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ST MARY’S CHURCH, FAIRFORD: ROYAL PORTRAITS

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St Mary’s, Fairford, Gloucestershire.  ‘A complete and perfect Perpendicular church’  and famous for it fine collection of medieval glass.

Described in Betjeman’s Best British Churches as ‘a complete and perfect Perpendicular’ church(1) this beautiful wool church was rebuilt by John Tame, a wool merchant from Gloucester , in the late 15th Century to replace a much older church.  The tower had already been rebuilt by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Lord of the manor around 1430.  St Mary’s possesses a complete set of medieval stained glass, amongst the finest in England and it is this glass that I want to focus on now.  The glass was made between 1500 and 1517 and, other than the west window, which was severely damaged in a storm in 1703 and later restored, the glass has somehow miraculously survived, although how this has happened remains a mystery.  It has been suggested it has survived because of the royal portraits contained in them. The windows are thought to have been a gift from Henry Vll himself.  It should be remembered that when Henry had the young Edward Earl of Warwick executed in 1499 he seized his estates which included Fairford.  It has also been suggested that Henry may have then given the manor to Prince Arthur whose badge of ostrich feathers and motto appear in some of the windows and one of the portraits is thought to have been modelled up his wife, Katherine of Aragon.  Thirty years after Arthur’s death Henry Vlll presented Fairford manor to Katherine of  Aragon after he had divested her of her title of queen.  The portraits are mostly members of the Tudor royal family and influential people in the Tudor court  although one of them is thought to be of a Plantagenet, that of Henry’s brother-in-law, the young Edward of Westminster, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’   Other portraits were modelled on Henry himself, obviously, his wife Elizabeth of York, Catherine of Aragon, Prince Arthur, Henry’s  daughters Mary and Margaret and a young Henry Vlll and last but not least Margaret Beaufort (2)   I also think its possible that one of them is based on Richard lll, but that is purely my own speculation.

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Nave, north aisle, north Window.  The figure of the Queen of Sheba is believed to be a likeness of Elizabeth of York

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Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, North window.  Jesus as a small boy in the temple modelled on a young Henry Vlll possibly.

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Holbein’s sketch of Henry Vlll as a child to compare IMG_3802.JPG

Nave,north aisle, west window.  The figure of Solomon is thought to have been modelled on Edward of Westminster, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’ and brother to Elizabeth of York

 

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Nave, north aisle, west window.  Could this figure be Morton? It has been described as Wolsey but I disagree.  

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A wooden boss on the roof of Bere Regis church thought to represent Morton in comparison.

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Chancel, south chapel, Corpus Christi Chapel, east window.  This version of the Virgin Mary is believed to have been modelled on Mary Tudor, Henry Vll’s daughter.   See picture below to compare likenesses.

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A portrait of Mary Tudor to compare to her likeness in the above portrait of her at Fairford.

 

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Nave, West Window.  The figure with the crown is thought to be that of Henry Vll entering Heaven.

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Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window.  The Magus is believed to have been modelled on Prince Arthur.

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Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window.  Two royal likenesses here.  It it thought that the Virgin Mary was modelled after Catherine of Aragon while that of the attendant with the doves is modelled on Margaret Tudor, Henry Vll’s daughter.  Could the lady in red be modelled on Margaret Beaufort?

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Two kings here..Henry Vl on the left and Henry Vll on the right.

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Purely my speculation here but could the warrior holding the severed head be a Tudor representation of King Richard lll?  For surely one shoulder has been depicted higher than the other one! 

I am  indepted to the excellent Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi  online for these images

(1) Sir John Betjeman, updated by Richard Surman, Betjeman’s Best British Churches p.270

(2) Sir Nickolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Gloucestershire 1. The Cotswolds, p367 

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Blanche Mortimer – The Grandison Monument

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In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

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Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward ll.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger, was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detailed  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

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The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

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Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

 

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Blanche’s lead coffin

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Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

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St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

 

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