On the 8th September 2022, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away.
Aged 96, Elizabeth was the second-longest reigning monarch in history with a reign of 70 years and 214 days. This is just behind Louis XIV of France, whose record of 72 years and 110 days still remains.
The Queen was several things. A former student of constitutional history and law. A truck driver and mechanic during The Second World War. The owner of all swans and dolphins in British waters. She was a monarch who was never expected to be one: her birth place was not a palace but a (large) house in Mayfair on Bruton Street, which is now a Cantonese Restaurant.
And now her place of rest is being prepared. Operation Unicorn are now underway. After lying in state at St. Giles’s Cathedral In Edinburgh and then historic Westminster Hall in London for four days, her remains will be taken to Windsor – specifically, St. George’s Chapel. She will be reunited with the Duke of Edinburgh who died in April of last year.
The vaults underneath the chapel are the final resting place of many a royal: so here are a few of his extended family he’ll be laid to rest alongside…
The Royal Vault
Initially designated a temporary space to place the dead, the Royal Vault was chiefly active between between 1810 and 1930 and has 24 people placed within it.
Princess Amelia (1783 – 1810)
The first regal resident was Princess Amelia, the fifteenth child and sixth daughter of King George III. A ‘lovely creature’ and very much his favourite daughter, her birth was nicely timed as it coincided with the end of the war between Great Britain and the United States – a new royal embodied a new hope. Such was the scale of her death that her brother, George IV who was 21 years older than her, was unable to sleep at night unless his room was illuminated by a candle. It is likely her passing contributed to the Regency Act of 1811, as George III suffered another blow to his already fragile mental health.
Princess Frederica, 1848 – 1926
In 1926 Princess Frederica of Hanover was interred here alongside her father, George V of Hanover, who died in 1878. I like Federica, because she used her position to help those in need, being a benefactoress of the Royal National College for the Blind. Something of a champion for those with disabilities, especially as her father was blind, she was also a patron for the Training College for Teachers of the Deaf in Ealing.
Princess Augusta, 1797 – 1889
The last permanent resident to be placed in the vault was Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, sister-in-law to George IV who was twenty years younger than her husband, taking great interest in the poor around Kew and in Hanover, where she lived for a time with her husband Adolphus, the Duke of Cambridge. Augusta was originally buried with her husband in St. Anne’s Church, Kew and moved by decree of Queen Mary, Elizabeth II’s grandmother, in 1930.
I can’t mention St. George’s Chapel and Royal burial vaults without mentioning this. The construction of a new vault sanctioned by the aforementioned George IV in 1813 led to the rediscovery of an old one by the South Quire Aisle which contained the remains of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII and Charles I. George, being a curious sort, when he was told of the discovery, dragged Royal physician Sir Henry Halford down into the depths to do some royal tomb-raiding, flaming torch and all.
George had a legitimate interest in trying to see where Charles I was buried as it was something of a question mark within the family, with Charles II trying – and failing – to see where it was exactly his father had been placed. Down George and Henry went; seeing 4 coffins in total – an infant of Queen Anne was also here – and promptly opened up Charles’ coffin to have a good old rummage, on April Fool’s day.
Astonishingly, they found that he was dead.
His skin was found to be discoloured, his nose had rotted away and the change in pressure caused one of Charles’ eyes to pop all over the taphophilic monarch. We know this from an account written by Henry, who neglected to mention that George took a couple of souvenirs before his coffin was soldered up again.
A tooth, a scrap of beard and the fourth cervical vertebrae of Charles eventually passed to Prince Albert, who under a very cross Queen Victoria’s instruction, had him return the body parts back into the vault in its own little wooden box in 1888.
The Royal Vault has often been a temporary holding place whilst other places of rest have been prepared.
Philip’s placing in the vault is similarly temporary: Edward VII was placed there in 1910 ahead of his own resting place and Philip’s mother was there for two decades before she was buried in Jerusalem. Now that the Queen has died, the King George V Memorial Chapel will be opened and he will be reunited with Her Majesty as well as her father, mother and sister.