A cage of stone
Transformed into a cathedral at the Reformation, John Goodall explains why this great abbey is one of medieval England’s greatest architectural survivals
Eight hundred years ago, on October 28, 1216, a nine-year-old boy was crowned king of England at gloucester. to those who attended the hurriedly improvised ceremony in the great abbey church, now the cathedral, henry iii’s future must have appeared deeply uncertain. the kingdom he inherited from his father, John, was wracked by civil war and its principal cities—including London and the Coronation church of Westminster Abbey were in the hands of his rival, the Dauphin of France. Prince Louis also held the royal regalia, so henry was forced to use a chaplet as a crown, perhaps a piece of his mother’s jewellery.
it is one of the fascinations of gloucester Cathedral that, paradoxically, although the church has changed almost beyond recognition since 1216, the fabric that reverberated to the shouts of henry’s acclamation remains substantially intact. the abbey claimed descent from a monastery of monks and nuns dedicated to St Peter, established in about 679 by Osric, King of the hwicce, within the walls of a former Roman colonia. this settlement for retired legionaries, the successor to a fort, was called glevum and was established in about