College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

The mysterious history of the Charles I stall plate

May 15th, 2017

King Charles I was installed as a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 13 May 1611, at the age of ten. He is the only member of the Order ever to have a stall plate mounted in St George’s Chapel under the title of King of Great Britain.

At the time of his installation, the young prince held the title of Duke of York; he was the younger son of the king and not expected to inherit the throne. However, little more than a year later his elder brother, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, became very ill and died, elevating his younger brother to the position of heir to the throne. He became king following his father’s death in 1625.

Very unusually, although there is no surviving marker of Charles’s childhood election, a plate hangs in the third stall on the south side of the quire reading (in French, which is the tradition for Garter stall plates), “Charles, by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland”. The monarch is a de facto member of the Order of the Garter, not an elected one, and normally would not receive a stall plate, unless elected earlier in life and then it would be inscribed with their title at that time.

This particular plate is known to have been placed in the quire in 1950 by command of the then king, George VI. Prior to that it is thought that no stall plate for Charles I had hung in St George’s Chapel since at least the time of the English Civil War – the conflict which saw him dethroned and imprisoned in Windsor Castle before his execution in January 1649 and subsequent burial in St George’s Chapel.

The plate was not created in the twentieth century, but rather gives every impression of dating from the seventeenth century. Minor Canon Edmund Fellowes examined the plate before it was mounted and found what appeared to be test-inscriptions on the back including dates from the late seventeenth century. The copper is tarnished in a manner that suggests it had been fixed to a wooden panel at some time in the past.

Despite this, after the plate was brought to the Dean and Canons’ attention in the 1920s, it was dismissed for many years as a forgery purely because of the anomaly of being inscribed with the title of king. However, in 1942 it was examined by Harold Soper – a specialist in this art form who cared for many of the Garter stall plates when they were removed from the Chapel during the Second World War. Soper concluded that the engraving had been done by the same artist responsible for other Garter stall plates, including that of Charles’s older brother, the Prince of Wales, and his brother-in-law, Frederick, King of Bohemia. He found nothing to indicate forgery or later imitation. [Fellowes, E.H. in The Society of the Friends of St George’s and the Descendants of the Knights of the Garter, Annual Report 1949, pp. 14-17]

The full history of this plate remains a mystery. When was it created? When was it first mounted in St George’s Chapel and why was it later taken down? Where did it go between that time and 1928? Speculation has been made on all of these points, but the true answers will probably never be known to us.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

St George at St George’s – a hidden treasure

April 20th, 2017

St George stained glass panel

In 1965 this stained glass panel was discovered behind plaster in No 2, Canon’s Cloister. It depicts an armoured St George standing on a flower strewn mound and spearing the dragon through the mouth. The detail in the panel, which measures 48 x 30 cm, is quite remarkable and certainly merits close examination.

The plaster which covered and preserved the panel probably dated from the 1640s. The glass was almost perfectly intact, with only part of the dragon missing. Upon its discovery, the panel was mounted in a seventeenth century casement and moved to the Aerary to be stored with the archives. In 1977 the Society of Friends and Descendants offered to pay for the panel to be restored and inserted into the west window of the Deanery Chapel. The Cathedral Studios at Canterbury took on the task of restoring the panel to its former glory and it was installed in its new home in the early 1980s. Today the panel can be seen both from inside the Deanery Chapel and from the Dean’s Cloister.

When it comes to dating the panel, it is possible to examine both the style employed and the apparel of St George. The purity and distinction of the figure of St George is characteristic of work in the international style of the fifteenth century. The style of St George’s plate armour suggests that the glass was painted in the early Lancastrian period (1399-1471). As the home of the Order of the Garter and of English chivalry, the figure of the patron saint displayed at Windsor may have been expected to wear fully contemporary armour. Consequently, we can estimate the date of the panel as being in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, at the height of the French wars. This makes it one of the earliest surviving examples of stained glass in the College.

