A Scene from the Life of St Margaret of Antioch
The subject of this month’s feature is one of the most intriguing images in medieval stained glass in Norfolk. CVMA author David King explores its provenance, patronage and unusual iconography.
Painted in a courtly International Gothic style in the early fifteenth century, this panel seems at first glance the panel little different from others depicting scenes from the life of St Margaret of Antioch, one of the most popular female saints of the Middle Ages. When made, it would have been one of a series of episodes depicting her life and a previous panel in the story, now lost, would have shown the pagan prefect Olybrius seeing Margaret while out riding and being struck by her beauty. Wanting to marry her or take her as a concubine, in the present panel he sends his squire to her to summon her to him. [Fig. 1]
The saint, dressed in a fashionable high-necked and full-sleeved robe and wearing a circlet of oak leaves, sits on a grassy hill spinning as she watches over her sheep. On the right is the squire, holding a gold ring in his left hand and a spear with pennant in the other. On his belt is a small heater-shaped shield. In the right foreground, two rams butt each other, and above against a blue sky are scrolls bearing in Latin the words spoken by the saint and the squire. The panel, together with another panel and and a number of fragments from the series, is now to be seen in the west window of the parish church of St Mary in North Tuddenham, although the glass was not originally made for that church.
Christopher Woodforde rightly chose the North Tuddenham glass as one of the five major collections to be allocated a separate chapter in his book The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. He informs us that the glass was bought by the Revd Robert Barry, rector 1851–1904, in East Dereham, where it was lying in a builder’s yard. Barry is said to have paid half a guinea for it. Most of the glass was installed in the church windows, and the remaining panels being stored in the rectory. Later, some of it was used to glaze the porch, and after that what was left went to Welbourne Church.
The glass at Tuddenham may have more than one provenance, as it falls into two main groups from the point of view of style and date: one group consists of a number of main- and tracery-light panels of c.1420–30; the other is a collection of miscellaneous tracery-light panels, rather later in date and in different styles. Tradition recalls two churches from which the glass may have come: Lyng and Billingford by North Elmham. Neither church, however, has windows of a suitable shape or size to have accommodated the glass of the first group, which is the subject here.
I would like to suggest that the first group, including the St Margaret panel, was originally made for the now-ruined church of Wiggenhall St Peter in West Norfolk, just south of King’s Lynn [Fig. 2]. As so often, the evidence is circumstantial and of varying character, but it certainly more persuasive, I think, than that hitherto adduced for other churches. The most important panels in this group consist of parts of two hagiographical series of the lives of St Margaret of Antioch and St George of Cappadocia. The first series is more complete, with two main-light panels and a number of fragments leaded into tracery lights. All that survives of the second are one main-light panel and some fragments, one in a tracery light, the others in a porch window [Fig. 3]. These panels are characterised by a courtly atmosphere, with elegant postures and aristocratic costume; they have been compared with the celebrated frontispiece to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde in one of the most beautiful and lavishly decorated prefatory miniatures of the early fifteenth century, c.1415–20 (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 61; Fig. 4).
The rest of this earlier group is a series of tracery-light panels, some in a different hand from the hagiographical glass, but all, I would think, from the same workshop. There are parts of two series of episcopal saints, one of standing and one of seated figures [Figs 5–6], part of a series of sainted kings [Fig. 7], figures of St Leonard and St Etheldreda [Figs 8–9], God the Father from the Coronation of the Virgin [Fig. 10], two pairs of censing angels [Fig. 11], two quatrefoils with seraphim on wheels and one with St George and the Dragon [Fig. 12], a head of God the Father [Fig. 13], and also shields of St George and St Michael [Figs 14–15]. Decorative details link the glass with Norfolk, and on balance the glass seems likely to be Norwich work. The choice of iconography is interesting and telling; it will be discussed later in connection with a possible donor.
What is then the evidence for the suggested provenance of Wiggenhall St Peter? The first clue comes from the heraldry included in this group, specifically from a pair of shields now in the tracery of sV at North Tuddenham. They are the arms traditionally ascribed to St George and St Michael, Argent a plain cross gules and Gules a plain cross argent [Figs 14–15]. These saints often appear together in late-medieval English iconography, and we shall be hearing more about St George later. Two late-sixteenth-century antiquarian sources (BL: MS Lansdowne 260 and Harley 901) record these two shields, both at Wiggenhall St Peter and at nearby Wiggenhall St German. The latter can be ruled out, as the tracery lights are of the wrong shape to accommodate the early fifteenth-century North Tuddenham group, whereas at St Peter they are of a suitable shape and size.
