Sudeley Castle is a beautiful castle in Gloucestershire, once the marital home of Lady Eleanor Talbot (Boteler) and once owned by Richard III, who built the banqueting hall, although most famed for being the burial place of Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.
So great are the attractions of the castle that many visitors miss out on the attractive nearby village of Winchombe and the interesting church of St James, which has many connections with the Boteler family.
The original church on the site was raised in Saxon times; later, there was a 12th century building raised on the site, but by the 15th c it had grown ruinous. It was completely rebuilt in 1452-62 by Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, the local Abbot, two churchwardens and the Town Bailiff. Ralph Boteler’s ancestors were buried in the earlier church’s ruins so he was eager to build a chantry chapel for them, and for the use of his family.
At the time the church was rebuilt, the area in which is stands looked very different to today. It stood in the shadow of a large monastic building–Winchcombe Abbey, which was completely destroyed in the Reformation. Not one stone of the Abbey remains visible today above ground, although several stone coffins from the abbey now lie in the present church and one of the doors bears the initials of the last Abbot.
The church is locally famous for the large numbers of unique grotesques set around the roofline. They are extremely large and humorous and are thought to represent those connection with the 15th c rebuild, including a moustached, widely grinning Ralph Boteler and his wife first Elizabeth (his second wife, Alice Deincourt, it might be noted, was Francis Lovell’s grandmother via her first marriage) The guard the porch, with its centrepiece of a winged angel holding a shield bearing the Boteler coatof arms. Ralph and Elizabeth’s only son Thomas Boteler, the first husband of Eleanor Talbot, is also thought to be reprented on St Peter’s. Thomas, holding an expensive short sword, is on the northern side of the building, gazing rather fiercely out in the direction of the castle. Sir Ralph’s image may appear a second time above the now-vanished vestry at the eastern end of the building; here, he wears a baron’s cap and carries a Sword of State. (Ralph was Henry VI’s standard-bearer.) These carvings are not the most famous of the grotesques, however–that honour goes to the Town Bailiff, who is wearing an extraordinary hate and pullin a face–he is said to be the inspiration for the illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter! Other figures include men with dogs who may be the churchwardens, a man with a fiddle, a singer, a labourer, and a Master Mason, who may be Robert Janyns, who was the architecht of Merton College in Oxford.
The interior is worth a visit too–the Lady Chapel was once the Chapel of St Nicholas and was the Boteler family chantry. No tombs now remain unfortunately, but on the other side of the church there is a truncated chancel screen which is 15th c. There is also a glass seraphim from arond 1450 in one of the windows, and behind a curtain, the church’s treasure–an altar cloth made of vestment orphrey between 1460-70. The colours still remain vibrant and the images clear even today.
Today in 1461, which was Palm Sunday, the Battle of Towton was fought, resulting in a Yorkist victory with large scale casualties. Legend has it that Henry VI fled to Muncaster Castle, then in Cumberland, where he gave his host Sir John Pennington a glass drinking bowl. It became known as the “Luck of Muncaster” such that both host family and deposed monarch would thrive so long as the bowl remained intact. It does today and the Penningtons (originally Alan de Penitone when granted the building in 1208) still own the castle, although the fragile Henry died just over ten years later.
This building was visited by Paul Rose in his recent BBC2 The Lakesseries.
If you go to Middleham, your priority will be to visit the castle of King Richard III but you can’t leave this fabulous town of the Dales without having a look at the church of St Mary and St Alkelda. This church is a must for visitors, especially Ricardians, and considering it is not a massive church, it has a lot to offer to those who love historical buildings.
The first church on the actual spot where the present church is built dates back to the 12th century but just a couple of stones are still there. The actual date of the foundation of the church seems to be the year 1280.
The dedication of the church is to the Virgin Mary and St Alkelda. Myth and folklore surround this saint and many even doubt her existence, even though in 1818, when the nave was dug, a stone coffin was found. When it was opened, the mortal remains of a woman were found and in the exact spot where tradition indicates St Alkelda was buried in the south east corner of the present church. The meaning of her name derives from the Old English – Norse healikeld in Modern English “holy well”. It seems that there was a well close to the church and the water was very effective for eye problems.
The new church was built around 1350 while the tower was added in 1450 approximately. St Alkelda was martyred around 800 AD so it is possible that a Christian society was already active in Middleham. However, we need to go to 1280 to have a church there with a nave, aisles and a chancel. The following year, Mary of Middleham was born. She is thought to have been the heiress to the castle and the patron of the church. The first mention of the church is found in a taxation document by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. The value of the church was fixed at £8. In 1310 the church was endowed with lands to increase the value of the building.
The Feast Day of St Alkelda was granted in 1388 by Richard II on 5th November and lasted 3 days. In 1470 Edward IV granted a license to found a chantry in the south aisle. Previously, in 1460 St Alkelda and the castle of Middleham was the house of Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. After the death of Richard, Duke of York, Cecily Neville of Raby, his wife, moved with her children to Middleham. Warwick made Edward Plantagenet King Edward IV but when this latter failed the Kingmaker’s expectations by “marrying” Elizabeth Woodville and not a French princess, Neville plotted against him, planning to put on the throne George Duke of Clarence, the King’s brother, or to restore Henry VI. The outcome was the battle of Barnet, where Warwick lost his life. Middleham castle and lands including the church were granted to the youngest of Cecily Neville’s sons Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. He married Anne Neville, one of Warwick’s daughters and inherited the Lordship of Middleham.
