There is an issue with Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, who was shot and beheaded by Vikings, today in 869. He isn’t England’s patron saint, although he is far more English than St. George, who is thought to have originated in modern-day Turkey or Syria. However, unlike St. Edward the Confessor, whose brother-in-law Harold II and great-niece Margaret of Wessex are ancestors of centuries of English and British monarchs, St. Edmund does not seem to be connected to our Royal family at all, even though he reigned during the late Heptarchy and counted Raedwald and the other Wuffings among his predecessors. In short, he is a genealogical island.
Now it seems that St. Edmund, as were Richard III, Henry I and other kings, is on the verge of being rediscovered in plain sight, under a tennis court in his case.
In the small quaint Hampshire village of Nether Wallop, filming location for the BBC’s MISS MARPLE, stands St Andrew’s church, a medieval establishment built on Saxon foundations. From the exterior it looks rather ordinary (save for the strange funerary pyramid in its grounds!) but inside is a glory of wall-paintings dating from the Saxon era to the 15th century.
The Saxon paintings are of the Winchester School, usually only seen in illuminations, and are exceeding rare, unique in the country as being the only wall paintings of this date in situ. Angels frolic over the chancel arch, the survivors of a grander mural which culminated at the centre with Christ in Majesty. (Jesus has now vanished, unfortunately, leaving just the angels on the sides of the arch.)
Along the rest of the church walls are further paintings from the early to mid-15th century, an eroded St Nicholas of Myrna and a wonderfully vivid depicture of St George slaying a dragon to rescue the Princess Cleodolinda. The dragon and George do battle below a tall tower, watched by a well preserved King and Queen, the King looking pleased at George’s prowess and the Queen slightly concerned!
Just down from them is a slightly patchy though very large figure which gives an insight into medieval religious thought in the 1400’s. It depicts the legends of the Sabbath Breakers and the woes you will bring upon Christ and yourself if you do not rest on the Sabbath as God decreed! Christ’s leg is showed being wounded by an axe and a knife; there are also depictions of other tools of the trade from the 15thc including scales and a quern, among others less discernable.
All or some of the 15thc wall paintings may have been comissioned by Mary or Maria Gore, an Abbess of Amesbury in Wiltshire. Her brass lies on the floor in the centre of the nave and is a rarity in itself–the only brass of an Abbess still existing in England.
Combining my two great loves, history and art, I want to look at some of the imagery used to depict Plantagenet kings during the period and taking a few examples examine what the visual language may be telling us about how kingship was viewed and how the kings themselves wanted to be perceived.
Imagery as propaganda – of course, imagery linked to concepts of status and power – certainly, imagery as a means of establishing a link with another age – well that’s much more subjective yet many of us might admit to studying the faces of those kings whether it be on their tomb effigies or in portraits which have survived and longing to understand them or to read something of their drives and motivations from the shading and stance, the lines on their faces and the expression of their gaze. This is a very understandable human response to the mystery…
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‘O for pity!–we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils,
Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,
The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,
Minding true things by what their mockeries be.’
I have always been fascinated by the battle of Azincourt since I first watched the grainy images of Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version on a wet afternoon off school sick as a child. What I found so compelling about the film was the layer on layer interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. Olivier set the action in The Globe theatre of 1600 with his actors wearing Elizabethan dress and contemporary hair styles but then as the camera moved through a gauzy curtain as he took the action to Southampton the viewer was transported back to August 1415 and the costumes changed to elaborate and very beautiful copies of C15th dress as he left the confines of…
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