College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

Posts Tagged ‘Henry VI’

A host of relics

Monday, 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

The man behind the Black Book

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Illumination is a key feature of the Black Book of the Garter which, commissioned by King Henry VIII in 1534, documents the Knights of the Order of the Garter from its origin in 1348 until 1551.

Accounts of the household for the King contain regular payments to Lucas Hornebolte (an anglicised form of his real name: Horenbout), a Flemish painter described in the accounts as a “pictor-maker”. He was appointed King’s Painter, and worked as court miniaturist to Henry VIII from 1525 until his death, painting several famous miniature portraits including those of Henry’s wives and children. Horenbout’s miniature portraits appear to use a technique very similar to that in the illumination of manuscripts, thus it has been identified that Horenbout was the illuminator for the Black Book.

Lucas Horenbout was born in Ghent around the year 1490 and trained with his father, who was a manuscript illuminator. In the 1520s Lucas, along with his father, Gerard, and sister, Susannah, moved to England. It has been suggested that they moved to this country in order to help the attempted revival of English manuscript illumination, but there is no definite evidence for this. Nevertheless, Horenbout is considered by many as the founder of the English school of portrait miniature painting.

While the ensuing two volumes of the Register of the Order of the Garter are also decorative in keeping with a similar style, the Black Book is undoubtedly illuminated to a higher quality. Not only does it contain several pages on which the Sovereigns since the start of the Order are represented, surrounded by beautifully designed borders, but decorative initials are a continuous presence throughout.

Elaborately illuminated page for the start of King Henry VI's reign

On the whole, the use of the colours red, blue and gold are most prominent, with each initial of the start of each paragraph or title of Sovereign or Knight, written in gold and backed by a square of blue or red alternately.

Due to the highly decorative nature of the Book in comparison to the other registers of the Order, King Henry VIII may have commissioned it as a status symbol to display his wealth and power as King of England and Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. The ornate use of the colour gold throughout conveys the sense of wealth, and the more extravagant decoration for the Sovereigns sets Henry VIII’s pages apart from the rest of the book, suggesting its purpose wasn’t merely to document the statutes and the foundations of the Order. Likewise, toward the centre of the Book on a double page spread are four illustrations depicting a Garter procession and Henry VIII surrounded by the Knights of the Garter, further exhibiting his status, and emphasising his involvement in the creation of this first volume of the Register of the Order of the Garter. By comparison, all other monarchs who appear in the Black Book have only one small miniature portrait to mark the start of their reign.

Lucy Brown, Archives work experience student

Conservator’s eye view: illumination

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

As we have seen in my previous blogs most manuscripts were written before they were decorated. Scribes often doubled as page designers, planning the hierarchy of decoration in line with the articulation of the text. They left room for the illumination and prompted artists by inserting faint letters in the spaces where historiated initials were to be painted. The artist almost always painted the initials suggested by the scribe and also made use of the lines ruled across the space intended for the miniature when transferring compositions throughout the volume, as can faintly be seen in some of the illuminated miniatures in our precious holding, Liber Niger, the ‘Black Book’ [SGC G.1].

Illuminated miniature and historiated initial at the start of Henry VI's entry in the Black Book of the Garter

The artist would sketch out the design of his miniature with a plummet and then firm it up into an ink drawing. By following this under-drawing the illustration would be developed to a remarkable level of coloured detail, showing the confidence and fluidity of a truly accomplished artist.

Before leading on to the application of gold it is worth considering who these artists were. Manuscript artists in Europe were predominantly monks working in monasteries and we know many of them as masters of their art, eg Master Hugo, Virgil Master, Master of the London Pliny, Master of Ippolita Sforza, etc, etc. There were also some known women artists, nuns working in nunneries including Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Sussanah Hornebolt (1503-1545). I believe that the reason why we are not aware of many more female artists is because it was considered unseemly and against their religious vows to claim ownership of their work.

The next stage in the decoration of the manuscript is the application of gold. Sometimes liquid gold would be painted onto the vellum page to gain maximum impact under candlelight, this in the most precious and expensive commissions. But the less expensive option was to use gold leaf. Beaten into sheets thinner than tissue, loose gold leaf crinkles at the faintest current of air, dissolves into dust if handled roughly, and, most importantly, clings to painted surfaces. It was carefully laid over areas brushed with gum arabic, fish glue, or beaten and strained egg-white, known as glair. Flat gold leaf was often left unfurnished, as can be seen in the Black Book. For a raised effect, gold leaf was laid over gesso, a compound of plaster, white lead and glue, which was often coloured with salmon-pink to enhance the glowing warmth of the gold. The gesso formed a ‘cushion’ making the thinnest gold leaf look solid.

