Henry III and the Painted Chamber

The Painted Chamber around 1799

In the 13th century King Henry III made several important alterations to the Palace of Westminster. Three of his splendid apartments survived until the 19th century: the Queen's Chapel, the Queen's Chamber and the King's Chamber or Painted Chamber.

The Painted Chamber around 1799

The Painted Chamber

The Painted Chamber was perhaps the most spectacular of these rooms. It was built by the King as a private apartment on foundations in parallel to the present-day St Stephen's Hall, and it is said that St Edward the Confessor had died in a room which previously occupied the site.

The room was as grand and as colourful as the King and his craftsmen could make it. It was long and narrow, and housed a canopied state bed at one end.

Magnificent paintings

It also served as a reception room, and was chiefly remarkable for the magnificent paintings that covered its walls.

The King's craftsmen began work on the paintings in 1226 and continued for nearly sixty years. In 1263, a fire destroyed the original decorations and they had to be repaired.

The paintings were reworked again in 1267 after a mob broke into the Palace and wrecked everything they could lay their hands on.

Painted murals

Several later kings also made additions to these painted murals. They depicted many biblical scenes in vivid colours, and were accompanied by a series of explanatory texts.

King Henry lay in the splendid state bed which stood against the wall, its posts painted green with gold stars, and he apparently complained about the draughts. Above his bed was a large painting of Edward the Confessor, to whom he was particularly devoted.

The squint

This wall of the Chamber contained a small opening known as a squint, thus giving the King a view of the altar in the adjacent chapel.

Although it was much degraded and damaged over the centuries, the Painted Chamber lasted more than six hundred years until it was demolished after the fire of 1834.

Ceiling fragments discovered

Two fragments from the ceiling of the Chamber, depicting a seraph and three prophets, were discovered in 1993 which testify to the quality of the other lost paintings within the Chamber.

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Henry III
St Edward the Confessor

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Did you know?

Henry III was responsible for rebuilding of Westminster Abbey, and promoted the cult of St Edward the Confessor. From his reign onwards, it became the practice to bury kings in the Abbey around the Confessor€™s shrine.