Windsor Castle

Author: William Harrison Ainsworth

IV. How King Henry the Eighth Held a Chapter of the Garter—How He Attended Vespers and Matins in Saint George’s Chapel—And How He Feasted With the Knights—Companions in Saint George’s Hall.

From a balcony overlooking the upper ward, Anne Boleyn beheld the king’s approach on his return from the Garter Tower, and waving her hand smilingly to him, she withdrew into the presence-chamber. Hastening to her, Henry found her surrounded by her ladies of honour, by the chief of the nobles and knights who had composed her train from Hampton Court, and by the Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio; and having exchanged a few words with her, he took her hand, and led her to the upper part of the chamber, where two chairs of state were set beneath a canopy of crimson velvet embroidered with the royal arms, and placed her in the seat hitherto allotted to Catherine of Arragon. A smile of triumph irradiated Anne’s lovely countenance at this mark of distinction, nor was her satisfaction diminished as Henry turned to address the assemblage.

"My lords," he said, "ye are right well aware of the scruples of conscience I entertain in regard to my marriage with my brother’s widow, Catherine of Arragon. The more I weigh the matter, the more convinced am I of its unlawfulness; and were it possible to blind myself to my sinful condition, the preachers, who openly rebuke me from the pulpit, would take care to remind me of it. Misunderstand me not, my lords. I have no ground of complaint against the queen. Far otherwise. She is a lady of most excellent character—full of devotion, loyalty, nobility, and gentleness. And if I could divest myself of my misgivings, so far from seeking to put her from me, I should cherish her with the greatest tenderness. Ye may marvel that I have delayed the divorce thus long. But it is only of late that my eyes have been opened; and the step was hard to take. Old affections clung to me—old chains restrained me—nor could I, without compunction, separate myself from one who has ever been to me a virtuous and devoted consort."

"Thou hast undergone a martyrdom, gossip," observed Will Sommers, who had posted himself at the foot of the canopy, near the king, " and shalt henceforth be denominated Saint Henry"

The gravity of the hearers might have been discomposed by this remark, but for the stern looks of the king.

"Ye may make a jest of my scruples, my lords," he continued, "and think I hold them lightly; but my treatise on the subject, which has cost me much labour and meditation, will avouch to the contrary. What would befall this realm if my marriage were called in question after my decease? The same trouble and confusion would ensue that followed on the death of my noble grandfather, King Edward the Fourth. To prevent such mischance I have resolved, most reluctantly, to put away my present queen, and to take another consort, by whom I trust to raise up a worthy successor and inheritor of my kingdom."

A murmur of applause followed this speech, and the two cardinals
exchanged significant glances, which were not unobserved by the

"I doubt not ye will all approve the choice I shall make," he pursued, looking fiercely at Wolsey, and taking Anne Boleyn’s hand, who arose as he turned to her. "And now, fair mistress," he added to her, "as an earnest of the regard I have for you, and of the honours I intend you, I hereby create you Marchioness of Pembroke, and bestow upon you a thousand marks a year in land, and another thousand to be paid out of my treasury to support your dignity."

"Your majesty is too generous," replied Anne, bending the knee, and kissing his hand.

"Not a whit, sweetheart—not a whit," replied Henry, tenderly raising her;
"this is but a slight mark of my goodwill. Sir Thomas Boleyn," he added
to her father, "henceforth your style and title will be that of Viscount
Rochford, and your patent will be made out at the same time as that of
your daughter, the Marchioness of Pembroke. I also elect you a knight-
companion of the most honourable Order of the Garter, and your
investiture and installation will take place to-day."

Having received the thanks and homage of the newly-created noble, Henry descended from the canopy, and passed into an inner room with the Lady Anne, where a collation was prepared for them. Their slight meal over, Anne took up her lute, and playing a lively prelude, sang two or three French songs with so much skill and grace, that Henry, who was passionately fond of music, was quite enraptured. Two delightful hours having passed by, almost imperceptibly, an usher approached the king, and whispering a few words to him, he reluctantly withdrew, and Anne retired with her ladies to an inner apartment.