This blogpost marks the end of this series on the St Georges of St George’s. Of course, the depictions of St George that we have examined over the past few weeks are by no means exhaustive. In the Chapel Archives alone, he appears hundreds of times, impressed in wax on the College Seal (find out more). So next time you visit the College, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other images of this dragon-slaying martyr.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

St George at St George’s – the martyrdom of St George

April 13th, 2017

The depictions of St George that we have looked at so far in this series all show him as slayer of the dragon, whether active or passive in his actions. However, the legend of St George has many more facets to it than that. In fact, in the earliest versions of the tale the dragon does not even appear. The basic medieval legend tells that St George, a Christian and an officer in the Roman army, refuses to sacrifice an animal to the Roman gods. Because of this he is detained and tried by a heathen emperor. He undergoes hideous torture but continues to refuse to sacrifice, inspiring many onlookers to convert to Christianity. Eventually, he is beheaded and the emperor dies immediately afterwards. There are many variations on this, but the first appearance of the dragon episode was not until the tenth century. Nevertheless, it obviously caught the imagination of the masses, leading it to become the main story associated with the saint.

In the medieval period the martyrdom legend appears to have been as well-known as the dragon legend. In St George’s Chapel both of these legends are intertwined in the elaborate medieval woodwork in the quire. Ten of the scenes carved into the popeys (desk-ends) on the south side of the quire feature St George. Whilst depicting most of the narrative of the martyrdom of St George, they are not in any apparent order. However, we shall examine the story in chronological order here.

 

Princess leaves parents

This is followed by a scene depicting the princess leaving her parents leading a lamb to go and be sacrificed to the dragon that terrorizes the town.

St George before Virgin

The sequence begins with St George kneeling before the Virgin Mary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St George spears dragon

He then spears the dragon in the neck whilst the princess looks on

St George meets princess

St George meets the princess and offers to slay the dragon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St George demands conversion

The figure on the right (presumably St George) in this image has been badly damaged, but it is possible that the scene depicts St George demanding the conversion of the town to Christianity in recompense for killing the dragon.

St George returns to town

The princess leads the dragon towards town, with St George standing astride it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St George is dismembered

St George then appears lying on a board whilst he is dismembered and his body parts are boiled in a cauldron.

St George divested of armour

He is subsequently about to be divested of his armour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St George poisoned

Finally, it appears that he has been poisoned but that this has had no effect, as the king holds a bowl and St George stands over a prostrate man who has presumably tested the poison.

St George dragged through town

Then he is tied to a hurdle and dragged through the town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, there are some scenes, which are included in almost all other medieval depictions of St George’s martyrdom, missing from this narrative. These include the execution of St George, the baptism of the king, queen and princess, and the trial of the saint before the emperor. It is very possible that these images did originally form part of the sequence. The popeys on the return stalls (the stalls facing the altar) were replaced in the late eighteenth century and we have no record to indicate the original scenes which were depicted in these.

Nevertheless, the ten surviving popeys are a remarkable example of medieval storytelling and it is well worth taking the time to examine these beautiful carvings in more detail.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

Credit: Much of the information in this blogpost has been drawn from Samantha Riches, St George – hero, martyr and myth (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2000).

St George at St George’s – carved in alabaster

April 11th, 2017

Alabaster carving of St George

This depiction of St George appears on the Anson Memorial Font, located in the nave of the Chapel. The font was commissioned by Chapter in 1886 and was installed in the summer of 1887. Frederick Anson was a Canon from 1845 until his death in 1885. He was apparently well regarded and respected by the other Canons and the wider community. Upon the decision to commission a font in his memory, the Dean and Canons sent out a call for subscriptions, through which they raised over £300 (approximately £16,000 today).

Mr J L Pearson was contracted to sculpt the font from alabaster. The question of what to depict on the font apparently caused some discussion in Chapter. Ultimately the chosen subjects were Moses parting the Red Sea, the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, the baptism of Æthelbert of Kent (the first Christian king in England) and the baptism of King Edward III (founder of St George’s Chapel). These scenes are interspersed with figures of the four patron saints of the United Kingdom: St Andrew, St Patrick, St David and St George. Around the base of the font are figures of the four Evangelists. Each of these carvings is listed in Mr Pearson’s bill of 1887 [SGC XVII.61.32].

The image of St George presents a very different vision to the depiction which appears on the Memorial to Prince Albert Victor, although it was carved just a decade or so before. This St George is regal, seated in a throne-like recess. One hand is resting on his shield and the other grasps his sword. He is wearing a robe rather than armour, and his sword is pointing downwards. It would be easy to mistake him for a King were it not for the subdued dragon that lies at his feet. It seems clear in this instance that the depiction of a peaceful St George has been chosen with careful regard to the purpose of the font.

