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Posts Tagged ‘Order of the Garter’

The mysterious history of the Charles I stall plate

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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

The 670th anniversary of the Battle of Crécy

Friday, August 26th, 2016

670 years ago today, on 26 August 1346, one of the most significant victories in English military history took place – the Battle of Crécy – where, against the odds, Edward III’s army defeated the forces of Philip VI of France. The battle formed part of the long running dispute between England and France, later known as the Hundred Years War, which had been instigated by the founder of St George’s College, Edward III, to assert his claim to the French throne. Following the victory, the English forces were able to capture the strategically advantageous city of Calais from their weakened opponents within a year.

Despite its importance to Edward III’s campaign, not many reports have survived from Crécy. The fullest and most contemporary account now known was produced by an Italian, Giovanni Villani, sometime before 1348.(1) Edward III is reported to have chosen a stand at Crécy to confront the French army who were pursuing him. Villani states that while the French had 12,000 knights and almost numberless men at arms, the English had just 4,000 knights and 30,000 English and Welsh bowmen. These numbers are almost certainly greatly exaggerated, but they do give an idea of the relative sizes of the two armies. The English king used his position and small numbers to the best possible advantage, ordering that the carts carrying their provisions should be arranged to protect the English forces and leave only a small area in which the troops could engage. Combined with the (in)famous longbows, this strategy rendered large parts of the French army useless: their hired Genoese crossbowmen did not have enough range to out-shoot the English while armoured and horsed French knights could be brought down from a distance, thereafter becoming obstacles for their own men. Such tactics were considered ‘un-knightly’ by the French and much scorned by their chroniclers.

One of several theories about Edward III’s reasons for founding the chivalric company, later known as the Order of the Garter, in 1348, was to reward those who had served him well in France and to secure their future loyalty. Of the twenty five men usually considered ‘Founder Knights’ of the Garter, well over half had been present that day at Crécy and many of them also at the successful siege of Calais which followed.

Notable among these was Edward III’s eldest son, ‘the Black Prince’, who at just sixteen years old commanded one of the three divisions of the English troops. He was supported in this by Sir Bartholomew Burghersh, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and Sir John Chandos, who would all become Founder Knights. Meanwhile, Sir James Audley, Sir Reginald Cobham, Sir John Lisle, Sir John Grey and Sir John Beauchamp fought in the king’s retinue, Beauchamp carrying the Royal Standard.

However, not all those gave distinguished service at Crécy, and other battles in the Hundred Years War, were chosen as ‘Founder Knights’. Some were appointed later in the 1340s and 1350s, notably Sir William FitzWaryn, Earl of Northampton, William de Bohun and Sir Thomas Ughtred. Meanwhile, Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel, who had been given command of one of the three divisions of the English army at Crécy, never rose to the distinction of Garter Knight, although he lived for nearly thirty years after the company had come into being. The early development of the Order of the Garter is lost in obscurity and this apparent omission, along with many other details, may never be fully understood.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

(1) A detailed analysis of this and other accounts can be found in Barber, R., Edward III and the Triumph of England (London, 2013).

A king five years ahead of schedule?

Monday, July 18th, 2016

On my third day of work experience at the College of St George’s archives on a two-week attachment, I was asked to catalogue the digital photographs which record the various sections of the ‘Tables’ of the Knights of the Garter, which hang in the Deanery at St George’s Chapel.

The ‘Tables’ are large hinged panels displaying the coats of arms of every individual appointed to the Order of the Garter since its foundation, arranged according to the reign during which they were appointed. They were moved from the main part of the Deanery to a room known as Mr Dean’s Upper Hall (later the library) in the 1920s by Dean Albert Victor Baillie, who feared their former position left them vulnerable to damage or theft.

Testing carried out on the paint and woodwork of the panels in the early 2000s suggests that these panels date from the seventeenth century, and indeed the central decorative panel is painted with the initials CR, presumably for Charles Rex, one of the two Charleses to reign during that century. There is strong documentary evidence that panels similar to these existed as early as 1400, but what became of those is unknown.

While examining the photographs, I noticed in one image from the collection an inscription which caused me something of a conundrum. I understood that it related to Edward III – Edwardus tertius – but some of the numbers did not add up.

The inscription surrounding Edward III’s coat of arms appeared to read ‘Began to Reigne Jan ye 25. In 1322 And He Reigned 1 years & 5 mon.’ This was very suspicious as the reign of Edward III is well documented as having begun on 25 January 1327, when he was crowned at the age of fourteen after his father was deposed by the Queen and the Earl of March. He reigned for a little over fifty years before dying in June 1377.

