The Fitzalan Chapel is the resting place of the Earls of Arundel and the Dukes of Norfolk and their families.
It comprises a small chantry chapel along with the church's chancel or quire, Lady chapel and sacristy.
In his Will, dated 5th December 1375, Richard, the 3rd Earl of Arundel, bequeathed 1,000 marks for the setting up of a chantry in Arundel Castle to pray for his soul and the souls of his family. The Will stipulated:
Six Chaplains and three children, who shall know how to suitably read and sing for a perpetual Chantry to be made in the Chapel within my Castle of Arundel, to do all the Divine Service in the same chapel every day by mouth and for ever according to the use of Sarum and to pray for the souls of my Lord my Father, my Lady my Mother, myself, my Very Dear Wife, our children and of their successors.
In 1380, his successor, the 4th Earl of Arundel, gained permission from Richard II to set up the chantry of six secular chaplains (i.e. clergy not in religious orders) in the parish church instead. To these six chaplains seven others were added by the Earl, the number 13 of course symbolising Christ and his 12 Apostles. In addition the Earl proposed the further addition of Deacons and Sub-Deacons, Clerks and other officers, dedicating the whole foundation to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. The new College received episcopal confirmation from the Bishop of Chichester on 24th May, 1380, the Feast of Corpus Christi.
By the sixteenth century the College had gained a high degree of musical sophistication and today is known for the Arundel Choirbook (now kept at Lambeth Palace), which contains 7 Masses, 4 Magnificats, and 8 motets by Tudor composers such as Robert Fayrfax and Nicholas Ludford.
Listen to an extract of the Agnus Dei from the Mass 'O bone Jesu' by Robert Fayrfax:
Shortly before Henry VIII ordered the abolition of the chantries in 1544, the Master of the College, no doubt under considerable pressure, perhaps not least from his nephew the Earl, surrendered the College and its lands to the king. A few days later the king sold the property to the 12th Earl of Arundel. This, it would seem, included a small chantry chapel, the chancel or quire, Lady chapel and sacristy. Consequently, this part of the building was taken out of the hands of the Church and became the private property of the Earl and his descendants.
During the Civil War (1642-1651) the Roundheads used the chancel as a barracks. The chancel was subsequently all but destroyed. For many years it was neglected and left in a sorry state.
In the 1870s the Vicar of Arundel, supported by the Bishop of Chichester, challenged the ownership of the chancel. The response of the Earl’s successor, by then the Duke of Norfolk, was to order a brick wall to be built blocking the entire arch connecting the chancel to the nave. A lengthy and acrimonious lawsuit ensued which ended in 1879 with the judgement that the east end of the church was no longer an ecclesiastical property but the private property of the Duke.
The one good thing to come out of the dispute was that it galvanised the Duke to take responsibility for the Fitzalan Chapel, as it is now known, and embark upon a long-overdue restoration. Fortunately the brick wall was also eventually removed.
The grille separating the chancel from the rest of the church building was opened in 1977 for the first time in centuries. It was opened a further seven times over the next eighteen years but thereafter remained resolutely locked. In November 2018, however, the Duke kindly permitted the gates to be opened once more for a service to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.