The installation of the font receives a mention in the Register of the Chapel. Hugh George, son of Harry Arthur Carpenter, Sexton of the Chapel, and his wife, was the first baby to be baptised in it on 17 November 1887. He was baptised by the Dean, Randall T Davidson, and in the Register the Dean notes “The above was the first Baptism in the new ‘Anson Memorial’ Font in S. George’s Chapel” [SGC.R.2].

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

St George at St George’s – A Victorian depiction

April 6th, 2017

Alfred Gilbert's St George

This dramatic image of St George is found on the effigy to Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, which is located in the Albert Memorial Chapel.

Prince Albert Victor was a grandson of Queen Victoria, and second in line to the throne, when he died of influenza in 1892, aged 28.  Soon after his death, the Prince and Princess of Wales commissioned the sculptor Alfred Gilbert to design a memorial to their son. Alfred Gilbert is best known for the statue of Anteros which tops the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus, London. However, many believe that the Duke of Clarence Memorial is his best work.

The monument is located in the centre of the Albert Memorial Chapel. It sits between the memorial to Queen Victoria’s fourth son Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, and the cenotaph of her husband Prince Albert. The sarcophagus is made from Mexican onyx and the effigy of Prince Albert Victor features a white marble head and a bronze uniform with brass facings. This is entirely surrounded by a high bronze grille on which twelve pairs of pirouetting angels support twelve figures of saints. Each of the saints was chosen by Gilbert in consultation with the Royal Family and together they reflect the life and lineage of the Prince.

St George was the first of these saints to be completed. The figure is cast in aluminium, with an ivory face and hands. According to a biography of Gilbert, it took two years of steady work to complete this figure. Each of the 20 pieces of armour were cast separately and, according to Gilbert, could be worn if cast to scale. Gilbert maintained that he was influenced by Gothic art, but that the whole sculpture was his invention. The rather impractical double-handed sword, featuring a Crucifix hilt, is symbolic rather than practical. The pedestal on which St George is standing features a geometrically arranged reptile, symbolising both the dragon and All Evil. George has overcome both of these.

This image of St George provides a great contrast to the medieval carving that is April’s Image of the Month. The carved St George is aggressive and strong whereas this cast of St George appears to be passive and peaceful. It is up to the viewer to decide whether this is due to different attitudes towards the saint in each era or to the differing artistic intentions of each sculptor.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

St George at St George’s – a knight in shining armour

April 4th, 2017

Statue of St George

Following on from our image of the month of the medieval carving of St George and the dragon now housed in the Chapel Archives, our next St George in this series is a near replica of that very same carving. The figure stands atop a lead fountain installed in the Dean’s Cloister in 1998 to celebrate the 650th anniversary of the founding of the College of St George and the Military Knights of Windsor.

The grassy area within the Dean’s Cloister, known as the garth, was formed in the time of Henry III and it is apparent from historical plans that it was divided into four sections by paths in the early 17th century. There was also some form of water cistern in the area. However, by the nineteenth century it appears that there was just grass in the garth. Towards the end of the twentieth century it was decided to combine a desire expressed by many to improve the aesthetics of the Dean’s Cloister with the 650th Anniversary of the College. After some discussions, the design of a central fountain linked to the cloisters by four paths forming a cross of St George was decided upon. The lead cistern of the fountain is octagonal and incorporates a quatrefoil design that mimics the cloister arches.

The figure of St George and the dragon is largely cast from the medieval carving. However, this knight in shining armour does feature some differences. As the sculpture can be seen very clearly from all sides, the sculptor was able to use some artistic licence to add details to the back which are lacking in the wooden carving, including adding a second wing to the dragon.

The new fountain was officially unveiled on 17th June 1998 by HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The sight of St George glinting in the sun certainly brightens up this part of the College.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

Hell hath no fury…

March 13th, 2017

Among the business recorded at the Chapter meeting held by the Dean and Canons of Windsor on 5 March 1912 is a note that in consequence of information received from the police of possible danger from Suffragettes, the Chapel would be closed to all members of the public until further notice. An exception was made to allow people to attend Divine Service, but otherwise there would be none of the usual flow of public traffic.