Fortunately, closer examination of the photograph showed one perceived mistake was just a mis-reading on my part. The painter had mixed Arabic numbers and Roman numerals and what had looked at first glance like a 1 was in fact an L – the Roman numeral for fifty.

Even so, Edward III’s date of coronation has indisputably been painted on the panel as 25 January 1322, when we know that it was 1327. Surely there was a reason why?

There was no answer to this question – it seems that the painter had simply included the wrong date. It leads to an interesting thought on how even those employed by the highest in society to work on material relating to kings and queens can make slips of the pen – or paintbrush – and how one must always keep an open mind when looking at any historical evidence.

Stuart Hemsley, work experience student, St George’s Chapel Archives

Researching medieval Garter robes

Monday, April 25th, 2016

To mark St George’s Day on Saturday, research project The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Royal Wardrobe Accounts published an article about the Order of the Garter. The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing is a project designed to encourage school-children, students and interested members of the public to engage with Britain’s medieval past, its language, manuscripts, and the clothing worn at the time.

An interview has also been published between Dr Charles Farris, project researcher, and Dr Euan Roger, who recently completed his PhD on the College of St George in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The interview was filmed in the St George’s Chapel Archives, where Dr Farris and Dr Roger were also able to inspect the sixteenth-century depiction of Garter Robes in the Black Book of the Garter.

The article can be read here. To watch the interview please click here.

The Longest Reign

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

On Wednesday 9th September 2015, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British monarch. This record was previously held by Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years and 7 months (or, to be precise, 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes) from her accession in 1837 at the age of 18 until her death in 1901.

Throughout her reign, which began on 6th February 1952, Queen Elizabeth has had a close association with Windsor – both the Castle and St George’s Chapel – and even prior to becoming queen, she and her sister visited Windsor often as young princesses.

These images, held in the photographic collections of St George’s Chapel Archives, illustrate some of the Queen’s involvement with St George’s throughout her reign. (Click once on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip process through the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle with the other Companions of the Order of the Garter in 1948, the year of their installation to the Order and of the Order’s six hundredth anniversary.

At a Garter Day ceremony in the late 1950s the Queen passes the Galilee Porch of St George’s Chapel where her sister, Princess Margaret, and two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne are waiting to curtsy and bow to her.

Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret leave the Deanery with Dean Hamilton, carrying bouquets presented to them after an Easter Day service in St George’s Chapel.

The Queen is saluted by the Military Knights of Windsor as she arrives with Dean Woods at the opening of St George’s House in 1966.

Queen Elizabeth II and Dean Fleming with other members of the Royal Family and Canons of Windsor on the west steps of St George’s Chapel following a service to celebrate the Chapel’s Quincentenary in May 1975. On the occasion of the Chapel’s 500th anniversary the Queen wrote to the Dean saying, “I join in thanksgiving to Almighty God for the building of St George’s Chapel. Over the centuries it has borne witness to God’s Sovereignty and to the Gospel of Christ,” and recalling “the many associations which my own family, at our home in Windsor Castle, has with this Chapel.”

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh with Dean Mitchell at the fountain in the Dean’s Cloister. The Queen switched on the fountain, with its golden statue of St George, in 1998, marking 650 years since the foundation of the College of St George.

The Queen unveils a plaque at the official opening of the new building to house the Archives and Chapter Library of the College of St George in 1999.

A photograph of the Lay Stewards of St George’s Chapel with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, taken in 2006 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the stewards.

Queen Elizabeth has continued the tradition which her father re-established in 1948 of celebrating the Order of the Garter every year. This photograph shows The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh leaving St George’s Chapel after the Garter Day service in June 2015.

An exhibition celebrating The Queen’s reign opens in the Dean’s Cloister from Thursday 10th September. Normal opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm; Castle admission charges apply.

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

Wanted: Garter robes

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

In the 1860s Gerald Wellesley, Dean of Windsor, aided by the Chapter Clerk, Mr Thomas Batcheldor, embarked on a campaign to have the blue velvet mantles of former Garter Knights sent to St George’s Chapel.

The earliest known statutes of the Order of the Garter, compiled in 1415, stipulated that Knights of the Garter ought to keep one mantle at Windsor permanently, in case they needed to attend a ceremony at short notice.[1] After a Knight’s death, this mantle was to become the property of the Dean and Canons. There is evidence that these “hand-me-down” mantles were recycled and used to repair vestments and furnishings in the Chapel. Throughout the history of the Order, the Dean and Canons had difficulty persuading Garter Knights to comply with this requirement and it had to be reinforced regularly by decrees and statutes.[2] In 1834 William IV had passed a new statute declaring that the mantles of deceased Garter Knights should be given to the Dean and Canons,[3] but less than thirty years later they were clearly experiencing problems in acquiring them. A number of letters on this subject remain in the St George’s Chapel Archives [SGC I.E.4/171-183].

