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Edward & Richard in Oxford

Oxford is well-known for its stunning medieval college buildings. It would take days, if not weeks, to carefully visit them all.

Several, however, have items of particular interest to those who study the House of York and Wars of the Roses time period.

The old Divinity School is an interesting stop. It was built between 1427-1483 and was an area for oral examinations and theology discussions. Apparently the exams could take days in the Middle Ages, with people wandering in and out! The groined hall is very beautiful, with very fine fan-vaulting which probably dates from the 1480’s. There are over 400 bosses which are intriguing to view, containing shields, beasts, initials, flowers and inscriptions. . Right in the centre  of the chamber you can quickly pick out Edward IV’s arms and the Sunne in Splendour. Apparently Edward never came here, but the builders of the day thought it best to honour him anyway.

(While there, is is well worth seeing Duke Humphrey’s Library upstairs. Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was an early book afficionado who had manuscripts translated from Greek to Latin. Upon his in 1447 death, he donated all his manuscripts, almost 300 of them,  to the University. The library which took his name was set up as another storey to the already-existing Divinity school. Several of  Humphrey’s books still survive…though, alas,  most of the original books were pilfered by the King’s Commisioners in 1550…)

Magdalen College is another Oxford site of great interested. Begun by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, in 1458, but the main building phase did not begin until 1467, when the encircling wall was raised. In 1474 chapel, cloisters, hall and library were built. The charitect was primarily William Orchard, who also designed the famous ceiling of the Divinity School.

Edward IV visited the college in 1481 and was welcomed by Waynflete, who, having been a loyal Lancastrian, asked for and received a royal pardon. Many Yorkist symbols can be found throughout the buildings, including a statue of a rather stern-looking Edward on the college’s front gate.

Inside, under the roof of the pulpit,  there appears to be the Rose en Soleil…but having been painted red (or repainted) , it has become a Tudor Rose, possibly when the famous tall tower was added in the 1490’s. There also appears to be the possible royal coat of arms in the Cloisters, and a number of rose carvings.

There is also another statue of a king (restored, maybe replaced) above the inside gateway into the cloisters–it is not certain who it is. Some have said Henry VI but this seems unlikely given the dates of construction. Some have said it’s another depiction of Edward. It may well  be, but it looks a quite different from the statue  in the gateway, smaller, less stern, with curlier hair. I have always though–why not Richard? And why not? He was here while on his first progress in 1483, and stayed to hear several lectures. There was certainly time to commomorate his stay, and it would not be surprising if any possible added statuary fell out of common knowledge after Bosworth (just as the Silver Boar given to an Cambridge College ended up for many years mislabelled as being  a gift of Richard II!)

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Henry Tudor, Merevale Abbey, St Armel…and dear old Thomas Stanley….

Artist impression of Merevale Abbey

Artist’s impression of Merevale Abbey, North Warwickshire

 

After a comment by David, about suns in splendour and white roses in the window glass above (see his comment here ) I decided to investigate more about the window at Merevale Abbey.

There is, of course, a boar in the window glass at Merevale. Well, more a pig than a boar, and it’s brown and doesn’t seem in the least like Richard III’s white boar.  So I think I can confine myself here to the image which started this article.

brown boar

My investigations unearthed a few things about Merevale I did not know before. For instance at https://henrytudorsociety.com/category/tudor-locations/, from which I have taken the following:

“…It is possible that it was at Merevale that Henry Tudor fatefully met with his stepfather Thomas Stanley. The Stanleys’ intervention the following day on the side of Tudor rather than Richard III is often seen as the decisive moment of the battle. Was a plan hatched by the men whilst they were in the abbey grounds? A later observer remarked ‘it was a goodly sight to see the meeting of them’ whilst Tudor’s biographer Polydore Vergil would later write that Tudor and Stanley took each other by the hand ‘and yielding mutual salutation’ entered into ‘counsel in what sort to arraigne battle with King Richard’.

“Later evidence has been used to support the theory that Henry’s army stayed at Merevale Abbey. As king Henry issued a warrant reimbursing the abbey with 100 marks having ‘sustained great hurts, charges and losses, by occasion of the great repair and resort that our people coming towards our late field made, as well unto the house of Merevale aforesaid as in going over his ground, to the destruction of his corns and pastures’. Payments were also made to other settlements in the region, including £24 20s 4d to Atherstone, £20 to Fenny Drayton and £13 to Witherley amongst other townships.

“Furthermore in September 1503 the king returned to Merevale whilst on progress and visited the abbey. He commemorated his great victory by sanctioning a new stained glass window depicting his favoured saint, Armel. The decision to use a saint that was very personal to him as opposed to a national symbol like George suggests Henry felt a deep connection with Merevale and wanted to convey his appreciation for the role the abbey played in his victory. The small figure of Armel can still be viewed in the South Aisle of the Gate Chapel, a rare depiction of this saint in England. Another place the saint can be viewed is in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey where a statue of Armel is located close to the magnificent tomb of the king. On 30 October 1511 Henry Tudor’s son and successor Henry VIII paid a visit to the abbey with his wife Queen Katherine of Aragon…”

If the above is true, what a pair of snakes met up at Merevale on the eve of Bosworth! I can almost hear them slithering and hissing toward each other.

There is more about the abbey itself at https://henrytudorsociety.com/2015/08/20/merevale-abbey/ and http://www.richardiiiworcs.co.uk/atherstonethumbnails.html

Incidentally, I’m sure Henry VII would have been shocked to know what would happen to the abbey—indeed all abbeys—during the preposterous reign of his son, Henry VIII.

Anyway, this started off as a look at St Armel’s mitre in the Merevale window. I have not seen it myself, so resorted to Google. Sure enough there is a white rose, but not a sun in splendour. It is a rose en soleil, a rose in the sun. This was most certainly a widely known Yorkist badge. It seems a little strange that Henry VII would have wanted it displayed so prominently on his saint’s mitre. Except, of course, that it might have acknowledged the saint’s gift, to Henry, of not only Richard III’s stolen crown, but also Richard’s eldest niece, Elizabeth of York. Both prizes were tucked neatly under the Tudor belt. It was no justice.

The following are examples of the Yorkist rose en soleil:-

I haven’t yet found a Tudor rose in splendour, but no doubt there is one somewhere. Perhaps they’ve all withered. That would be justice!

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