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries women in the UK began to lobby government for the right to vote in public elections. This was known as the women’s suffrage movement and its supporters were known as Suffragists. From 1903 a radical wing of the movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, developed. This group became known as the Suffragettes and they believed that only radical and militant action would get the movement sufficient attention to secure women the vote.

The tactics used by the Suffragettes (formally the Women’s Social and Political Union) included damage to public buildings, arson and planting bombs. Clearly the police feared that as a prominent site of national importance, the likelihood of some demonstrative action taking place at St George’s was high enough to merit extreme caution.

There is no record stating when the Chapel was reopened to visitors, but all militant Suffragette activity ceased with the advent of the First World War in 1914. The Suffragettes did not begin to see their aims realised until 6 February 1918, when the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, granting the vote to women over the age of 30.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

We shall be in darkness

February 15th, 2017

Bundles of letters to Thomas Batcheldor, Chapter Clerk of the College of St George from 1846 to 1866, are kept in the Chapel Archives. The collection of letters [SGC I.E.1-5] could be considered the equivalent of Batcheldor’s email inbox and they provide an interesting insight into the business of the Chapter Clerk’s office in the mid-nineteenth century.

Many of the matters discussed remain relevant to the running of the Chapel today: engagements for the choir, keeping the organ in tune, appointments to jobs in the College, arrangements for work to the fabric of the Chapel. There are some matters, however, that are very much of their time. Two letters sent to the Chapter Clerk by organist and master of the choir, George Job Elvey, in 1859 give just such an example. On 19 January Dr Elvey wrote to say that only four packets of candles remained and that they would last ten more days [SGC I.E.4/11]. He explained that the candles were being used up more quickly than previously “in consequence of the great draught”. A large curtain recently set up in the organ loft also “considerably darkened” the Chapel so that it had to be lit up for longer. A little over a week later, 27 January, comes a second letter from Dr Elvey [SGC I.E.4/12] – there are now only two boxes of candles remaining and as he believes tapers are not kept ready-made but only made to order they cannot afford to lose any more time. Elvey urges Batcheldor, “be so good as to give the order for them or we shall be in darkness.”

It is easy to overlook, in the days of instant lighting at the touch of a button, how pressing the need must have been to keep up the constant supply of candles and tapers in order that early morning and evening services could keep running in the Chapel. A collection of Chapter bills held in the Archives shows that in October 1858, only three months before Elvey’s urgent requests, the Dean and Canons had received a bill for £35 5s for candles and tapers from J. Garnett – the equivalent of more than £1,500 in today’s money! [SGC XIV/1858/8]

There is also evidence that relationships developed between Chapter and those tradesmen who regularly supplied them. Orders and bills alone do not tell us anything of this, but in July 1865 the widowed Mrs Charlotte Garnett wrote to Mr Batcheldor because she had heard that he continued to order candles from her late husband’s firm because of her continued interest in it [SGC I.E.5/92]. She thanks him “sincerely and respectfully” for this “kind sympathy”, but feels she has a duty to make it clear that she has not received any benefit from the company since her husband died in 1859. The final record we hold of a payment by the Dean and Canons to Garnetts’ is from 1861. Later that decade, bills for candles came from Domenico Piccirillo (for altar candles) and Edwin Alger.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

A host of relics

January 16th, 2017

Windsor Castle is visited daily by thousands of tourists. The number of visitors to St George’s Chapel has grown dramatically in the centuries since its foundation, but the practice of travelling to visit St George’s has been a tradition for hundreds of years. Long before commercial tourism came into being, people took time out of their lives, leaving their homes and their jobs, in order to travel to Windsor as pilgrims.

Unlike tourism, pilgrimage was not supposed to be an activity undertaken for pleasure but as a religious exercise. Great spiritual benefit was thought to be derived from visiting sites of significance or being in the presence of objects considered holy because of their close association with holy people. Such objects are known as relics, from the Latin reliquiae, meaning ‘remains’. Most commonly, relics in the Christian tradition have consisted of body parts of saints and sometimes pieces of their clothing or of other objects thought to have been owned or used by them in life. In England before the Reformation the veneration of relics was widely encouraged. Often they were placed in highly decorated caskets, known as reliquaries, both to protect them and to give an outward sign of their high status.

