College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

To live well and to die well

August 16th, 2017

The crafte to lyue well and to dye well is an early sixteenth century book in the Chapter Library of St George’s Chapel [SGC RBK C.452], which reminds its readers:

A man’s life is but a blast of wind
And in a thought departed and gone
Wife, child and goods you must leave behind
Today a man, tomorrow none.

The text was translated by a man called Andrew Chertsey from the French – Art de bien vivre et de bien mourir – a fascinating medieval ‘how to’ on leading a good Christian life and thus ensuring the fate of your soul after your death.

An illustration from the book shows a dying man surrounded by angels and demons.

An illustration from the book shows a dying man surrounded by angels and demons.

This book also has a very special provenance. It is one of the texts that was produced in the early days of printing in London by Wynkyn de Worde, the lesser-known successor to William Caxton.

Little is known about de Worde’s background, but it is conjectured that he first worked with Caxton during the latter’s years in Bruges, where he learnt the art of printing which he later brought back to London. Caxton is thought to have encouraged de Worde to join him in England in around 1476 to help him establish his business.

At this time Caxton became the first man to introduce the moveable type printing press to England and from his business in Westminster he began to produce printed works, both in their original language and in English translations.

After Caxton’s death in c.1492, de Worde took over his printing press and shop. De Worde made a great number of changes to the business in order to modernise it: he became less dependent upon wealthy patrons than Caxton had been, instead producing comparatively inexpensive books which could be sold to a wider audience and for them he printed a range of religious, popular and educational books. He changed the company’s paper supplier from a Dutch producer to John Tate, the first English papermaker. In 1500 de Worde moved the business from its original site in Westminster to new premises on Fleet Street in the City of London. His was the first publishing house to be established there, but many followed, and in later centuries the street’s name would be synonymous with the book and newspaper trade.

In his career as owner of the press, de Worde published more than 400 titles in over 800 editions (in contrast to Caxton’s c.l08), for some of which only a single copy now survives. The quantities in which he printed encouraged the wider accessibility of written material, as did de Worde’s efforts to produce texts in English translations so they could be read and understood by those who were not sufficiently well educated to read works in Latin or any modern European language.

The arrival of the printing press in England and the efforts of men like Caxton and de Worde vastly accelerated the spread of information to the public in a reliable medium. This led ultimately to revolutions in theology, politics and science across Europe in the following centuries.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

A generous miser?

July 14th, 2017

In September 1852 the parish of St Mary in North Marston, Buckinghamshire, a benefice of the Dean and Canons of Windsor, made the news. The parish had a longstanding claim to fame – it had been the burial place of Master John Schorn before his remains were removed to St George’s Chapel in 1478. Schorn was rector at North Marston at the end of the thirteenth century and a locally celebrated holy man. After he died miracles were observed at his tomb and pilgrims regularly visited the site.

What captured the attention of journalists in the autumn of 1852 was the death of the Lay Rector of North Marston, John Camden Neild, who had leased an estate there from the Dean and Canons of Windsor.

Neild was not known for his generosity during his lifetime. A survey of 1825 declared the Vicarage and outbuildings at North Marston to be in a dilapidated state, but Neild strongly protested against the investment of further money into their maintenance [SGC M.1137/3]. In the same year he allowed the rent to fall into arrears. Correspondence with the Chapter Clerk from 1825 indicates that his status and rights as lessee of North Marston were being reconsidered. Upon Neild’s death, the papers made much of his reputation for isolation and miserliness. One was relatively forgiving: ‘Although of most penurious habits, and always insisting upon the enforcement of what was legally his due, Mr Neild was never known to degrade himself beneath the character of a gentleman’; another had no qualms in describing him as a ‘miser son’ [SGC M.1137/1].

However, Neild had great personal wealth. He had been Barrister-at-Law at Lincoln’s Inn and a magistrate of the County of Middlesex, and held estates in Buckinghamshire and Kent, as well as his principal residence in Chelsea. His fortune had been bequeathed to him by his silversmith father; he was the sole heir. Upon his death he left that fortune to Queen Victoria, and although estimates of its real value differed wildly, it was large enough to have attracted much attention (it is now believed to have been approximately £500,000).  At a time when ‘so many thrones were overturned and dynasties shaken, [this was] a singular illustration of loyalty’ [SGC M.1137/1].


