual needs, but the term is now also applied to the chapels within royal palaces; most notably it refers to those of Hampton Court and St James’s Palace. Other chapels within the Commonwealth – like three in Ontario, Canada – have been designated this status by The Queen.

The Chapel Royal at St James’s palace, to the right of the central tower (Matt Brown)

The Chapel Royal (large window on the right) at St James’s Palace features stained glass windows to commemorate the Golden Jubilee (Victoria Howard)

The St James’s Palace Chapel Royal

The Chapel Royal at St James’s was built around 1540, and is located in the main block of St James Palace. It is the most frequently used Chapel Royal, with the most recent event of note held there being Prince Louis’ christening.

The large window to the right of the palace gatehouse is the north wall of the chapel, which is unusually laid out on a north-south axis. Its ceiling is thought to have been painted by Hans Holbein about the time of Henry VIII’s wedding to Anne of Cleeves, and it is richly decorated with royal initials and coats of arms.

Sir Robert Smirke’s work in the 1830s radically updated the chapel, leaving little behind of its Tudor history. Smirke had oak panelling installed, and a new ceiling at the south end, decorated with the names and cyphers of King William IV and Queen Adelaide (uncle and aunt to Queen Victoria) to match the earlier Italianate ceiling.

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During the Second World War the Chapel was damaged by a bomb blast. It has now been fully restored.

The current stained glass window was installed to mark The Queen’s golden jubilee of 2002: a tree in the centre panel reaches out with its branches, full of red and white flowers (almost stylised Tudor roses) occupied by birds. There are also plaques with names of countries affiliated with The Queen. ‘ER’ is written on the trunk. The two side panels show Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

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Seating 150 in total, Beatrice and Edo’s wedding will be a more intimate wedding than Princess Eugenie’s at Windsor which accommodated 800.

The Chapel is in possession of some stunning pieces including; magnificent silver-gilt plates, nearly all from the Restoration period. This includes the set of altar candlesticks engraved with the monogram of the Duke of York, later James II (1661), two Charles II alms-dishes and Charles II’s great coronation alms-dish of 1660. Some of this plate is now exhibited alongside the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

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The view looking south in the Chapel Royal.

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The Chapel is a temple of light with its stately marble floor, coffered ceiling and exquisite wall hangings.

Since the 18th century, the dean of the Chapel Royal has been held by the sitting Bishop of London, while the sub-dean controls the music played there.

What else has happened in the Chapel Royal?

Whilst the Chapel may initially feel like a surprising choice for Bea and Edo’s nuptials, it is in fact where she was baptised and has proved, outside of Westminster Abbey, the most popular historical setting for the London weddings of the British Royal Family and is steeped in royal history.

It was in this chapel that Diana, Princess of Wales lay in rest for a week before her funeral.

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Almost 350 years earlier, Charles I received the Holy Sacrament in the Chapel Royal before taking the short walk across the park, to his execution outside Banqueting House, Whitehall.

Happier events that have taken place here include significant royal weddings, such as that of King George III and Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz married on 8th September 1761. They had met less than six hours before their wedding and yet went on to have one of the most successful royal marriages.

George III married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. (Sir Joshua Reynolds/Royal Collection Trust)

It was for his Queen that George III bought Buckingham House, which went on to become Buckingham Palace. The couple had some 15 children! 13 of these survived to adulthood.

George IV’s ill-fated marriage to Caroline of Brusnwick took place here, too, in 1795. The couple separated after the birth of their first child and the King sought a divorce, making him even more unpopular with the public.

Whilst Victoria and Albert were also married in the Chapel Royal on 10 February 1840, Queen Victoria wanted a more private wedding ceremony. She expressed her ‘horror’ of being married before a large assembly, and insisting that she would greatly have preferred a simple wedding in a private room at Buckingham Palace instead – but being Queen of course, meant otherwise…

The wedding of Queen Victoria in 1804 (Royal Collection Trust, crop)

Sir George Hayter took a great deal of artistic licence with his depiction of Victoria and Alberts nuptials (Royal Collection)

The next wedding to take place there was that of Victoria, The Princess Royal, and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia on 25th January 1858. This wedding was notable for two reasons: not only was this the only wedding of his offspring that Albert would live long enough to attend, but Victoria was the only one of the Monarch’s children to marry in the same place as her parents.

It would be nearly 40 years before another royal wedding came to the Chapel Royal; in 1893, the Duke of York and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (later King George V and Queen Mary) married here.

As Mary had previously been engaged to the Duke’s brother, Edward, Duke of Clarence who had died, it was probably deemed a more appropriate low-key venue than the Abbey.

The Marriage of George, Duke of York, with Princess Mary of Teck, 6 July 1893 LAURITS REGNER TUXEN/Royal Collection)

Most recently, we saw the location used for the christenings of the Cambridge boys, George and Louis, with Kate and William opting to christen Charlotte in the same church as her grandmother Diana in Norfolk.

The Chapel Royal holds regular services which are open to the general public.

The Cambridge family at Prince Louis’ christening. , which took place the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. Picture by i-Images / Pool

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1 comment

Annie Ross Tue 14 March, 2023 - 11:15 am

I worked on the Jubilee, Commonwealth window when I was a designer for Goddard and Gibbs Studios. Glad to have found this article as I had little record of the work. Would love to visit it again.


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