Early inventories of the College of St George show that in the Middle Ages the Chapel was home to a spectacular array of relics which drew pilgrims to Windsor. These included the burial places of two famously saintly men, King Henry VI and Master John Schorn, and a piece of the True Cross, encased in a gilded and jewelled reliquary, which had been gifted to the Dean and Canons by Edward III. In addition to these, the medieval inventories of St George’s Chapel (which date from 1384 and 1410) enumerate several weird and wonderful artefacts believed to be connected with Christian saints, such as a crystal vessel containing the milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary; two thorns from the crown worn by Christ at his crucifixion; one of the stones thrown at the martyrdom of St Stephen; and two fingers, part of the heart and part of the skull of St George.

When the Reformation came to England in the sixteenth century, religious practice at St George’s Chapel was less badly affected than in many high-profile churches in the land, but some changes did have to be made. The veneration of relics was recognised as one of the practices of Roman Catholic Christianity and so had to be stopped. In the following years, many of the treasures of the Chapel were sold off by the Dean and Canons for two purposes: first that they were no longer allowed to be in use in the Chapel, and second to raise revenue to meet some heavy charges imposed by the crown. In 1552 King Edward VI ordered a new inventory to be taken, which shows very few of the relics remaining. The Dean and Canons were ordered to surrender their remaining treasures, including reliquaries, and these were weighed and then melted down for coin in the Jewel House of the Tower of London in November 1552. The fate of the jewels and precious metals therefore is documented, but what became of the once revered fragments of bone, cloth and wood is unknown.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

Don’t change the record!

December 15th, 2016

The history of royal wedding ceremonies that have taken place at St George’s Chapel is a long and illustrious one that reached its peak in the nineteenth century, when five of Queen Victoria’s nine children solemnised their marriages in the Chapel. Each of these is recorded in the Chapel’s Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, part of a sequence which dates back to the early seventeenth century [SGC R.2].

So when, almost sixty years ago, while preparing for the wedding of a minor royal at St George’s Chapel, the Dean and Canons received a letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office stating that the happy couple would be required to sign the Royal Marriages Register and not the register of St George’s Chapel, Chapter was prepared to fight its corner.

The Dean immediately wrote back explaining that all marriages solemnised at St George’s Chapel were included in the Chapel register and he saw “no reason why this practice should not continue”. Indeed, since the beginning of the Chapel’s then current register, Royals and non-Royals alike were included indiscriminately. The response from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office that, according to the Registrar General, “it is a fact that these Royal Weddings should not be entered in the local register” did nothing to deter Chapter from investigating the matter for themselves, as the Dean promptly informed the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. The response is worth quoting in its entirety: “How splendid! I foresee a war of words which will make the Records of the United Nations Assembly very tame reading in comparison. “Let Right be Done”.”

The Dean’s letter to the College’s lawyer makes for equally interesting reading: “What I wholly fail to understand is that we should, in effect, be forbidden to enter Royal or semi-Royal weddings in the St George’s Chapel register… I can hardly bring myself to believe that this most ancient privilege is to be removed”. His incredulity increased on learning that the marriage register at the Chapel Royal was not subject to the same rules: “Are we then at St George’s less privileged than the Chapel Royal?” The lawyer’s response was plain; there was no real reason behind the Registrar General’s request and he himself had attended a royal wedding previously where the couple had signed the parish register. He recommended that “you carry on exactly as you would have done” and he saw “no reason why you should not ask the parties to sign your own register and no-one present need be any wiser”.

Nevertheless, the Dean did make his intention to use both registers clear to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. This pleased the official in question who stated happily: “I am all for tradition and am delighted that you are going to stand firm. You may be sure that I am on your side and will be prepared to bail you out if this should become necessary!”

This fascinating set of correspondence came to light during a review of twentieth century papers from the Chapter Clerk’s office [SGC CL 109]. The letters offer a glimpse of the relationships between not only St George’s Chapel and the Royal Household at this time, but also those that existed between the Royal Household and governmental departments such as the General Register Office. Furthermore, the letters highlight the importance of the historical status and traditions associated with St George’s, and the desire of Chapter to maintain these.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee