The Ceiling - The Jewel of the Tudor Palace

The striking blue and gold ceiling is the dominant feature of the Chapel Royal and was begun by order of King Henry VIII early in 1535. The work was supervised by a master carver and a master carpenter from the nearby town of Kingston upon Thames. They recruited fifty craftsmen and a number of labourers, many of whom had already worked on other parts of the palace. A works yard was established at Sonning, on the river bank about thirty miles up-river from Hampton.

Tudor Ceiling - The Chapel Royal The two master-craftsmen rode into Windsor Forest (which was far more extensive in the 16th century than it is today, stretching as far as Guildford and Chertsey) and selected the standing oak timber. It was felled, and carted to the workshops.

The units of the ceiling were carved at Sonning and taken by water to Hampton as they were completed. The first units were delivered in August 1535, and the deliveries were completed in December and erection commenced. The work of hoisting the carved timbers into position and fixing them with 'great spykes of irne' took a further nine months, after which two London painters, John Heath and Harry Blankston, came on site to complete the 'payntyng, gyltyng and varnesshyng'.

No chance is lost to propagate the Tudor dynastic image in the Chapel Royal. Along the top of the walls are the King's arms, the rose combining the red and white of York and Lancaster, and the heraldic badge of the portcullis, inherited from Henry's grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. The pendants down the centre of the ceiling again reflect the red and white, and the main pendants are picked out in the green and white livery colours of the house of Tudor. The Royal motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense”(with the 'N's reversed in a fine example of the sixteenth century's casual attitude to orthography) is repeated on the cross-beams. The overall colour of the ceiling is 'byse', the attractive shade of blue which was popular in Tudor times.

Tudor Ceiling - The Chapel Royal The appearance of the ceiling today is certainly just as Henry VIII would have seen it, although the actual structure has been heavily restored over the years. In 1845 some of the pendants were in an advanced state of decay, and had to be replaced, and in 1927 the timbers were found to have been so badly affected by simultaneous attacks of dry rot and wood- boring beetle as to be almost beyond repair. It took a year's work to restore the ceiling to its present state.

 
All photographs of the Chapel Royal or taken in the Chapel Royal are with the gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen

Copyright © The Choral Foundation, The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace 2011-2013

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