Thorney Tales

 

Westminster Abbey and its monastic surrounds have seen more great scenes of history than practically anywhere else but seldom more poignantly than the last visit of Henry IV.  In 1413 Henry was on his way to the Holy Land in order to do penance for his misdeeds when he took ill, probably as a result of a stroke, while praying at the shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor in the Abbey.

He was carried unconscious to the Jerusalem Chamber in the Abbot's house and was seated by the fire. Much of the original stonework is still there as is the ceiling above and the walls behind the Victorian panelling. When he recovered his consciousness he asked where he was and was told the "Jerusalem Chamber". He realised then that he was about to end his life because of a prophecy mentioned in the Holinshed Chronicles that he would die in Jerusalem.

Shakespeare took the story further. In Henry IV Part 1, he allows Prince Henry, the future Henry V, to slip into the chamber and, believing his father to be dead, to try on the crown only for Henry lV to wake up in anger.  Father and son, however, were soon reconciled and Henry IV realised that dying in this room fulfilled his destiny:
             
"It hath been prophesied to me many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos’d the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber, there I’ll lie,
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."

The Jerusalem Chamber was also the place where the committee overlooking the writing of the beautifully written King James Bible met and where many celebrated people such as Isaac Newton were laid to rest before being buried in the Abbey.  Today it is one of the private rooms of the Deanery - but it can be glimpsed from outside as it is the room above the Abbey bookshop adjacent to the main entrance. It is not open to the public except on certain open days but sometimes events and lectures are held there which are free to attend.