In 1477, possibly at Gloucester’s request, Edward IV, his brother, granted a license for transforming St Alkelda into a College with a Dean, six Chaplains, four Clerks, a Sacristan and six Choristers. In the Statute drawn up by Richard Gloucester, the Dean was appointed to lead perpetual masses for the Royal Yorkist family. A copy of the original statute is currently displayed on the left aisle under the white boar and the stained glass window depicting Richard and his family. When Richard became King Richard III, the church became known as the King’s College, Middleham. Sadly, in 1547, the Chantry was closed by Act of Parliament under Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church. It seems that the Collegiate title was one in name only because it was never listed as an exempted Collegiate church in the Act for the Dissolution of Chantries in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI.
In 1538 Thomas Cromwell decided to allow couples to marry in St Alkelda without a license or banns. This practice stopped in the 18th century. Because of this, St Alkelda was a sort of Gretna Green in Yorkshire.
In 1839, Dean Wood tried to revive the Chapter appointing six Canons and reinstated the Cathedral form of service. In 1845 the status of Royal Peculiar ended. The Dean became a Rector and St Alkelda an ordinary parish church under the Bishop of Ripon.
St Alkelda has many valuable objects and decorations. Apart from the 14th century relief of the Crucifixion and the 15th century glass depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom, the visitors can also appreciate the Saxon gravestones in the north aisle, the 14th century stone font and chancel arch. In addition to this, there is the Lady Chapel aisle with Richard III’s White Boar standard, a copy of his royal seal, a copy of the statute of the church signed by Richard Gloucester and the beautiful window depicting the King and his family.
There are many other artefacts and decorations in St Alkelda to see such as the medieval grave covers, the carved gargoyles, the copy of the Middleham jewel and much more. St Alkelda is a church belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Leeds.
St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way
There is a new plan going on as regards St Alkelda; a walking route around 35 miles long that follows an ancient prehistoric and Roman route for most of the way. It goes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it would take walkers 2-3 days to complete it depending on how experienced they were.
The route from Middleham goes via Coverdale, passing by little hamlets, Coverham Abbey, churches with monastic associations, evidence of ancient settlements, tumuli and an impressive earthwork. It then takes in Kettlewell (tourist centre), passes down Wharfedale to Kilnsey, up and into the limestone hill country, Mastiles Lane, an ancient trackway, Roman camp, the remains of 5 medieval wayfaring crosses. Il passes down Celtic and medieval field systems into Malham tourist centre and where the archaeological dig of St Helen’s chapel, holy well and graveyard, medieval and Anglo-Saxon, takes place in May. From there it goes past Malham Cove, peregrine falcon reserve, a spectacular limestone scenery, down to Stockdale Lane and descends to Ribblesdale past evidence of a Roman camp waterfalls, limestone caves where prehistoric and Romano-British remains have been found, Settle, market town and across the river to Giggleswick and its church.
On the route, we see how the different rocks – limestone and millstone grit mostly, produce different scenery, grass colours and flora. In St Alkelda’s day, there would have been marsh and bog around the rivers, woodland and even thick forest in places, the habitat of deer, wolves, bears, and wild boar. These animals are mentioned in some Celtic nature poetry, also Prayers for Protection! It was the monks and their sheep during the Middle Ages who changed the landscape to what it looks like today. The plan has just started but visitors and good walkers will soon enjoy the awesome St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way.
Clarendon Palace is a little known historical site. Most people in Salisbury know it’s there; less can tell you how to reach it. There is no car park; you won’t find tourist coaches. Pull in on the narrow leafy green lane then you must walk, like a Hobbit leaving the Shire, past farms and across a green landscape, eventually ascending a rise where you join a wooded track following the line of an old Roman road. Salisbury Cathedral spire is behind you, a needle in the haze; before you lie the woods, hiding all for a brief time. Then you see the trees part near a thatched cottage– a gaunt grey ruin appears before you in a field that is sometimes home to a pack of friendly llamas.
It is badly ruined; only one substantial wall remains, a stone platform with shallow steps and outlines of chambers in the ground. The steps to the one-time treasury lead into a slumping earthen pit. Bits of the red roof tiles lie scattered over the site; sometimes you can find one in good condition with the hole for a large medieval nail still intact.
These are the remains of a grand Plantagenet Palace. Henry II founded it and it was there his struggles with Thomas Becket began, but it was in the time of his grandson, Henry III, that it began to truly flourish. Henry enlarged and beautified it for his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, adding in a fireplace carved with figures representing the 12 months of the year, gardens, stained glass and a chapel painted with scenes from the life of St Katherine. The pink, golden and grey tiled floors were a wonder ; some were found in post-war excavations, and are now in the British Museum.