On reaching his closet, the king’s attendants proceeded to array him in a surcoat of crimson velvet, powdered with garters embroidered in silk and gold, with the motto—boni soft qui mal y pense—wrought within them. Over the surcoat was thrown a mantle of blue velvet with a magnificent train, lined with white damask, and having on the left shoulder a large garter, wrought in pearls and Venice twists, containing the motto, and encircling the arms of Saint George—argent, a cross gules. The royal habiliments were completed by a hood of the same stuff as the surcoat, decorated like it with small embroidered garters, and lined with white satin. From the king’s neck was suspended the collar of the Great George, composed of pieces of gold, fashioned like garters, the ground of which was enamelled, and the letters gold.

While Henry was thus arrayed, the knights-companions, robed in their mantles, hoods, and collars, entered the closet, and waiting till he was ready, marched before him into the presence-chamber, where were assembled the two provincial kings-at-arms, Clarenceux and Norroy, the heralds, and pursuivants, wearing their coats-of-arms, together with the band of pensioners, carrying gilt poleaxes, and drawn up in two lines. At the king’s approach, one of the gentlemen-ushers who carried the sword of state, with the point resting upon the ground, delivered it to the Duke of Richmond,—the latter having been appointed to bear it before the king during all the proceedings of the feast. Meanwhile, the knights-companions having drawn up on either side of the canopy, Henry advanced with a slow and stately step towards it, his train borne by the Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat, and other nobles and knights. As he ascended the canopy, and faced the assemblage, the Duke of Richmond and the chief officers of the Order drew up a little on his right. The knights-companions then made their salutation to him, which he returned by removing his jewelled cap with infinite grace and dignity, and as soon as he was again covered they put on their caps, and ranging themselves in order, set forward to Saint George’s Chapel.

Quitting the royal lodgings, and passing through the gateway of the Norman Tower, the procession wound its way along the base of the Round Tower, the battlements of which bristled with spearmen, as did the walls on the right, and the summit of the Winchester Tower, and crossing the middle ward, skirted the tomb-house, then newly erected by Wolsey, and threading a narrow passage between it and Saint George’s Chapel, entered the north-east door of the latter structure.

Dividing, on their entrance into the chapel, into two lines, the attendants of the knights-companions flanked either side of the north aisle; while between them walked the alms-knights, the verger, the prebends of the college, and the officers-of-arms, who proceeded as far as the west door of the choir, where they stopped. A slight pause then ensued, after which the king, the knights-companions, and the chief officers of the Order, entered the chapter-house—a chamber situated at the north-east corner of the chapel—leaving the Duke of Richmond, the sword-bearer, Lard Rochford, the knight-elect, the train-bearers, and pensioners outside. The door of the chapter-house being closed by the black-rod, the king proceeded to the upper end of the vestments-board— as the table was designated—where a chair, cushions, and cloth of state were provided for him; the knights-companions, whose stalls in the choir were on the same side as his own, seating themselves on his right, and those whose posts were on the prince’s side taking their places on the left. The prelate and the chancellor stood at the upper end of the table; the Garter and register at the foot; while the door was kept by the black-rod.

As soon as the king and the knights were seated, intimation was given by an usher to the black-rod that the newly elected knight, Lord Rochford, was without. The intelligence being communicated to the king, he ordered the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk to bring him into his presence. The injunction was obeyed, and the knight-elect presently made his appearance, the Garter marching before him to the king. Bowing reverently to the sovereign, Rochford, in a brief speech, expressed his gratitude for the signal honour conferred upon him, and at its close set his left foot upon a gilt stool, placed for him by the Garter, who pronounced the following admonition:—" My good lord, the loving company of the Order of the Garter have received you as their brother and fellow. In token whereof, they give you this garter, which God grant you may receive and wear from henceforth to His praise and glory, and to the exaltation and honour of the noble Order and yourself."

Meanwhile the garter was girded on the leg of the newly-elected knight, and buckled by the Duke of Suffolk. This done, he knelt before the king, who hung a gold chain, with the image of Saint George attached to it, about his neck, while another admonition was pronounced by the chancellor. Rochford then arose, bowed to the monarch, to the knightscompanions, who returned his salutations, and the investiture was complete.