The Schorn Book of Hours (1430-1450) [SGC LIB MS.6] has wonderful examples of gold and coloured historiated initials and border decoration. The gold has been burnished with a ‘dog’s tooth’, a smooth hard stone such as agate to give it a lustre as bright today as it was five hundred and sixty five years ago.

Illuminations incorporating painted gold in the Schorn Book of Hours

Gold glows and shimmers with the light, revealing the dazzling beauty and true essence of an illuminated manuscript, and just as all the colours illuminated the pages of these sensational books so long ago, they continue to do so as well as illuminate the past for us today, and for others, well into the future.

Because the pages of illuminated manuscripts are kept closed most of the time, and indeed for hundreds of years, they are kept clean and safe from handling and light, and other than repairs to torn pages and minimal dusting, conservators are wise to maintain a ‘minimal intervention’ approach to these precious works of art.

Peter Eley, Library and Archives Volunteer

Richard III and St George’s Chapel

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

In 1484 the bodily remains of Henry VI were removed from Chertsey Abbey, where they had lain since his death in 1471, and were relocated to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, apparently on the orders of Richard III.  The motive for this action remains unclear. Professor Ralph Griffiths suggests that the move to Windsor may have offered a chance to keep under closer supervision the grave of the saintly king which had become a centre of pilgrimage.* However, an alternative view may be offered – that, at this stage in his reign, Richard was considering burial at Windsor for himself and his wife, Anne, in the Chapel constructed by his brother, Edward IV. Interment in proximity to the sacred bones of Henry VI would have been seen as advantageous to their souls, a sentiment later shared by Henry VII.

Traditionally, Richard III is believed to have had little connection with Windsor, which he visited only infrequently both before and after he became King. However, documents in the St George’s Chapel Archives suggest that, as Duke of Gloucester, Richard favoured the Chapel.**  The first, dated 1478, is a covenant between Richard and the Dean and Canons of Windsor, concerning the grant of manors of Bentfield Bury, Essex, Knapton, Norfolk,  and Chelsworth, Suffolk, to fund an annual obit for Richard, Duke of York, and masses for Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his wife Anne, during their lives and after their deaths. This is followed by a conveyance of the lands in 1480. The third, a licence from Edward IV to his ‘most beloved brother ‘, Richard, and his wife to grant the advowson of the Parish Church of Olney, Buckinghamshire, to the Dean and Canons of Windsor is dated 1482 and  is followed by the conveyance in the form a final concord in 1483. If Richard was planning to set up a chantry at Windsor, for his father, himself and his wife, might he not also have been intending to be buried there?

However, even if this were the case, Richard had clearly changed his mind by March 1485 when, on the death of his wife Anne, he arranged for her interment not at Windsor but at Westminster Abbey. Moreover, both the conveyances proved ineffectual, with the Dean and Canons failing to gain possession of the lands in Essex and East Anglia and the advowson of Olney which had been promised to them.  It appears that by 1485, in the words of Professor Griffiths, ‘Richard wanted to have as little to do with Windsor as he could’.

Clare Rider, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

*Ralph Griffiths ‘The burials  of King Henry VI at Chertsey and Windsor’ in Nigel Saul and Tim Tatton-Brown(eds.) St George’s Chapel, Windsor: History and Heritage (Dovecote Press, 2010) pp.104-105

** SGC XI.P.7, 9, 11 &12

Henry VI’s Sword

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

In the early years of the reign of King Henry VIII, Nicholas West, Dean of Windsor [1509-1515], sent two letters to the Canons back in Windsor, concerning his visit to the King and the King’s Council [SGC II.J.7/1-2]. Henry VIII had promised to donate some lands in his will to the Dean and Canons for a number of charitable purposes; principally to support the Poor Knights of Windsor. During his absence from Windsor, the Dean spoke with the King and attended the King’s Council in order to obtain a patent establishing a future claim to the properties, to be conveyed to the Dean and Canons after Henry VIII’s death. They were to become known as the lands of the ‘New Dotation’.

