Westminster Abbey has been the burial place of Britain`s monarchs since 11th century and the setting for many coronations and royal weddings. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in London, with an exceptionally diverse array of architectural styles, ranging from the austere French Gothic of the nave to the astonishing complexity of Henry VII`s chapel. Half national church , half national museum , the abbey aisles and transepts are crammed with an extraordinary collection of tombs and monuments honouring some of Britain`s greatest public figures, ranging from politicians to poets.
At a height of 31 m (102 ft) the nave is the highest in England.The ratio of height to width is 3:1.
The coronation ceremony is over 1000 years old and since 1066, with the crowning of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day , the abbey has been its sumptuous setting. The coronation of Queen Elisabeth II, in 1953, was the first to be televised.
Historical plan of the Abbey
The first abbey church was established as early as the 10th century,but the present French-influenced Gothic structure was begun in 1245 at the behest of Henry III. Because of its unique role as the coronation church, the abbey escaped Henry VIII`s onslaught on Britain`s monastic buildings.
The Coronation Chair,constructed in 1301 , this chair has been used at every coronation since 1308.
The chapel , built in 1503-19 , has superb late Perpendicular vaulting and choir stalls dating from 1512
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror, or William the Bastard as he was known in his day, was the illegitimate son of Robert I , duke of Normandy. William was also descended from Ragnald, the ancestor of the earls of Orkney.
William had already demonstrated his strength as a commander and soldier. His life was one of almost constant warfare as he carved out for himself a position as one of the most powerful and, when necessary, a ruthless of his day.
William had changed England irrevocably. His total domination had within less than a generation, almost eradicated the Saxon aristocracy and imposed a feudal society run by a small handful of Normans. The language difficulties added further to the alienation,but perhaps the most significant difference was in the lifestyle. Although the Normans were descended from the Vikings, they no longer looked to the north as their ancestral home, unlike the Saxons whose inheritance was from northern Europe. The Normans had taken on the more sophisticated lifestyle of the French, which brought with it power,grandeur and aloofness of an upper-class existence. William used England as his playground, establishing the New Forest in Hampshire for his hunting. He had no liking for the English or, for that matter, for England , seeing it only as a rich source of revenue. Although his harsh rule brought peace to England , where man was apparently able to travel without fear of crime, this was only because the English lived in much greater fear of revenge and retribution from their Norman overlords. It created a rift between the nobility and the common man which remained in Britain for centuries.