Other affairs of the chapter were next discussed. Certain officers nominated since the last meeting, were sworn; letters from absent knights-companions, praying to be excused from attendance, were read—and their pleas, except in the instance of Sir Thomas Cheney, allowed. After reading the excuse of the latter, Henry uttered an angry oath, declaring he would deprive him of his vote in the chapter-house, banish him from his stall, and mulct him a hundred marks, to be paid at Saint George’s altar, when Will Sommers, who was permitted to be present, whispered in his ear that the offender was kept away by the devices of Wolsey, because he was known to be friendly to the divorce, and to the interests of the lady Anne.

"Aha! by Saint Mary, is it so?" exclaimed Henry, knitting his brows. "This shall be looked into. I have hanged a butcher just now. Let the butcher’s son take warning by his fate. He has bearded me long enough. See that Sir Thomas Cheney be sent for with all despatch. I will hear the truth from his own lips."

He then arose, and quitting the chapter-house, proceeded with the knights-companions to the choir—the roof and walls of the sacred structure resounding with the solemn notes of the organ as they traversed the aisle. The first to enter the choir were the aIms-knights, who passed through the door in a body, and making low obeisances toward the altar and the royal stall, divided into two lines. They were succeeded by the prebends of the College, who, making similar obeisances, stationed themselves in front of the benches before the stalls of the knights-companions. Next followed the pursuivants, heralds, and provincial kings-of-arms, making like reverences, and ranging themselves with the alms-knights. Then came the knightscompanions, who performed double reverences like the others, and took their stations under their stalls; then came the black-rod, Garter, and register, who having gone through the same ceremony as the others, proceeded to their form, which was placed on the south side of the choir before the sovereign’s stall; then came the chancellor and prelate, whose form was likewise placed before the royal stall, but nearer to it than that allotted to the other officers; and, lastly, Henry himself, with the sword borne before him by the Duke of Richmond, who as he approached the steps of his stall bowed reverently towards the altar, and made another obeisance before seating himself.

Meanwhile the Duke of Richmond posted himself in front of the royal stall, the Earl of Oxford, as lord chamberlain, taking his station on the king’s right, and the Earl of Surrey, as vice-chamberlain, on the left. As these arrangements were made, the two cardinals arrived, and proceeded to the altar.

Mass was then said, and nothing could be more striking than the appearance of the chapel during its performance. The glorious choir with its groined and pendent roof, its walls adorned with the richest stuffs, its exquisitely carved stalls, above which hung the banners of the knights-companions, together with their helmets, crests, and swords, its sumptuously—decorated altar, glittering with costly vessels, its pulpit hung with crimson damask interwoven with gold, the magnificent and varied dresses of the assemblage—all these constituted a picture of surpassing splendour.

Vespers over, the king and his train departed with the same ceremonies and in the same order as had been observed on their entrance to the choir.

On returning to the royal lodgings, Henry proceeded to his closet, where having divested himself of his mantle, he went in search of the Lady Anne. He found her walking with her dames on the stately terrace at the north of the castle, and the attendants retiring as he joined her, he was left at full liberty for amorous converse. After pacing the terrace for some time, he adjourned with Anne to her own apartments, where he remained till summoned to supper with the knightscompanions in Saint George’s Hall.

The next morning betimes, it being the day of the Patron Saint of the Order of the Garter, a numerous cavalcade assembled in the upper ward of the castle, to conduct the king to hear matins in Saint George’s Chapel. In order to render the sight as imposing as possible, Henry had arranged that the procession should take place on horseback, and the whole of the retinue were accordingly mounted. The large quadrangle was filled with steeds and their attendants, and the castle walls resounded with the fanfares of trumpets and the beating of kettledrums. The most attractive feature of the procession in the eyes of the beholders was the Lady Anne, who, mounted on a snow-white palfrey richly trapped, rode on the right of the king. She was dressed in a rich gown of raised cloth of gold; and had a coronet of black velvet, decorated with orient pearls, on her head. Never had she looked so lovely as on this occasion, and the king’s passion increased as he gazed upon her. Henry himself was more sumptuously attired than on the preceding day. He wore a robe of purple velvet, made somewhat like a frock, embroidered with flat damask gold, and small lace intermixed. His doublet was very curiously embroidered, the sleeves and breast being lined with cloth of gold, and fastened with great buttons of diamonds and rubies. His sword and girdle were adorned with magnificent emeralds, and his bonnet glistened with precious stones. His charger was trapped in cloth of gold, traversed lattice-wise, square, embroidered with gold damask, pearled on every side, and having buckles and pendants of fine gold. By his side ran ten footmen, richly attired in velvet and goldsmith’s work. They were followed by the pages of honour, mounted on great horses, trapped in crimson velvet embroidered with new devices and knots of gold.