On receipt of the request from the Dean, most of the families were obliging and agreed to return their relatives’ robes. Henry 4th Marquess of Lansdowne, indeed, was anxious to make it clear in his letter of December 1864 that he would have sent the mantle of the late 3rd Marquess, who had died in January 1863, sooner if he had only known he was supposed to.

A number of the letters speak of the arrangements that were then being put in place to have the mantles and tassels delivered to Windsor. Enquiries were made about the preferred way to package such items, as well as requests for the sender to be notified when the parcel had been safely received by the Dean. In one case, a letter was written to the Chapter Clerk to say that if he would be so good as to “call at the Duke of Bedford’s house, No 6 Belgrave Square when you are next in London, Mr Stratton, his Grace’s valet, will hand to you the blue velvet mantle of the Garter for the Dean of Windsor.”

Not everyone that Wellesley and Batcheldor contacted in the first instance was able to help in the quest to locate the Garter robes. A rather curt note from a son of the late 4th Earl of Aberdeen states that the Dean’s message will be forwarded “to my brother the present Earl, who is the sole Executor to his father.” Likewise, the Marquess of Normanby was not in possession of any of his father’s Garter regalia – in fact he had never seen them and knew nothing about them or where they were. Accordingly, he promised to forward the request to the Dowager Marchioness, although he felt the need to warn Batcheldor that there would be some delay before a reply was received because at that time the Dowager Marchioness was in Italy.

Of all the letters relating to this matter that are now preserved in the St George’s Chapel Archives, only those of the Duke of Sutherland express outright an intention of not returning the requested Garter robes. In a letter dated 7 May 1861 Henry Wright writes on the 3rd Duke’s behalf “to inform you that his Grace declines to send the Mantle and Tassel worn by the late Duke to the Hon. and Very Reverend the Dean of Windsor.” His argument was that the late 2nd Duke had retained the robes that had been worn by his own father “and his Grace considers himself entitled to the same privilege.” This rather high-handed letter is followed a few months later by one written by the Duke himself in which he reasons that he would not have insisted on keeping the robe for himself, but that he knew his mother was very anxious to keep it. However, in this letter he does acknowledge that the right to the robe “has been so clearly established in your favour”. We can only imagine the correspondence that passed between the Dean and the Duke to convince him of this. George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, did eventually go on to be appointed a Garter Knight in his own right and so to be entitled to his own robes and regalia, but not until 1864.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

[1] Begent & Chesshyre, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, p. 275

[2] Ibid., p. 275

[3] Ibid., p. 172

Charming the Emperor

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

On 7th May 1416, a new member was admitted to the prestigious Order of the Garter at Windsor: Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, King of the Romans and future Holy Roman Emperor. Sigismund first came to England in 1416, in the aftermath of the English victory at Agincourt, to seek a peace treaty between England and France. With Sigismund’s arrival in London on 3rd May, Henry V pulled out all the stops to impress him both in London and Windsor. The palace at Westminster was given over to the imperial retinue, while Henry moved to Lambeth. Sigismund was taken to view a session of Parliament and was also granted a Lancastrian collar by the King. He was particularly enamoured by London, and (according to one chronicle) the beautiful ladies of the city in particular, who had turned out in their finest gowns to greet him. The height of the celebrations came on 7th May when Sigismund of Luxembourg was installed as a Knight of the Garter at St George’s in grand fashion. Sigismund had not come empty-handed, and gave the college two prestigious relics: the heart of St George and a small piece of the saint’s skull. It is likely that he invested Henry into his own order at the same time, The Order of the Dragon, presenting him with a grand saddle with the Order’s insignia (now found at the Tower of London).

At Windsor, preparations for Sigismund’s installation had been underway since 1415, supplementing the choral staff and grandiose religious liturgy they performed in order to impress the foreign dignitary. Between 1415 and 1416, Henry V had given the college a statue of the Virgin Mary and eleven new service books, seized from a traitor, Baron Scrope of Masham. At the same time, efforts were made to recruit new vicars for the college, whose numbers had dropped from thirteen to as low as ten. Three of the college’s vicars, and one lay clerk, received payments for travelling to Oxford and the Midlands, looking for priests who were interested in becoming vicars. In order to attract the highest quality vicars in the kingdom for Sigismund’s arrival, new accommodation and a new communal hall were required. The college had been granted land within the Lower Ward by Henry IV in 1409, in an area called ‘Woodhaw’, and the first references to new buildings for the vicars came in the financial accounts for 1415-16 and 1416-17. Building works took place slowly – continuing until 1438 – yet efforts were clearly being made to impress the arriving dignitary with a grand religious spectacle at St George’s.

