St Mary’s, Fairford, Gloucestershire. ‘A complete and perfect Perpendicular church’ and famous for it fine collection of medieval glass.
Described in Betjeman’s Best British Churches as ‘a complete and perfect Perpendicular’ church(1) this beautiful wool church was rebuilt by John Tame, a wool merchant from Gloucester , in the late 15th Century to replace a much older church. The tower had already been rebuilt by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Lord of the manor around 1430. St Mary’s possesses a complete set of medieval stained glass, amongst the finest in England and it is this glass that I want to focus on now. The glass was made between 1500 and 1517 and, other than the west window, which was severely damaged in a storm in 1703 and later restored, the glass has somehow miraculously survived, although how this has happened remains a mystery. It has been suggested that their survival is due to the Tudor royal portraits contained in them. The windows are thought to have been a gift from Henry VII himself. It should be remembered that when Henry had the young Edward Earl of Warwick executed in 1499 he seized his estates which included Fairford. It has also been suggested that Henry may have then given the manor to Prince Arthur whose badge of ostrich feathers and motto appear in some of the windows and one of the portraits is thought to have been modelled upon his wife, Katherine of Aragon. Thirty years after Arthur’s death Henry VIII presented Fairford manor to Katherine of Aragon after he had divested her of her title of queen. The portraits are mostly members of the Tudor royal family and influential people in the Tudor court although one of them is thought to be of a Plantagenet, that of Henry’s brother-in-law, the young Edward V, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’ and with a Sunne in Splendour heraldic badge above his head. Other portraits were modelled on Henry himself, obviously, his wife Elizabeth of York, Catherine of Aragon, Prince Arthur, Henry’s daughters Mary and Margaret and a young Henry VIII and last but not least Margaret Beaufort (2) I also think its possible that one of them is based on Richard III, depicted as holding a severed head and a fine piece of Tudor propaganda but that is purely my own speculation.
Nave, north aisle, north Window. The figure of the Queen of Sheba is believed to be a likeness of Elizabeth of York
Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, North window. Jesus as a small boy in the temple modelled on a young cherublike Henry VIII possibly...ah bless..
Holbein’s sketch of Henry VIII as a child to compare. What a dear little chap… whats not to love?
Nave,north aisle, west window. The figure of Solomon is thought to have been modelled on Edward of Westminster, one of the ‘princes in the Tower’, for a short while Edward V and brother to Elizabeth of York
Nave, north aisle, west window. Could this figure be Morton? It has been described as Wolsey but I disagree.
A wooden boss on the roof of Bere Regis church thought to represent Morton in comparison.
Chancel, south chapel, Corpus Christi Chapel, east window. This version of the Virgin Mary is believed to have been modelled on Mary Tudor, Henry VII’s daughter. See picture below to compare likenesses.
A portrait of Mary Tudor to compare to her likeness in the above portrait of her at Fairford.
Nave, West Window. The figure with the crown is thought to be that of Henry VII entering Heaven.
Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window. The Magus is believed to have been modelled on Prince Arthur.
Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, north window. Two royal likenesses here. It it thought that the Virgin Mary was modelled on Catherine of Aragon while that of the attendant with the doves is modelled on Margaret Tudor, Henry VII’s daughter. Could the lady in red be modelled on Margaret Beaufort?
Two kings here..Henry VI on the left and Henry VII on the right.
Purely my speculation here but could the warrior holding the severed head be a Tudor representation of King Richard III? For surely one shoulder has been depicted higher than the other one!
If in the area I do recommend a visit to St Mary’s. It is quite stunning when you enter and thoughtfully binoculars have been made readily available.
I am indepted to the excellent Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi online for these images
(1) Sir John Betjeman, updated by Richard Surman, Betjeman’s Best British Churches p.270
(2) Sir Nickolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Gloucestershire 1. The Cotswolds, p367
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4 thoughts on “ST MARY’S CHURCH, FAIRFORD: TUDOR ROYAL PORTRAITS”
Sparkypus, I am no expert on stained glass much less medieval glass in as far as how accurate representations of anyone was actually meant to be – living or dead – and this is particularly difficult for us, 500+ years on without reliable or authenticated imagery to fall back on! But I appreciate seeing these examples, primarily because the Tudors themselves may well have considered them to be legitimate representations of their patronage and presence at this Church, and possibly more that merely symbolic.
I am particularly intrigued by the “Richard” image – which I agree with you completely! And it would be wholly ‘appropriate’ in their mythmaking of Richard, and their strenuous efforts to connect themselves to Henry VI, that severed head can only mean to symbolically represent Richard, as the duke of Gloucester, at what, 19? crashing his way through the Tower chambers until he found the holy elderly anointed king himself, and girded with Edward’s order to have him ‘put aside’ or some other seemingly gentle euphemism for eliminated, bashed him at the back of his frail head.
I believe the body that was found – much later – the skeleton revealed the bones of the skull unusually thin, as in paper thin, and blunt force used, or caused in some way, to the back of the skull, even a fall would have done this if the bones were so brittle (what would have caused such brittleness I can’t say, incredibly poor nutrition for decades? but then, H6 was ascetic, probably since his early teens; he certainly never seems to have ever exhibited anything remotely akin to physical or mental vitality!