In his second letter, Dean West informed the Canons that he had sent them not only the patent concerning the lands but also a sword that had been given to the Dean and Canons. The gift of this sword is of particular interest since it was believed to have belonged to Henry VI, the saintly King whose remains lay buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, having been moved there from Chertsey Abbey in 1484. According to the Dean, the sword had been acquired by a man called ‘Garnyston’ from another man named ‘Stone of Westminster’ who had confirmed it to be the sword of good King Harry. This man Stone had apparently already given to the Dean and Canons a hat and spurs allegedly belonging to Henry VI and appears to have been considered a credible source. In sending the sword to Windsor, Dean West suggested that the Canons cover it with some old velvet or cloth of gold and set it on an altar, presumably beside the burial place of Henry VI:     

‘I have also sent you a sword gevyn us by garnyst[o]n which as he credebely afermyth was King Harys And so on[e] stone off Westmynster that gave us as he sayth the hatte and the spurrs[,] gave hym the same swerd as the swerd off the sayd good kyng Wher for it may lyke you to cov[er] it wt su[m] old velevett or su[m] old cloth off gold and sett it on alt[ar] I suppose it shall be well done.’ [SGC II.J.7/2]

According to contemporary accounts, the hat or cap was made available to pilgrims visiting Henry VI’s shrine at Windsor and was thought, when placed of the head of sufferers, to offer a cure for headaches. Visitors to the shrine also venerated the spurs, to the distress of commentators such as Testwood: ‘who beheld the pilgrims, specially from Devonshire and Cornwall how they came by plumps, with candles and images of waxe in their hands, to offer good King Henry of Windsor, as they called him, it pitied his heart to see such great idolatorie committed, and how vainely the people had spent their goods in coming so far to kiss a spur, and to have an old hat set upon their heads’ [from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs]. Dean West’s letter mentioned that the hat and spurs were obtained from the same man as the sword, suggesting that they were also acquired in the early sixteenth century. King Henry VI’s tomb remains in St George’s Chapel, to the south of the High Altar. However, the associated relics were removed and destroyed or sold during the Reformation.     

Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian

New learning resource added

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

A new learning resource on The Wars of the Roses has been added to the existing ones on the burial of Henry VIII and medieval pilgrimage. As the burial place for the two “Roses”, Edward IV of York and Henry VI of Lancaster, St George’s Chapel is an important place for those interested in this period of civil war, fought in medieval England from 1455 to 1487.

These worksheets have been produced using documentary sources for use in the classroom to further explore topics, either following a visit to St George’s Chapel or as part of a wider study of the subject.

We hope that they add to your experience of St George’s Chapel.

Lilies and roses for a King

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

King Henry VI was born at Windsor on 6 December 1421 and succeeded to the throne at the age of nine months as King of England.   Henry was crowned 6 November 1429 at Westminster Abbey a month before his eighth birthday.  He was imprisoned and died in the Tower of London on 21 May 1471.   His body was taken to Chertsey Abbey for burial.

In the Treasurers’ accounts of the College of St George for 1483-84 an entry refers to the payment of £5 10s 2d ‘for expenses about the removal of King Henry VI from Chertsey’.   According to the contemporary account of John Rous, ‘the King’s body was taken out of his grave in the abbey church of Chertsey in August 1484, and honourably received in the new collegiate church of the Castle at Windsor where it was again buried with the greatest solemnity to the south of the high alter’.

The tomb of Henry VI became the object of veneration and the scene of miracles of healing attracted many pilgrims.  Miracles attributed to the King included those connected with one of his treasured relics – an old hat – the King’s Medicine against Headache.   Relics were kept at Windsor until the Reformation.  The metal collecting box for alms still stands beside the tomb.

On 4th November 1910 a formal investigation was made to establish exactly where King Henry’s body had been placed.   Within the second arch on the south side of the Quire, the marble step was removed and space opened.  The shrine appears to have been in the same area as the present slab which had been placed in the centre of the South Quire Aisle in 1790 and was moved to its present position in 1927.

Henry VI was not considered a successful king but rather a good and holy man widely regarded as a saint.   His one lasting achievement was in education, founding Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.  At Windsor we commemorate his birthday with the ceremony of the Lilies and Roses.  Boys from Eton College attend an obit service together with representatives from Eton and King’s to lay lilies and roses on the tomb of Henry VI while special prayers are said.

“Let Thy blessing O Lord, be upon the Colleges of Thy servant King Henry VI and as Thou has appointed unto them diversities of gifts, grant then also the same spirit, so that they may together serve Thee to the welfare of Thy realm, the benefit of all men, and Thy Honour and Glory; through Jesus Christ Our Lord”.

Enid Davies (Assistant Archivist)