It was at Clarendon Palace in the summer of 1453, that Henry VI first exhibited his first signs of madness–he became catatonic, slumped down insensible. Chroniclers stated he ‘suddenly was taken and smitten with a frenzy and his wit and reason withdrawn’.
After that, the Palace was seldom in use (although, interestingly, another possible mistress of Edward IV was called ‘Catherine of Claringdon’, which is probably Clarendon), falling into total disrepair after 1485. Elizabeth I stopped there once but the chambers were so ruinous by that time she had to find alternative accommodation in a ‘banqueting hall.’
Recently it has been announced that new excavations will be taking place at the Palace, the first in over 30 years, and there are plans to hold a medieval fair in 2020 (it will be interesting to see how they work that one with the parking!) Perhaps there are still treasures to be found and maybe the Palace will become better known, but I hope in a way it never becomes too popular, for as it stands, in ruined isolation, you can imagine the presence of shades of kings, with the only sounds in the world being the wind in the trees and the birdsong…
There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.
The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth
The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.
Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.
The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.
Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.
For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.
The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon
For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.
The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?
Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.
Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.
Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.
Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?
There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).
It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.
The Battle of Wakefield took place on 30th December, 1460. It ended when Richard, Duke of York, lost his life. As did his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland. The victors were the Lancastrians, in the name of their feeble-minded king, Henry VI.
York’s claim to the throne finally came to fruition in the forms of two of his other sons, Edward IV and the youngest, Richard III. And one of Richard’s favourite homes—if not the most favourite—was Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.
But Middleham Castle was around for a long time before Richard came along, and was still there when he had gone. To read more of its history, which includes the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, go here.
It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.
At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.
The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.
That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.
Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.
It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.
After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.
As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.
Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.
The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.
Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.
We all know Henry VI, saintly and incompetent, with a French Fury for a wife. Well, that’s how the tradition goes. But do we all know that he was also crowned King of France? You can read about it here.
I must have read about this before, but it feels new somehow. Supposedly, the man in blue (see below) is Richard of Gloucester/Richard III. The illustration is part of the Coventry Tapestry, which is housed in St Mary’s Guild Hall, and which is still in the place for which it was created. I wasn’t sure if the kneeling king on the bottom left was EIV or HVII (the latter didn’t seem likely, as the figure is alive, and Richard certainly wasn’t when Henry became king).
“A figure depicted in the magnificent 500 year old tapestry at St. Mary’s Guildhall could well be one of the earliest depictions of King Richard III, whose remains, discovered in 2012 beneath a Leicester car park, were recently confirmed as those of the controversial English monarch.
“The tapestry’s highly detailed design includes seventy five individual characters, including angels, saints, apostles, and noble members of a royal court, arranged around a central image of the Virgin Mary. Whilst no contemporary records exist as to the exact identity of many of the characters, certain clues have been observed that strongly suggest that Richard is amongst them.
[See illustrations below for the footnotes in the text.]
“Firstly, the figure is shown carrying a coin ¹ in his right hand, used elsewhere in art of the time to represent a ‘Judas’ character with a history of treachery for personal gain, whilst in his left hand the figure was originally depicted holding a snake ² – another emblem of evil and deviousness – which at a later date was removed leaving a distinctive outline.
“By way of further evidence, the figure bears a striking resemblance to two of the earliest, and most trusted, portraits of King Richard III in the collection of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, from eye colour and hair curls, right down to slightly deformed hands and misshapen shoulders ³. Intriguingly, it has been proposed that one of these portraits was painted by Sir Thomas More, who may have been familiar with the tapestry as he came to Coventry on several occasions to visit his sister who lived in the city.
“Whilst Richard III had died a few years before the dating of the tapestry, it is thought that the tapestry depicts an earlier period, that of King Henry VI – who is also shown on the tapestry – when Richard was Richard of Gloucester. Henry VI was revered for many years after his death, with miracles even recorded in his name, and he was fondly remembered in Coventry where he chose to base himself and his royal court for a period during the Wars of the Roses. Under the new Tudor monarchy of Henry VII it was politically wise to maintain, and even encourage, adoration of the much-loved Henry VI. Moreover, showing such respect for the old Lancastrian King Henry, gave the Tudor monarch a chance to boost his image, tarnished by his weak claim to the throne and the manner in which he seized it from the Yorkist Richard III in battle.
“There were suspicions that Richard was linked to the death of King Henry VI in 1471, and placing Richard in the tapestry with symbols of dastardly deeds may have been a subtle piece of propaganda, with those behind the tapestry not only remembering their favourite king, but also pleasing the new Tudor monarchy by presenting Richard as the baddie in this wonderful woven story.”
This article provides an interesting interpretation of magnificent windows that are to be found in various churches, including King’s College, Cambridge. Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII had a royal hand in these masterpieces.
Henry VII, of course, went overboard with all his heraldic symbols, and at King’s College (see illustration above) he had all the usual Tudor badges on display, to which he added the hawthorn tree in which Richard III’s crown was supposedly found. Looking at the illustration, I suppose the greenery on the left depicts said hawthorn tree. Unless the hawthorn is in the part of the window that is not shown.