Cloisters were not a necessary part of a medieval palace chapel, so it may come as a surprise that there were three successive cloisters on the same site next to St Stephen's. The first dated from the 1350s, when Edward III started building a cloister for the recently-completed chapel. We don't know whether it had been finished before Richard II built a lavish new cloister as part of his refurbishment of the entire palace, including Westminster Hall, at the end of the fourteenth century. Finally, a two-storey cloister was built in the early sixteenth century.
The original use of the cloisters only lasted for twenty years before the college was dissolved. After this, they became housing and offices for the Exchequer and then were part of the Speaker's House.
Along with Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower (opposite St Stephen's Entrance to the modern Houses of Parliament), this cloister is the only part of the medieval palace to survive. Today, they are not accessible to visitors but are still used by Parliamentary staff.
Cloisters were used for certain parts of church services and for burials of canons, as well as for linking together buildings. We know that this is how they were used at St Stephen's, where the vicars lived in houses along the cloister. A more unexpected development came in 1533, when Henry VIII had a gallery cut through from the cloister into Westminster Hall on the first-floor level so that he could watch Anne Boleyn's coronation feast in the Hall. He could have just gone to the feast!
Last updated April 2017