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An update on the Coldridge effigy and stained glass

By CMS in Heritage

Updates to our post at https://churchmonumentssociety.org/2021/12/31/john-evans-park-keeper-of-coldridge .

There has been considerable criticism of the Edward V hypothesis, in the Press and on social media. In a letter to the Times, Nicholas Orme pointed out that it was the belief of the political class in England by the autumn of 1483 that Richard III had killed Edward and his brother. The boys were both in his keeping and he had the only motive for killing them. That prompted private outrage followed by rebellions, the secession of a stream of important men to Henry Tudor in Brittany, and Richard’s  overthrow two years later. Orme suggested that there was no conceivable way that Richard could have allowed Edward to live in obscurity, or that Edward’s supporters would have done so either.

Meanwhile, there have been several alternative readings of the text under the crowned figure in the stained glass. The first word is probably ‘Prenys’ (for Prince) then ‘Edward the’ – but is the next word ‘feyte’ (for fifth), ‘sexte’ (for sixth) or something else? In another letter to the Times, our Vice-president Sally Badham has suggested another alternative:

Sir, The attempt to link Edward V with monuments and imagery in Coldridge church (report, Dec 29; letters 30-31) is misguided. The argument that window glass in the chantry chapel showing a crowned figure holding a sceptre represents Edward V overlooks the accompanying inscription, notably the phrase “Edward the seynt”, a description never applied to Edward IV’s son Edward. Nor would the crown and sceptre be thought appropriate to one who had not taken coronation oaths. Could this figure instead represent Edward the Confessor, who was a saint?

What glass remains is fragmentary, probably the reset remnants of an elaborate scheme with a royal/Yorkist theme. It was chosen by “John Evans” in 1511, shortly after Henry VIII ascended to the throne and overt Yorkist allegiance was finally no longer dangerous. Evans was surely exactly who he said he was; indeed he might have been a loyal Yorkist retainer who had to adopt a low profile after Bosworth.

There are inevitably some caveats about this one as well. Edward the Confessor is usually depicted (as in the Wilton Diptych) as an older man. The figure in the Coldridge stained glass is clearly very young. Could it conceivably be an earlier St Edward, King and Martyr? His cult was much more unusual. He was venerated in Dorset – but did his popularity reach further west? or was he part of a sequence of holy kings, a Yorkist riposte to the Lancastrian cult of Henry VI? Ed K&M’s story isn’t dissimilar to Edward V’s, bumped off in his teens by a family member to achieve power. It was well enough known at the time for him to be on Prince Arthur’s chantry reredos (sometime between 1502 and 1516). He seems to have been chosen as a companion for Edmund, supplying name saints for Arthur’s two grandfathers, rather than Ed Conf (who is on the chantry exterior, an old man with the customary ring).

However …

The first word of the inscription is quite convincing as ‘prenys’. It’s not ‘king’, anyway. But it has been suggested that the figure doesn’t have to be a crowned king, by analogy with Prince Arthur in the Great Malvern window, who has a crown and sceptre pretty similar to the Coldridge figure. Great Malvern has to be before 1502, so roughly contemporary with Coldridge. The figure is definitely young.

John Evans was clearly a trusted employee of Dorset, Edward’s half-brother, and if Evans or his family put Edward into a window, it would express loyalty to Dorset as well as to Edward himself. Evans owed his prosperity, I’d guess, largely to Dorset. (He might even have met Edward as a child.) After 1483, Dorset’s allegiance to Richard III was short-lived, and he defected to Henry Tudor, who later married Dorset’s half-sister Elizabeth of York, Edward’s sister. With rather bad planning, though, Dorset switched back to Richard just before Bosworth because he believed Elizabeth Woodville had come to some arrangement with Richard. He found himself stuck in France as surety for French loans made to Henry, until Henry’s position was secure. Although Henry reversed the attainder, during Simnel’s rising, Henry put Dorset in the Tower, just to make sure he didn’t switch sides again. He wasn’t released until after Stoke Heath, so Evans couldn’t have accompanied Dorset into battle.

On the other hand, Dorset’s forced absences would have made him dependent on his administrators for the smooth running of the estates that remained to him.

Back to the iconography of the stained glass: the book could be an emblem of Edward as a saint, although it’s closed. Arthur is shown at Great Malvern kneeling at a prie-dieu with an open book on it – so the closed book might just be simply for piety, a book of hours, although more generally the book = Christian witness to the Gospel, as confessor or martyr. Martyrs’ books are regularly open in iconography, though not invariably.

The closed book might encourage the identification of the figure as Edward the Confessor. However, he didn’t become king until he was 42, and there don’t seem to be any legendary motifs relating to his earlier years. Iconographically, he’s normally bearded older man carrying the ring that features in an episode of his legend.

One might expect the Anglo-Saxon Edward King and Martyr not to be particularly well known to laymen, and he was crowned (so ‘prenys’ isn’t quite right). But he’s another example of the tradition of murdered royal personages being regarded as saints, sometimes by local veneration rather than after canonization by a pope. This goes back into the Anglo-Saxon period, with several examples of sainted kings and princes; Richard II tried unsuccessfully to have Edward II canonized; Henry VI appears in a number of places apparently as a saint, although Henry VII failed to make this status official. Post-Reformation, Charles I is regarded as a martyr by some parts of the Church.

The fragmentary nature of the glass is part of the problem: we really need to know when it was resited in its present location, and by whom.

Another critical comment from a local angle, and another alternative reading of the text in the stained glass at https://benchends.wordpress.com/

part of the problem is the reading of that crucial text, and one wonders whether the glass painter was literate.

The argument will doubtless continue …


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