London Tickets
Tickets
English
GBP
Language
Currency
Contents

The Story of the Royal Peculiar | Westminster Abbey History

The history of Westminster Abbey can be traced back to its creation in 1050 when Edward the Confessor began building his church on the west end of Thorney Island. The foundation was laid by King Edgar around 1090 and it became an abbey during the late 1100s under Henry II.

Read further to know more about how the famous Westminster Abbey came into being and then grew to be what we know today.

Westminster Abbey timeline

  • 960: Benedictine monks establish a monastery at the site of what is now known as Westminster Abbey.
  • 1065: Edward the Confessor dedicates a newly built church, setting the stage for future royal coronations.
  • 1245: Henry III orders the rebuilding of Edward's church in the Gothic style, significantly enhancing its architectural grandeur.
  • 1539: During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII spares Westminster Abbey, converting it into a cathedral.
  • 1560: Elizabeth I re-establishes Westminster Abbey as a "Royal Peculiar," placing it under direct sovereign control, exempt from diocesan governance.
  • 1727: The Abbey becomes the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton, affirming its status as a burial site for prominent British figures.
  • 1953: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is held at Westminster Abbey and is televised worldwide, highlighting its global cultural significance.
  • 2011: The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton takes place at the Abbey, reaffirming its role in national celebrations.
  • 2022: The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is conducted at Westminster Abbey, underscoring its historical role in royal ceremonies.

History of Westminster Abbey explained

960: Establishment of Benedictine monastery

Founded around 960 AD, Westminster Abbey began as a Benedictine monastery on Thorney Island, a marshy delta where the Tyburn's two streams met the Thames. Its strategic location likely influenced its establishment. This initial monastery laid the foundation for what would evolve into a symbol of English history and architecture.

1065: Construction of the present church

In 1065, the dedication of a new church by Edward the Confessor marked a significant turning point for Westminster Abbey, establishing its long-standing role as the preeminent site for royal coronations. This pivotal event set the stage for the Abbey to become a central venue for major national ceremonies, solidifying its status as a quintessential symbol of British heritage and tradition.

1245: Rebuilding Edward's church

In 1245, Henry III initiated a transformative reconstruction of Edward the Confessor's church into the Gothic style, significantly elevating Westminster Abbey's architectural stature. This pivotal decision enhanced the Abbey's grandeur and cemented its role as a symbol of royal authority and religious reverence. The introduction of Gothic design elements during this renovation has contributed to the Abbey's iconic appearance.

1539: Dissolution and restoration

Westminster Abbey faced a dire threat during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. Henry VIII declared the Abbey a cathedral in 1540 to preserve it, exempting it from destruction. This strategic move safeguarded its future, allowing it to maintain its role in royal ceremonies and as a burial site for notable figures. In 1556, it was restored to its original status as a collegiate church.

1560: Westminster Abbey termed as Royal Peculiar

In 1560, Queen Elizabeth I reinstated Westminster Abbey as a "Royal Peculiar," affirming its exceptional status as a place of worship directly governed by the monarchy rather than the diocese. This decree not only underscored the Abbey's pivotal connection to the Crown but also highlighted its indispensable role in the tapestry of British heritage. 

1727: Burial of Sir Issac Newton

The burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 at Westminster Abbey marked a defining moment, establishing it as a preeminent resting place for distinguished British figures. By 1900, it had evolved into Britain's 'National Valhalla,' as described by writer William Morris, celebrating its status as a repository for the nation's most revered scientists, politicians, and military heroes.

1953: Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

The 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, the first fully televised coronation, marked a significant moment in broadcasting history. This historic event not only highlighted Westminster Abbey's role as a premier venue for grand ceremonies but also sparked a surge in television ownership, underlining the ceremony's widespread appeal and the Abbey's enduring importance on the international stage.

2011: Prince Willian and Catherine Middleton's wedding

The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey reaffirmed the venue’s storied tradition as a cherished site for royal nuptials, a tradition extending over 900 years. Their marriage on April 29, 2011, highlighted the Abbey’s timeless elegance and role in modern ceremonial life and celebrated historical continuity and new beginnings within the royal family.