So why the severed head, if it was known H6 died of blunt force? well, how many DID know it was blunt force, and even if they did would any Tudor care for that narrative? besides, that scenario it hardly lends itself to pictorial accusation or condemnation. Far more grotesque to show “Richard” – as a warrior notably – and with a severed head, providing dual benefits of a beheading of John the Baptist overtop the ‘private’ meaning the Tudors would recognize in their persistent propaganda that they were a direct line from Henry VI !
I’m just warbling away as a art history wonk here, in the 1500’s onward it was fashionable to have public/private images, in portraits, allegories, mythological, even religious paintings and while the Tudors were hardly capable of the sheer cultural depth and complexity achieved in say, Italy (or France, the Low Countries, even Spain and Portugal), well they definitely had propaganda, political and personal, down to an art worthy of the Imperial Romans and later perfected by Napoleon (no slouch, indeed, a truly evil master of persona manipulation!)
The idea behind a personal/public image is to provide to ones immediate circle an image, religious or allegorical, in portrait form or even mythological setting, that is recognizable, and appreciated, only to that inner circle – sometimes for amusement, sometimes for memorial, but not to be understood outside that circle. The public aspect then is appreciation for the fine skill involved in the work itself, in how well the family or persons have been captured and often transferred into placement as “Solomon” or the “Virgin Mary”- and not to mean anything more than that. Virtue signaling, as per 500 years ago!
I guess I am beating this to death but Sparkypus, I agree with you and wow, IF they did do this, WHO made that decision? MB, H7? surely not EoY or her children, what would they have remembered of the stories about Uncle Richard other than what they were told BY MB and H7? IF he was spoken of at all! I can see this being an influence from MB, she was at H6’s court, and while the effort to see Henry made a saint actually began WITH Richard (!!!) it was in H7’s political nature to make that happen, it served HIM more than it could ever have made any difference for R3
(unlike many Ricardians I do think E4 sent RdG to end H6’s life, who else could he trust? certainly NOT Clarence, and apparently not Hastings, and I have my thoughts about why – and for whatever reason also not Rivers, Dorset or other men close to him like his brother-in-law, St Leger or Thomas de Burgh (esquire to E4 as early as 1462) – and while a great many were likely there at the Tower that night how many were sober, how many were able to be contained, how many passed through the chamber in which H6 was kept, praying from the sources we have, is not known. Any efforts to keep H6 away from unruly, drunken, victorious troops, even if only in groups of 3 or 4, cannot be discounted as problematic, for all we know it wasn’t even RdG who caused the blunt injury, more some soldier taunting the old king, knocking him from his chair/throne (?) to the stone floor and thereby fatally injuring the old man – even if he was put back on his chair the damage was done, he would not have recovered. And within an hour? hours? RdG could return affirmative word to E4 that the old king was indeed dead. How culpable he would have felt extends, in my mind, in that he was expected to see it done, one way or another. )
The way the Tudor version of their version of “Richard” fascinates me, I could easily write a paper for a class on this! You called it, the raised shoulder, the wild eyed, brutal, vicious ‘warrior’ appearance, long hair parted in the middle akin to the usual portraits of Richard, slender, sword in hand, and cleanly delineated in the glass as a real face, not all mottled like so many of the others which could be “anybody” (in my very uneducated opinion on medieval glass! I’m just doing a comparison of the examples here!)
so long way of saying, great post! as usual! you are a gem Sparkypus!
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well well well Sparkypus, that little bit just proved it, and you are right! I looked up this Amalekite killing King Saul, and like so much it’s never a simple answer! I scanned through several citations on this nomadic tribe, the Amalekites, apparently related to the tribe of Ephraim, but hated as they were sorcerers who could evade capture by transforming into ANIMALS, Yahweh called for their extermination (yikes, OT is a harsh place), and the Amalekites harassed the Hebrews all long their exodus out of Egypt so this feud was an old one
King Saul got involved because having been commanded by God to basically kill every last one of the Amalekites, for their crimes, (Book of Samuel) does kill the children, women and men, everyone but the king. This disobedience gets Saul into unforgivable trouble with God, to the point where there are TWO versions in Samuel as to what may be interpreted as his death
– in 2 Samuel 1:8-10 version one reads that Saul asks a soldier to run his through (now that he is in disgrace with God), failing to get that from the soldier Saul falls on the sword himself
– in same section we are also given version 2 – whereby Saul goes to the Amalekite and says “please stand beside me and kill me” – thinking that it will do him some good (heaven knows why) the dope does this, takes Saul’s crown and bracelet, and brings them to King David – who is livid, and commands his death, for “Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, (having said) I have killed the Lord’s anointed ”
– and so the judgement of David (hardly Mr Purity if you KNOW HIS story!) is death to the KING of the Amalekites, sorcerers who can change into an animal (like a BOAR?) for killing an anointed king?! (H6)
you did it Sparkypus, that was the missing piece, bravo!
and you are right! they did not miss a trick! and they slept very well at night, convinced that they had avenged Henry VI, not once remembering the other anointed king who commanded Henry’s murder was E4, father of his own wife, also the architect of Clarence’s murder (I could talk for hours on that one!)
I just love your posts!
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