Fifteenth-century Stained Glass at All Souls College, Oxford: Medieval Building Accounts and New Photography
By Roger Rosewell
The mid fifteenth-century stained glass in the antechapel of All Souls College, Oxford, is among the finest in England [Fig. 1]. The glass was published in 1949 by F.E. Hutchinson, a former chaplain of the college, who based his account on notes made by G.M. Rushforth. Hutchinson’s book remains the standard reference text for the glass. The recent publication of the college’s building accounts [Further Reading] provides an opportunity to showcase some new photography of this important scheme. We will also summarise what is known about the glaziers responsible for these exceptional windows, amending Hutchinson’s dating of the glazing of the great west window.
Henry Chichele and All Souls College
All Souls College, Oxford, was founded by Henry Chichele (c.1362-1443), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1413 until his death. He intended to supply an ‘unarmed clerical militia’ of professional lawyers and theologians for the benefit of church and state, and to commemorate those who had drunk ‘the cup of bitter death’ in the Hundred Years War with France.
Construction began on the 10 February 1438. John Druell, the clerk of works, bought ‘two great books of paper’ to record the expenses of the building programme. Although the book of daily expenses has been lost, the second book, the compotus, which was compiled at regular intervals from the former, has survived and has recently been published as Building Accounts of All Souls College, Oxford, 1438-1443 [Further Reading]. The extracts which follow are taken from this excellent publication.
The college was planned around a main quadrangle. The southern range of the front quad consisted of the gatehouse and lodgings. The east side of the quad housed a first floor library and the dining hall. The chapel, with its choir and antechapel (nave), closed the quad at the northern end [Fig. 2].
The Glazing of the Chapel Choir
According to the accounts, the chapel choir was glazed in 1441. John Glasier of Oxford is recorded as receiving part payment for the glazing of eight windows in ‘the body of the chapel’ (meaning the choir):
Et solut’ xiij° die Maij Johanni Glasier’ de Oxon’ in parte solucionis locato per dominum Cantuar’ ad vitriandum viijto fenestras situatas in corpore Capelle infa Collegium Animarum ibidem lxvj s. viij d. [f.70, p.230]
The choir has ten windows, five each on its north and south sides. Like the chapel of New College, Oxford, it has no east window, as its east wall is shared with the college dining hall and is filled instead with sculpture [Figs 3 and 4]. Although the choir glass at All Souls no longer survives, it was recorded by Richard Symonds (c.1617-1660), an antiquary serving in Charles I’s army during the English civil war. He visited the college chapel when he was stationed in the city between December 1643 and April 1644. Symonds said that the lower parts of the five windows on the south side of the choir contained ‘the pictures of all the kings of England from the Conquest to the king Henry VI who is the last’. In the upper lights were ‘fathers [of the church] and saints’. On the north side, the upper register was glazed with saints, including St Peter, St Andrew, St Phillip, St Simon, St Mathias, St Paul, and St John the Baptist, and in the lower lights with the Greek fathers of the church and the Venerable Bede.
John Glasier may have been the son of Thomas Glasier (d. in or before 1427), the Oxford-based glass-painter who had enjoyed the patronage of Bishop William Wykeham (1324 – 1404). Like Thomas before him, John worked at Wykeham’s own college in Oxford – New College. He also made windows for Merton College, Oxford and for Winchester Cathedral.
The Warden’s Study
The warden was the master or principal of the college. The building accounts suggest that, in 1441, his study was glazed by John Glasier: Et solut’ Johanni Glasieri locato ad vitriandum unam fenestram in studio Gardiani infra Collegium ut patet xx d. iij s. viijd. [f.71v, p.235]
Unfortunately no description of this glass survives. This entry in the building accounts helps chart the chronology of the building programme, suggesting that the southern range of the quadrangle, where the study was located next to the gatehouse, must have been substantially complete around that time.
The Glazing of the Antechapel
The antechapel was the nave of the college chapel [Figs 5 and 6]. The accounts for 1442 record payments for the glazing of windows in the antechapel:
Et solut’ Johanni Glasiere alternis vicibus ut patet per librum parcellarum locato ad vitriandum vj fenestras minors in navi Capelle locatas singula fenestra continente lxviij pedes quadrat’ capienti pro pede quadrat’ xij d. in parte solucionis xij li. xiij s. iij d.
