Henry VI’s Sword

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

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.