Sigismund was not a man to be easily influenced or cowed. Two years earlier, at the council of Constance, he had been corrected on his Latin by a Cardinal, only to reply (in perfect Latin) ‘I am King of the Romans, and above grammar’! It would appear, however, that in this case Sigismund was won over by King Henry’s generosity and the efforts of St George’s. Later that year, he signed the Treaty of Canterbury with England, promising his support against the French in battle, both offensive and defensive. The King had secured another important victory over the French, this time through diplomatic charm rather than on the battlefield, a victory which was in no little part thanks to the efforts of St George’s.

Euan C. Roger, Royal Holloway, University of London

Alice Chaucer: a survivor in hard times

Monday, December 15th, 2014
In the beautiful church of St Mary the Virgin, Ewelme, in Oxfordshire, there is a tomb and alabaster effigy which attracts visitors from all over the world.  Within the tomb lies Alice de la Pole, late duchess of Suffolk (and lady of the Garter), but her posthumous “fame” derives from her maiden name, which was Chaucer. Alice was born c.1404, probably at Ewelme, the only child of Thomas Chaucer (c.1367-1434) and his wife Maud Burghersh (c.1379-1437). Thomas was the son of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), and he was a man who mattered. His marriage had brought him estates throughout southern England, he was MP for Oxfordshire fourteen times, and was chosen to be Speaker of the House of Commons on five occasions, a record which stood for three hundred years. So, Alice’s background was a very comfortable one, and as an only child she could expect parental favour.

Alice lived her seventy and more years during the turbulent 15th century, and her own life reflects something of the political and dynastic upheavals which afflicted England. We know little about her early life, but aged only eleven, she was married to Sir John Phelip (c.1380-1415). It was not unusual for girls of this age to be betrothed or married, but this was to be a very short marriage, for Sir John died within the year. Alice’s second marriage was to a leading nobleman, Thomas de Montacute, 4th earl of Salisbury (1388-1428), but they had no children and he died when she was still in her mid twenties.

Alice’s third marriage, in 1430, was the one which propelled her to prominence, influence and wealth.  Her new husband was William de la Pole, 4th earl of Suffolk (1396-1450), who later became duke of Suffolk and one of the realm’s mightiest subjects. He’d been made a knight of the Garter in 1421, and Alice herself was first granted Garter robes in 1432 and then again in the years 1434-36 and 1448-49. They had one son, John de la Pole (1442-92). In 1445, she was chosen to accompany Margaret of Anjou (1430-82) to England prior to her marriage to Henry VI, and the two women became friends, at least for the time being. Alice became a leading figure at Henry VI’s court, but eminence fosters jealousy and some saw her influence as malign. This led to demands from parliament for her removal from the royal household.

1450 proved to be the crunch year for Alice and William. The latter was the king’s favourite and had been the chief power in the land, but his policies were increasingly unpopular and his authority was crumbling. Associated with defeat in France and corrupt government at home, he was impeached by the Commons, then sent into exile by Henry VI, mainly for his own safety. However, news of his ‘release’ sparked public anger, and his enemies were not going to let him escape final justice. So, as William was sailing across the channel, his boat was intercepted by another, and the hapless duke was seized, given a mock trial, and summarily executed. Later, his body was found washed up on the sands near Dover.

Her husband’s brutal demise put Alice in a potentially perilous position, and for a time there was danger around her. In a chilling echo of William’s downfall, Jack Cade’s rebels arranged a mock trial of her in London in the summer of 1450. Had the rebellion not fizzled out the outlook for her could have been grim. There were also private attacks on her estates in the 1450s. Yet she survived and went on to prosper. She inherited William’s properties (which included the castle and honour of Wallingford), and was now a wealthy landowner with property in twenty-two counties. Five years after William’s death, the Wars of the Roses began. Perhaps sensing which way the wind would veer, Alice abandoned her Lancastrian allegiance, and switched her loyalty to the Yorkists. Having backed the right horse, by a twist of irony she became custodian in 1471 of Margaret of Anjou, her former friend and patron.

As befitted the granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer, Alice had an interest in the literature of her time. In particular, she was one of a host of patrons of the Benedictine monk and prolific poet, John Lydgate (c.1370-1449). Lydgate was considered to be the equal of Chaucer in his time, but posterity has not been kind towards his output. It seems he was a master of saying nothing very much to excessive length.

Alice de la Pole, duchess of Suffolk, died in 1475, the year in which Edward IV founded the present St George’s Chapel, symbol of the Yorkist ascendancy which she came to embrace. Her life may not be as well documented as we would wish, but we know enough to see her as one of the formidable women of late medieval England.

Simon Harrison  (Archives volunteer)