This is of particular interest as much of the antechapel glass survives today. John Glasier was paid £12 13s 4d for glazing six smaller windows in the antechapel. These must have included its four east windows and presumably also the two smaller windows in the western wall. There were almost certainly altars on the east wall and, remarkably, the glass in all four east windows – produced by John Glasier – has survived, largely intact.
Each window consists of three lights divided by a transom, creating space for six figures. The complete scheme comprises twenty-four figures, twelve above, twelve below. As in the east windows of the antechapel at New College, Oxford, each of the upper lights is filled with one of the twelve apostles [Figs 7 and 8].
On the north side the lower lights contain St Anne teaching the Virgin to read [Fig. 9], the Virgin Mary, St Mary Cleophas, St Mary Salome, St Mary Magdalene and St Agatha. On the south side the lower lights contain St Elizabeth, St Helena, St Anastasia [Fig. 12], St Etheldreda [Fig. 10], St Katherine [Fig. 11] and St Sidwell.
While images of most of these saints are often found elsewhere, the occurrence of St Sidwell [Fig. 13] is rare.
Her appearance here has been attributed to Roger Keyes, the supervisor of the buildings from September 1441 to September 1443 (also Warden in 1442). Prior to his arrival in Oxford, he had been a canon at Exeter Cathedral, Devon, the centre of this saint’s cult. She is shown holding a scythe, the instrument of her martyrdom.
There are stylistic differences between the two sets of figures. While the male apostles have been described as ‘rugged’, the female saints are delicate and refined. They wear an assortment of fashionable head-dresses and richly embroidered fabrics [Fig. 14]. Both sets of figures stand under deeply recessed architectural canopies and rest on receding tiled pavements. Some of the canopy shafts incorporate a lion couchant [Fig. 15], a feature of some of the earlier windows at New College, suggestive of a workshop reusing older designs or cartoons. Above the main lights of each window are feathered seraphs each with six wings and standing on a wheel, the wings and wheels deriving from the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel respectively.
There are three windows on the west wall of the antechapel – two smaller windows flanking the large central west window – and a now half-blocked window on the north wall. There is no mention of their glazing in the college building accounts. Symonds recorded that the south-west window (now known as the ‘royal window’ – see later) was ‘broaken’ except for the arms of Canterbury and Chichele in the top lights. The same appears to have been the case with most of the central west window, whose subject he did not otherwise describe. The third (north-west) window, showed the same arms at the top and the figures of St Kenelm, St Edmund, St Martha and three others which he did not name in the lower lights. The window in the north wall also contained figures of saints including St Lawrence, St Stephen, St Winifred, St Agnes, St Agatha, St Vincent, St Christopher, St Cuthberga, St Margaret and St Frideswide.
The Great West Window
Previous accounts of the college glazing have said that £40 was paid in 1447 for the cost of the ‘magne fenestre’, generally presumed to be the great west window. No glazier was named and no other details were recorded. However, as part of the research for this article, the college librarians have discovered that this information – and its reference – was incorrect. Kept separately from the building accounts, the roll which records ‘xl li(bre) solute pro vitro magne fenestre’, is actually dated 17th October, in the 25th year of Henry VI, ie., 1446, see MS All Souls c. 268 (CTM. p. 393, No. 216).
The Old Library Windows in the Antechapel
Around the same time as the chapel windows were made, a set of painted windows was also installed in the college’s library. This is a long first floor room on the east side of the front quad [Fig. 16]. There are apparently no entries about the glazing of these windows in the accounts, although the scheme is contemporary with the building of the college. Hutchinson, however, suggested that a payment made to the servant of John Prudde, the King’s Glazier, in 1441, could relate to the Library glass: Et solut’ famulo Johannis Prowte glasier x s. viij.d [ f.78v, p.258]
The sum paid – 10s. 8d. – is too small for any major glazing work. It may represent a payment for the transportation – and installation – of windows, made for the college elsewhere, by John Prudde, the pre-eminent glass painter of his generation. This was apparently the case two years later at Winchester College, when two of Prudde’s servants were paid in connection with windows he had made for a chapel commemorating John Fromond, the college steward.