SGC.M. 1137/4/1- A letter from William Brown informing Thomas Batcheldor about the implications of the death of John Camden Neild in 1852.

A letter informing the Chapter Clerk of Neild’s death and bequest [SGC M.1137/4/1]

Correspondence of the Chapter Clerk, now held in St George’s Chapel Archives, shows that the Queen reinvested this ‘miser’s fortune’ in the parish of North Marston. A specification was drawn up for repairs to be carried out to St Mary’s church [SGC M. 1137/4/2], and Sir Digby Wyatt was commissioned to restore the chancel and east window of the church [SGC M.1137/1]. A donation was made to reopen the National School in the parish [SGC M. 1137/4/12-15]. It seems, however, that Neild’s bequest had an impact far beyond North Marston, allegedly funding the weddings of Queen Victoria’s children and the restoration and improvement of Balmoral Castle [SGC M.1137/1].

The Queen commissioned a royal memorial to John Camden Neild and his unexpected generosity at the church. The documents held in St George’s Chapel Archives reveal that Neild’s actions left a lasting legacy both for the royal family and the community at North Marston.

Annette Ormanczyk, work exchange trainee

A scientific canon

June 15th, 2017

William Derham, a chaplain to George Prince of Wales (later King George II), was appointed a Canon of Windsor in August 1716 and installed a month later. He held the canonry until his death in 1735 and divided his time between St George’s and his parish of Upminster, Essex, where he lived in a house 100 yards from the church with his wife and five children.

Alongside his work in the church, Derham was a keen theologian, philosopher and amateur scientist. He was elected to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (commonly known simply as the Royal Society) in 1703 and contributed thirty-eight articles to the society’s journal Philosophical Transactions.

His first major publication was The Artificial Clockmaker in 1696. This was the first comprehensive treatise on clock and watch making, “wherein the Art of Calculating Numbers for most sorts of Movements is explained to the capacity of the Unlearned.” He describes the construction and working of clock and watch movements and provides also a history of clock-work. Derham’s fascination with horology had a practical outlet as well and a relic of this survives at St George’s Chapel. The sundial attached to the south wall of the Lincoln Chapel was calculated and directed by Canon Derham in 1723. Another sundial of his construction survives on the church tower at St Laurence, Upminster.

Derham also experimented practically with the calculation of the speed of sound and is considered the first person to produce a reasonably accurate estimate of this. From the tower of St Laurence, Upminster, he observed through a telescope as a shotgun was fired from a number of local landmarks. Having calculated each distance by triangulation and timed to the half-second the space between seeing the gun fire and hearing the shot, Derham estimated the speed of sound as 1072 Parisian feet per second.

In Derham’s life-time advancement of scientific knowledge was beginning to cause people to challenge traditional perceptions of God and to question the possibility that such a being could exist. As a clergyman, theologian and avid scientist, Derham worked hard to demonstrate that the theories of natural science were compatible with those of religion. In the early eighteenth-century he published three works challenging anti-Christian philosophies: Physico-theology (1713), Astro-theology (1714) and Christo-theology (1730). These in turn weighed the evidence provided by the natural world, the heavens and religion for the being and attributes of God. Two editions of Astro-theology are held in St George’s Chapel’s Chapter Library [SGC RBK D.78; SGC RBK D.278].

In addition to his extensive academic work, documentary evidence in St George’s Chapel Archives suggests that Canon Derham was a useful and active member of the College. He undertook an extensive survey of the details of the tenants, fines and renewals in each of the lands belonging to the Dean and Canons which survives in three volumes described as Dr Derham’s Books [SGC IV.B.7-9]. A note added to the list of profits from Great Haseley explains that all the tenants must pay heriots (a form of death-duty) and in his opinion “It is a cut throat manor.” He was also responsible for copying out a number of the handwritten books of music for the organist to play from.

A further book of his work, entitled “Observables relating to Windsor College”, contains Canon Derham’s take on the history and administration of the College of St George and the Order of the Garter [SGC IV.B.18]. Yet more evidence of his appetite for knowledge and the pursuit of truth.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

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