Begun by Edward I in 1292 and completed by Edward III in the 1360s, St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster is one of the most important buildings in the history of English medieval art and architecture. Sometimes compared to the Sainte-Chapelle of the French kings on the Ile de la Cité in Paris, this two-storey structure established a magnificent setting for worship and royal ritual in England’s premier palace, at the heart of royal government. After the Reformation, the upper chapel became the chamber for the House of Commons, until the fabric was damaged in a great fire in 1834. Today, only the lower chapel survives. As a neglected building of historic importance at the heart of national political life, St Stephen’s invites new engagement from scholars and the public.
Panorama of the Ruins of the Old Palace of Westminster, Oil painting, George Scharf, 1834 © Palace of Westminster Collection, WOA 3793 www.parliament.uk/art
This two-year project will now make available for the first time, in a full critical edition and translation, the fabric accounts for the construction of the chapel. Produced by the royal Exchequer and now mostly in The National Archives, the records are exceptionally full; 35 rolls and books require transcription, in whole or in part, including approximately 640 feet of rolls. They document the processes of royal patronage in great detail and are fundamental to an understanding of English royal display at this central site. They are also of international significance as evidence for medieval crafts and their working practices. For medieval painters and glass painters, for example, these are among the fullest accounts to survive anywhere. Although the fabric accounts for the chapel have been used often by scholars, they have never been fully published. The aim is therefore to create a lasting work of reference for future researchers.
I will edit the critical edition alongside Dr Maureen Jurkowski, a medieval historian and archival researcher with particular expertise in documents from the royal Exchequer. She will transcribe and translate the documents. It is proposed that the edition should be published in book format, but it is hoped that an e-book may be possible in due course.
Dr Tim Ayers
Tim was awarded a Research Project Grant by the Trust in June 2012.