2022: Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II

The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 2022 was a recent somber event that reinforced Abbey’s historic role in the British monarchy. Serving as a solemn venue for key royal ceremonies, the Abbey underscored its enduring significance as a place of national reverence and remembrance, highlighting its continuous association with the monarchy throughout centuries of British history.




Book Your Westminster Abbey Tickets

Westminster Abbey Entry Tickets
Instant confirmation
3 hr. - 4 hr.
Audio guide
Guided tour
More details
Combo (Save 5%): Westminster Abbey + Tower of London Tickets
Instant confirmation
Flexible duration
Audio guide
More details
from
£60.61
Westminster Abbey, Big Ben & Buckingham Palace Guided Tour
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
4 hr.
Guided tour
More details
Combo (Save 10%): Westminster Abbey + London Eye Tickets
Instant confirmation
30 min. - 3 hr.
Audio guide
More details
from
£59.10
Skip-the-Line Guided Tour of Westminster Abbey
Free cancellation
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
2 hr. - 3 hr.
Guided tour
More details
Westminster Abbey Guided Tour with Changing of the Guard
Free cancellation
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
Flexible duration
Guided tour
More details
Combo (Save 5%): Westminster Abbey + St. Paul's Cathedral Entry Tickets
Instant confirmation
Flexible duration
Audio guide
More details
from
£51.30
London Explorer Pass by Go City: Choose 2 to 7 Attractions
Free cancellation
Extended validity
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
Flexible duration
More details

Construction of Westminster Abbey

The construction of Westminster Abbey, a striking Gothic cathedral in London, commenced in 1245 under the directive of King Henry III. The project, led by esteemed masons like Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester, and Robert of Beverley, drew architectural inspiration from notable cathedrals such as Reims, Amiens, and Chartres. This influence was evident in the adoption of sophisticated features such as an apse with radiating chapels, pointed arches, ribbed vaulted ceilings, extensive cloisters, and innovative flying buttresses. Despite the immense challenges posed by the project's scale, the demand for highly skilled labor, and the complex logistics of material procurement, the construction of the abbey emerged as a testament to the zenith of Gothic architectural achievement, marrying majestic scale with meticulous detail to forge a lasting symbol of historical and architectural distinction.

Westminster Abbey today

Westminster Abbey continues to stand as an iconic and dynamic institution at the core of modern London. Despite enduring damage during World War II, this Gothic architectural jewel has perpetuated its longstanding tradition of daily worship, affirming its role as a crucial religious and cultural beacon in the UK. As a "Royal Peculiar" directly governed by the sovereign, the Abbey is a repository of historical artifacts and the final resting site for many of Britain's illustrious personalities. Its majestic architecture and central role in royal ceremonies such as coronations and weddings continue to draw millions of visitors annually, affirming the abbey's timeless allure as a destination that seamlessly interweaves history with contemporary vibrancy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Westminster Abbey History

When was Westminster Abbey founded?

Westminster Abbey was founded in 960 as a Benedictine monastery.

What is the significance of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey’s history?

Edward the Confessor built the original church on the site in 1065, establishing it as a royal burial church and a site for coronations.

How did Henry III contribute to Westminster Abbey’s architecture?

Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in the Gothic style starting in 1245, significantly enhancing its grandeur and establishing its architectural significance.

What makes Westminster Abbey a "Royal Peculiar"?

Westminster Abbey is a "Royal Peculiar," which means it is directly under the jurisdiction of the monarch, not a bishop, and has this status granted by Elizabeth I in 1560.

Who are some of the famous people buried at Westminster Abbey?

Notable figures include monarchs like Elizabeth I, scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, and writers like Geoffrey Chaucer.

When did Westminster Abbey first start hosting coronations?

The first coronation at Westminster Abbey was of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day, 1066.

What was the impact of World War II on Westminster Abbey?

Westminster Abbey suffered some damage during World War II but remained largely intact, continuing its operations and traditions amidst the conflict.

How has Westminster Abbey adapted its functions over the centuries?

Originally a Benedictine monastic church, it evolved into a national sanctuary for royal ceremonies and burials and an iconic venue for significant cultural events.

What recent restorations have been made to Westminster Abbey?

Recent restorations include the cleaning and repairing the exterior stonework and stained glass, ensuring the preservation of its heritage for future generations.