The Library windows were seen and recorded by Richard Symonds. They contained a total of thirty-two figures: sixteen kings of England, the Four Latin Doctors of the Church and twelve archbishops of Canterbury, including Henry Chichele. In 1750 these panels were moved from the Library to a new building in the college. Twenty-eight of them were subsequently moved to the antechapel. The remainder have been lost. Some of those which survived have been heavily restored. The current scheme, created by the Victorian firm of Clayton & Bell in the 1870s, fills the two smaller west windows and the half window above the north door. The south-west window is now known as the ‘royal window’ and contains twelve of the original sixteen images of kings from the Old Library scheme [Fig. 17].
The north-west window contains the Four Doctors of the Church (saints Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome and Gregory) and eight archbishops [Fig. 18]. The half window above the north door houses three kings and three archbishops. Richard Marks has suggested that the depiction of kings in the college glass may have been political. The Lancastrians could be said to have had a vulnerable claim to the English crown. Their supporters may have invested in imagery which showed that Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI were legitimate successors to past English monarchs.
The royal scheme at All Souls originally included Constantine, Arthur, Ethelbert, Oswald, Alfred, Edmund, Athelstan, Edgar, Edward the Martyr (d. AD 979), Edward the Confessor [Fig. 19], Edward II, John of Gaunt (described as King of Spain), Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Professor Marks reads the scheme as a justification of the Lancastrian claim to the throne from the Edwards via John of Gaunt. ‘Archbishop Chichele was largely responsible for the iconographical programme of the All Souls glass; Chichele was a firm supporter of the House of Lancaster.’ [Further Reading: Marks 1993].
All images ©YM Pictures
The antechapel of All Souls College can be visited free of charge. For opening times, visit the College website here.
I am grateful to the Warden and Fellows of All Souls College, for permission to photograph and publish the chapel glass. I am also indebted to the Bursar and his staff for their help. I am also grateful for the help and advice of the College Librarians who discovered the correct dating of the great west window reference.
Building Accounts of All Souls College, Oxford, 1438-1443, edited by Simon Walker and Julian Munby, h/b, 430 pages, printed for the Oxford Historical Society, Boydell & Brewer, 2010, price £35.
Apart from the entries about the glaziers, this book also contains fascinating information about the masons, carpenters and carvers who helped to build the college, making the entire volume a continuing source of exceptional interest. With an excellent commentary and analysis by the late Dr Simon Walker, together with plans and documentation of the site, a description of the buildings, and an inventory of the college rooms in the sixteenth century, the book deserves a place of the shelf of every building historian.
R.J.A. Catto, et al., Unarmed Soldiery: Studies in the Early History of All Souls College, Oxford, 1996
E. F. Jacob, ‘The Building of All Souls College, 1438-1443’, in J. G. Edwards, V. H. Galbraith and E. F. Jacobs (eds), Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait , Manchester, 1933: 121 -135
The best published guide to the All Souls glass is F.E. Hutchinson, Medieval Glass at All Souls College: A History and Description (London, 1949). Six copies of this book are currently available for purchase from Morris Venables
M. Archer, S. Crewe and P. Cormack, English Heritage in Stained Glass, Oxford, Oxford & New York, 1988
H. Chitty, ‘John Prudde, King’s Glazier’, Notes and Queries, 12th ser., 3 (1917), 419–21
J. D. Le Couteur, Ancient Glass in Winchester, Winchester, 1920
R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, London, 1993
R. Marks, ‘Prudde, John (d. 1460/61)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004
N. Rogers, ‘Archbishop Chichele’ Cat entry 99, page 237, Richard Marks and Paul Williamson, eds., Gothic: Art for England, 1400-1547, London, 2003
R. Symonds, British Library (BL) Ms. Harley, 964
C. Woodforde, The Stained Glass of New College, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1951