History

Royals & the Abbey

Westminster Abbey has always enjoyed close links with the monarchy not least in its unbroken role as the coronation church since 1066.

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Kings and queens have been significant benefactors of the Abbey, beginning with King Edgar (reigned 959–75) who gave the original monastic community at Westminster substantial lands covering most of what is now the West End of London. Almost a hundred years later King Edward (later Edward the Confessor) established his palace close to this monastic community and built for it a large stone church which became his own burial place. In the mid-thirteenth century Henry III rebuilt the Confessor’s church, providing the Gothic building we have today. Henry’s own burial here in 1272 established Westminster as the principal royal burial place for the next 500 years. Richard II, Henry V, Henry VII and Elizabeth I were all influential in shaping the Abbey’s history.

Westminster Abbey or - to use its formal name - the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, is a ‘Royal Peculiar’. This means it is a free chapel of the Sovereign, exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction other than that of the Sovereign. Royal Peculiars originated in Anglo-Saxon times and developed as a result of the unique relationship between the Norman and Plantagenet Kings and the English Church. In 1222 the Abbey was declared a Papal Peculiar, exempt from the jurisdiction of both the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It has been a Royal Peculiar since 1533 when the Ecclesiastical Licences Act, as confirmed by the Act of Supremacy of 1559, transferred to the Sovereign the jurisdiction which had previously been exercised by the Pope. Other Royal Peculiars include St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and the Chapels Royal.

To find out more about the Abbey's Royal links use the menu on the left.