In this state Henry and his favourite proceeded to the great western door of Saint George’s Chapel. Here twelve gentlemen of the privychamber attended with a canopy of cloth of gold, which they bore over the king’s bead, and that of the Lady Anne, as she walked beside him to the entrance of the choir, where they separated—he proceeding to his stall, and she to a closet at the north-east corner of the choir over the altar, while her ladies repaired to one adjoining it.

Matins then commenced, and at the appointed part of the service the dean of the college took a silver box, containing the heart of Saint George, bestowed upon King Henry the Fifth by the Emperor Sigismund, and after incense had been shed upon it by one of the canons, presented it to the king and the knights-companions to kiss.

After the offertory, a carpet was spread on the steps before the altar, the alms-knights, pursuivants, and heralds stationing themselves on either side of it. The Garter then descended from his seat, and waving his rod, the knights-companions descended likewise, but remained before their stalls. The black-rod next descended, and proceeding towards the altar, a groom of the wardrobe brought him a small carpet of cloth of gold, and a cushion of the same stuff, which were placed on the larger carpet, the cushion being set on the head of the steps. Taking a large gilt bason to receive the offerings, the prelate stationed himself with one of the prebends in the midst of the altar. The king then rose from his stall, and making a reverence as before, proceeded to the altar, attended by the Garter, register, and chancellor, together with the Duke of Richmond bearing the sword; and having reached the upper step, prostrated himself on the cushion, while the black-rod bending the knee delivered a chain of gold, intended afterwards to be redeemed, to the Duke of Suffolk, who was appointed to make the royal offering, and who placed it in the bason held by the prelate. This ceremony over, the king got up, and with similar reverences returned to his stall. Then the two provincial kings, Clarenceux and Norroy, proceeded along the choir, and making due reverences to the altar and the sovereign, bowed to the two senior knights; who thereupon advanced towards the altar, and kneeling down, made their offering. The other imitated their example, coming forward according to their seniority.

The service ended, the officers and knights-companions quitted the chapel in the same order they had entered it, the king being received under the canopy at the door of the choir, and passing through the west entrance of the chapel, where he waited for the Lady Anne. On her arrival they both mounted their steeds, and rode up to the royal lodgings amid flourishes of trumpets and acclamations. Dismounting at the great gate, Henry proceeded to the presence-chamber, where the knights-companions had assembled, and having received their salutations, retired to his closet. Here he remained in deep consultation with the Duke of Suffolk for some hours, when it having been announced to him that the first course of the banquet was served, he came forth, and proceeded to the presence-chamber, where he greeted the knights-companions, who were there assembled, and who immediately put themselves in order of procession. After this, the almsknights, prebends, and officers-of-arms passed on through the guardchamber into Saint George’s Hall. They were followed by the knightscompanions, who drew up in double file, the seniors taking the uppermost place; and through these lines the king passed, his train borne up as before, until reaching the table set apart for him beneath a canopy, he turned round and received the knights’ reverences. The Earl of Oxford, as vice-chamberlain, then brought him a ewer containing water, the Earl of Surrey a bason, and Lord Rochford a napkin. Henry having performed his ablutions, grace was said by the prelate, after which the king seated himself beneath the canopy in an ancient chair with a curiously carved back representing the exploit of Saint George, which had once belonged to the founder, King Edward the Third, and called up the two cardinals, who by this time had entered the hall, and who remained standing beside him, one on either hand, during the repast.

As soon as the king was seated, the knights-companions put on their caps, and retired to the table prepared for them on the right side of the hall, where they seated themselves according to their degree—the Duke of Richmond occupying the first place, the Duke of Suffolk the second, and the Duke of Norfolk the third. On the opposite side of the hall was a long beaufet covered with flasks of wine, meats, and dishes, for the service of the knights’ table. Before this stood the attendants, near whom were drawn up two lines of pensioners bearing the second course on great gilt dishes, and headed by the sewer. In front of the sewer were the treasurer and comptroller of the household, each bearing a white wand; next them stood the officers-of-arms in two lines, headed by the Garter. The bottom of the hall was thronged with yeomen of the guard, halberdiers, and henchmen. In a gallery at the lower end were stationed a band of minstrels, and near them sat the Lady Anne and her dames to view the proceedings.

