January 2006

The remains of Henry VII’s Royal Chapel have been revealed by landscaping work at the ORNC. Work to relay pavements and drains has revealed the original brickwork of the King’s Chapel with its tiled floor in situ. An original Tudor vault supports the high altar platform which is covered in glazed tiles laid in a geometric pattern. Further east, excavation has revealed the Vestry, linked to the Chapel by an anteroom and a fine carved stone doorway. Henry VIII, whose favourite Palace this was, was born here, as was his daughter Elizabeth I.

The Vestry survived the demolition of the rest of the Palace and was later converted into a house for the Treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, a position first held by diarist John Evelyn between 1697 and 1703. Evidence of this later re-use includes brick floors and inserted fireplaces. 

Historian and broadcaster, Dr David Starkey, said 'This discovery brings home the reality of the weddings of Henry VIII more directly than any other surviving buildings and 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.'

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, which manages the whole site, said ‘This is a major discovery and significantly increases our knowledge of Tudor Greenwich. Our supervising archaeologist noticed Tudor brickwork while monitoring the excavation of drainage trenches just east of Hawksmoor’s Queen Anne building. We then commissioned the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MoLAS) to excavate the area more thoroughly.  We’re very excited by what we have discovered, and hope to display the most interesting finds in our Visitor Centre.’

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said "This is an astonishing survival.  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 Greenwich Foundation should be congratulated for sponsoring this dig." 

Among the finds so far are fragments of stained glass, lead glazing bars (cames) and moulded Caen stone tracery probably from the Chapel windows.

Digging will continue until Wednesday afternoon, when work will begin to re-cover the area. Following best archaeological practice, the historic site will be cleaned, full details will be recorded and then it will be covered with a protective layer before being re-sealed. Julian Bowsher, Senior Archaeologist at MoLAS, said ‘The remains are fragile, and would deteriorate quickly if they remained open to the elements. We will extract as much information as possible, which will tie in to contemporary documents the precise site of the Palace and its Chapel, before backfilling.’

Once the area is sealed, the positions of the buildings and architectural features will be marked by the Greenwich Foundation so visitors will have a clear understanding of what took place on the site.

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