begun by royal munificence now stands shamefully abandoned.” When the king visited Cambridge in 1506, only five bays had been built, but they had a timber roof, and the open end was boarded and decorated with the arms of the Knights of the Garter painted on paper. Prompted by his mother, and for political reasons, Henry VII decided to finish the chapel. In 1508 work recommenced on a large scale. Although Henry died the following year, his will provided for the work to be completed. By 1512 the stone frame was finished, and his executors found extra money for the magnificent fan vaulting—called by some “the noblest stone ceiling in existence”—designed by the master mason John Wastell. Within three years the structure was complete, and the painted-glass main windows—the most complete set to survive from Tudor times—were finished in 1537. The latter works had been executed under Henry VIII, and when he died in 1547, King’s College Chapel was internationally recognized as an architectural masterpiece.


King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England; Reginald of Ely, John Wolrich, Simon Clerk, and John Wastell, architects, 1446–1537. Interior, showing Wastell’s fan-vaulted ceiling. From an illustration of 1815.

Much of the unique early design of the chapel can be ascribed to Reginald of Ely, who continued to supervise the work until 1461. The interior is a single vast space 289 feet (88 meters) long and 40 feet (12.2 meters) wide, under a soaring, 80-foot-high (24.4-meter) vault. Some scholars believe that the fan vault was proposed to replace a much simpler lierne vaulting system during master mason Simon Clerk’s appointment. King’s College Chapel has no side aisles, but ranges of minor chapels and vestries are accommodated between the deep buttresses on the north and south sides. The only subdivision of the entire space, and that just in part, is made by a half-height choir screen, above which the intricate forms of the high vaulting can be seen marching in stately procession toward the altar. The carved oak screen (ca. 1531–1536), in the uninformed mimetic manner of the early English Renaissance, was commissioned by Henry VIII; it is emblazoned with his monogram and Anne Boleyn’s. Its clumsy design provides an apt foil for the high refinements of English Gothic architecture seen everywhere else in the building. Almost 70 percent of the walls above the dado (that is, all except the buttresses) are made of painted glass, making the huge interior light and airy and accentuating the stone lacework of the vaults.

Further reading

Heyman, Jacques. 1995. The Stone Skeleton: Structural Engineering of Masonry Architecture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Leedham-Green, Elisabeth. 1996. A Concise History of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Leedy, Walter C. Jr. 1980. Fan Vaulting: A Study of Form, Technology, and Meaning. Santa Monica, CA: Arts and Architecture Press.

The Krak of the Knights


Once described as “the key of Christendom,” the concentric castle known as the Krak of the Knights stood on the 2,000-foot-high (611-meter) southern spur