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Church’s clues to support of kings in stained glass

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Henry of Lancaster (Henry VI) was a miserably bad king, but he did found Eton College, King’s College Cambridge and All Souls at Oxford.

King’s was founded in 1441. Then, having decided that neither the college nor its chapel were big enough, Henry began building a second, bigger chapel in 1448.

It was to have enormous windows, though Henry himself never got as far as planning for the glass that was to go in them. His rival and successor, Edward IV, went on with it, as did Edward’s brother, Richard III.

Richard was the last Yorkist king. He died fighting the Lancastrian Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field near Leicester in 1485.

King’s College Chapel had been left an unfinished ruin. Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, was both devout and a patron of education. She persuaded her son to give it his support.

Henry resolved to fill the chapel with magnificent stained glass. As well as depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the windows were to be full of Lancastrian images, including the Welsh Dragon, the Red Rose of Lancaster, the Tudor Rose, a portcullis (emblem of the Beauforts), and a hawthorn tree, representing the bush at Bosworth Field where Richard III’s crown had been found.

Henry did not live to see his tremendous scheme of glazing even begun, but he left £5,000 and strict instructions to his executors on how they should complete the work.

Henry VIII took little interest in the project until persuaded by Cardinal Wolsey to do so. He broke with Rome while it was still in progress. The religious imagery changed, but the dynastic imagery did not.

After the Reformation, the knowledge of how to make richly coloured glass became lost and forgotten.

The Victorians rediscovered it, however, as you can see in the windows of St Andrew’s Church at Bothal.

Our picture of the east window shows Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by St Paul on the left and St Peter on the right.

St Andrew’s also has stained glass from the 15th century, though, unfortunately, mostly fragments.

One window contains architectural images, such as arches, buttresses, columns and pinnacles. Above these are fragments of white roses with rays of the sun — the ‘rayed rose’ of the Ogles.

Henry VI ascended the throne as an infant in 1422, and began to rule in 1437.

Law and order broke down at home. By 1453, all that was left of his possessions in France was the port of Calais. Henry suffered a mental breakdown.

A party formed around his cousin Edward, of the House of York. Edward seized power in 1461 and so became Edward IV.

Henry was briefly restored in 1470-71, but after that Edward reigned until his death in 1483.

Owen, Lord Ogle, inherited Bothal circa 1472. The white rose of York symbolises his support for Edward IV.

Not only that, but Edward was over 6ft tall, good looking, and a man of action. He was ‘the rising sun’, and this is the probable significance of the sun’s rays in Owen’s windows at Bothal.

Intriguingly, however, in the centre of the window, is a sort of reversed Tudor Rose, white on the outside and red in the middle. Was Owen hedging his bets?

Another window has what appears to be a kneeling figure in an attitude of prayer, flanked on either side by architectural features, perhaps representing someone who had restored the church.

Below are three panels with richly decorated bands of red, blue and gold, alternating with lozenges and other designs.

Richly coloured glass like this is generally regarded as earlier, and the more delicate painted glass later.

The Annunciation window shows the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary with the well-known message from the Gospel of St Luke: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”

All that is left of Gabriel is a wing, some feathers and a scroll. "Ave Maria" is missing, but one can still make out, “gratia plena dns (dominus) tecum” — “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

Mary has flowing golden hair and wears a brown cloak over a richly embroidered dress. Her left hand rests on a book. In front is a vase of lilies, the symbol of purity.

Her scroll says: “Ecce ancilla domini” — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

A shaft of light descends from heaven with a dove, representing the Holy Spirit.

Just above the two figures is a shield. It is almost obliterated, but actually shows the royal arms of England, three fleurs-de-lys in the first and fourth quarters (top left and bottom right) and three lions guardant in the others.

As it happens, the royal arms of Edward IV and Henry VI were almost identical so you can’t tell from this which one Owen supported.

Acknowledgement: Picture of the Great East Window by DeFacto, used under the Creative Commons Licence. Cropped to show the upper section only.