Gateway to the Classics: Tales from Canterbury Cathedral by Mrs. Frewen Lord
Tales from Canterbury Cathedral by  Mrs. Frewen Lord

The Archbishops of Canterbury

We have now at last come to the choir and Trinity Chapel; and going up the great stone staircase which we saw in front of us when we were standing in the nave, and through the iron gates at the top of it, we find ourselves in the choir. In front of us is the altar, and to our right and to our left are the second transepts about which I told you.

Standing as we are here in the choir, we see the tombs and monuments of six archbishops: Archbishop Kemp, Archbishop Stratford, and Archbishop Sudbury on the right-hand side as we look towards the altar, and Archbishop Bouchier, Archbishop Howley, and Archbishop Chicheley on the left. Five are buried here, and one, Archbishop Howley, is buried in Addington churchyard. The stories of all six are most interesting, but I must not do more than tell you just a few words about each, so that when you come to read about them by-and-by, you may remember their names and that you saw their tombs in Canterbury Cathedral.

Archbishop Kemp was one of those soldiers of the Church who fought, not only for the Church, but also in battle for his King and country. He was with Henry V. at the battle of Agincourt; and when, on the King's return to England, a great thanksgiving was held in Canterbury Cathedral, it was Archbishop Kemp who read the service.

Archbishop Stratford you may already have heard of, for he was one of the twelve guardians appointed to look after little King Edward III. while he was still a child. But Queen Isabella the King's mother, and her counsellor, the Earl of Mortimer, were jealous of these twelve men; they wished to get rid of them, and themselves rule the King and the kingdom, and they were constantly plotting and planning as to how this was to be done. At last Stratford, who was then Bishop of Winchester, was obliged to fly for his life. With a little band of faithful friends he took refuge in the forests, where, in those days, outlaws and thieves lived by robbing travellers. It was a curious life for a bishop, but the robbers never harmed him or his followers. On the contrary, they used to come to the services which the bishop held every day in the woods, after which the whole congregation went a-hunting, for otherwise they would have starved. For some time this went on; then Mortimer died, and then once again Stratford was safe. Once again he left the forest, and very glad he must have been that for him, at any rate, the wild life in the woods was over at last. Not long afterwards he was made Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop Sudbury's is the next tomb. You most likely remember the story of the riots at the beginning of the reign of Richard II., when Wat Tyler persuaded the men of Kent to rebel against the King, whom they believed was trying to oppress them. They specially hated the archbishop, the friend and adviser of Richard. The riot, as you know, was soon put an end to—for the King himself rode out to meet the rebels, to hear their complaints, and to promise to consider them—but not before much harm had been done. On their way up to London the rebels had passed through Canterbury, and had taken the archbishop prisoner. He was carried up to London, and, after being imprisoned in the Tower, his head was cut off on Tower Hill. When the riots were over, his body was taken back to Canterbury and buried here in the choir.

Archbishop Bouchier may be chiefly remembered because he was archbishop for such a long time—thirty-two years; and because he crowned during that time three Kings of England—Edward IV., Richard III., and Henry VII.

The monument to old Archbishop Howley, who died in 1848, when he was eighty-three years old, and was buried in the little village of Addington, stands between the tombs of Bouchier and Chicheley. He it was who crowned Queen Victoria, on that June morning—June 28, 1838—so many years ago. Not only did he crown the Queen, but he also confirmed her, when she was sixteen years old, and married her to Prince Albert, in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace.

Archbishop Chicheley is the last of the six archbishops commemorated here in the choir. This tomb is the most decorated of any in Canterbury Cathedral, and it is looked after and kept in order by the College of All Souls, at Oxford, which he founded more than four hundred and fifty years ago. On the outside you will see a full-length figure of the archbishop in all his robes.

Now, as we pass through the little iron gate an our right hand, we find ourselves in the second transept about which I told you, and which is called the south transept of the choir. This transept is used as a chapel for the boys of the old King's School—the school where Bishop Broughton and George Gipps first met as boys. Here, every Sunday afternoon at five o'clock, they have their school service, instead of coming to the three-o'clock service in the choir. Here, too, you will see a beautiful bit of carving by Grinling Gibbons, who carved the choir-stalls in St. Paul's Cathedral. This is the old archbishop's throne, which was moved here when the new one, which we passed on our right hand just as we came out of the choir gate, was put up. The two little chapels in the south transept are those of St. John the Evangelist and St. Gregory. Leaving the south transept, and walking along the south aisle of the choir, we next pass the little chapel of St. Anselm. In front of us are two large iron gates, and going through these and up the stone steps, we find ourselves at last in Trinity Chapel, where the Black Prince and Henry IV. are buried, and where, in the very centre, the shrine of Thomas Becket used to stand. As we come into the chapel, we see, on our left hand, a black tomb, with the figure of a man in black armour, lying with his head resting on his helmet. This is the tomb of Edward the Black Prince. In the next chapter you will find the story of his life, and those of you who know it too well to want to read it again, must miss that chapter and go on to the next.

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