The appearance of the hall during the banquet was magnificent, the upper part being hung with arras representing the legend of Saint George, placed there by Henry the Sixth, and the walls behind the knights-companions adorned with other tapestries and rich stuffs. The tables groaned with the weight of dishes, some of which may be enumerated for the benefit of modern gastronomers. There were Georges on horseback, chickens in brewis, cygnets, capons of high grease, carpes of venison, herons, calvered salmon, custards planted with garters, tarts closed with arms, godwits, peafowl, halibut engrailed, porpoise in armour, pickled mullets, perch in foyle, venison pasties, hypocras jelly, and mainemy royal.

Before the second course was served, the Garter, followed by Clarenceux and Norroy, together with the heralds and pursuivants, advanced towards the sovereign’s canopy, and cried thrice in a loud voice, "Largesse!"

Upon this, all the knights-companions arose and took off their caps. The Garter then proceeded to proclaim the king’s titles in Latin and French, and lastly in English, as follows:—" Of the most high, most excellent, and most mighty monarch, Henry the Eighth, by the grace of God King of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and Sovereign of the most noble Order of the Garter."

This proclamation made, the treasurer of the household put ten golden marks into the Garter’s cap, who making a reverence to the sovereign, retired from the hall with his followers.

"Come, my lord legate," said Henry, when this ceremony was at an end, "we will drink to my future queen. What ho! wine!" he added to the Earl of Surrey, who officiated as cup-bearer.

"Your highness is not yet divorced from your present consort," replied Campeggio. "If it please you, I should prefer drinking the health of Catherine of Arragon."

"Well, as your eminence pleases," replied the king, taking the goblet from the hand of Surrey; "I shall not constrain you.

And looking towards the gallery, he fixed his eyes on the Lady Anne and drained the cup to the last drop.

"Would it were poison," muttered Sir Thomas Wyat, who stood behind the Earl of Surrey, and witnessed what was passing.

"Give not thy treasonable thoughts vent, gossip," said Will Sommers, who formed one of the group near the royal table, "or it may chance that some one less friendly disposed towards thee than myself may overhear them. I tell thee, the Lady Anne is lost to thee for ever. Think’st thou aught of womankind would hesitate between a simple knight and a king? My lord duke," he added sharply to Richmond, who was looking round at him) "you would rather be in yonder gallery than here."

"Why so, knave?" asked the duke.

"Because the Fair Geraldine is there," replied the jester. "And yet your grace is not the person she would most desire to have with her."

"Whom would she prefer? " inquired the duke angrily.

The jester nodded at Surrey, and laughed maliciously.

"You heard the health given by the king just now, my lord," observed the Duke of Suffolk to his neighbour the Duke of Norfolk; "it was a shrewd hint to the lord legate which way his judgment should decline. Your niece will assuredly be Queen of England."

"I did not note what was said, my lord," replied Norfolk; "I pray you repeat it to me."

Suffolk complied, and they continued in close debate until the termination of the banquet, when the king, having saluted the company, returned to the presence-chamber.


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Chicago: William Harrison Ainsworth, "IV. How King Henry the Eighth Held a Chapter of the Garter— How He Attended Vespers and Matins in Saint George’s Chapel— And How He Feasted With the Knights— Companions in Saint George’s Hall.," Windsor Castle, trans. Evans, Sebastian in Windsor Castle Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: Ainsworth, William Harrison. "IV. How King Henry the Eighth Held a Chapter of the Garter— How He Attended Vespers and Matins in Saint George’s Chapel— And How He Feasted With the Knights— Companions in Saint George’s Hall." Windsor Castle, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in Windsor Castle, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Ainsworth, WH, 'IV. How King Henry the Eighth Held a Chapter of the Garter— How He Attended Vespers and Matins in Saint George’s Chapel— And How He Feasted With the Knights— Companions in Saint George’s Hall.' in Windsor Castle, trans. . cited in , Windsor Castle. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from