The former presence of this heraldry and the form of the tracery lights at Wiggenhall St Peter make this church a possible candidate for the provenance of the glass, although other churches also had these two shields. Other factors confirm the suitability of Wiggenhall St Peter. The fact that it is a ruined church may at first sight suggest a reason for the glass’s having been removed before c.1870. Yet the church was still an active place of worship in the early twentieth century, although by 1929 the nave had been closed because of its parlous condition. The south aisle however had been demolished in 1840, the stone-work of the windows being reused for the present south nave fenestration [Fig. 16], and I believe that the south aisle is most likely to have been where the glass came from. The fact that it was stored by a builder rather than a glazier would be compatible with its having been removed as part of a demolition rather than as a result of a campaign to restore the glass.
That exhausts the contemporary evidence relating to the move of the glass, which it must be admitted is far from conclusive; we must now turn to the internal evidence of the glass itself and what is known about the church from which I believe it came. Although the advowson of Wiggenhall St Peter was split between the priories of Shouldham and Crabhouse, the Bishop of Norwich nearly always presented to the church. In 1421, John Wakeryng, Bishop of Norwich 1416–25, appointed Richard de Wigenhale vicar; two years later he collated Edmund Blake.
When Wakeryng died in 1425, he was buried next to the altar of St George in Norwich Cathedral. He was the nearest thing to a patron saint for Norwich. The highly important Guild of St George was closely allied to the city administration and met in the cathedral; later Sir John Fastolf, a member of the guild, gave a relic of St George’s arm. The saint is particularly prominent in the early North Tuddenham glass – where a main-light panel from a life of the saint occurs, together with tracery lights depicting him fighting the dragon, and his shield – and would have been seen as reflecting the fact that Wakeryng was Bishop of Norwich.
That the main-light panel was part of a series depicting incidents from the saint’s life and not a single image is suggested by the facts that two episodes are depicted (St George’s arrival and meeting with the king’s daughter due to be slain by the dragon, and his encounter with the beast; Fig. 3) and other fragments survive with horses that appear to be from the same series [Fig. 17]. Many images of this saint were made in Norfolk in the period immediately following the English triumph at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), and if Bishop Wakeryng was associated with the provision of this glass, as I suggest is possible, his service as Keeper of the Rolls until June 1415 and then Keeper of the Privy Seal and other royal appointments may have been additional reasons for this choice of patriotic imagery.
Wakeryng was elected Bishop of Norwich in November 1415 and consecrated the following May. In 1416, he went to the Council of Constance (a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice) as a royal delegate, not returning until 1418, when he finally entered his diocese. After that, he was an assiduous diocesan bishop, despite other royal appointments. It was probably shortly after his return that he preached in St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn, and patiently endured during his sermon an outbursts of weeping by the diarist Margery Kemp (1373 – in or after 1438).
Just before Wakeryng’s election as Bishop of Norwich, a long-running series of disputes in King’s Lynn concerning the method of governance of the town, and in particular the procedure for electing the mayor, came to a head when the election of the mayor in August 1415 was the occasion of serious unrest. The issue had been whether the old or a new electoral procedure should be used. The king had become annoyed at this long-standing and recurrent problem, and in October of that year forced a compromise mayor on the town, threatening to withdraw its liberties if this was not agreed to. Arbitration followed, and on 16 August 1416 it was agreed that the old process for elections should be reinstated. When Bishop Wakeryng, who as Bishop of Norwich was de iure lord of the town, returned from Constance, his diplomatic skills were able to effect a final compromise settlement, whereby the old procedure was again confirmed, but a second chamber was added to the system of municipal government.
I have indulged in this brief excursus on the politics of King’s Lynn as a preliminary to further discussion of the St Margaret panel, as I believe that the internal evidence of this panel and the other surviving parts of the life of St Margaret reveal links with these events and thus with King’s Lynn and Bishop Wakering, a combination adding considerable support for the thesis of an origin for this glass in a church just south of that town (remembering that the bishop appointed the vicar at Wiggenhall St Peter).
The second surviving complete panel in the series shows St Margaret before Olybrius [Fig. 18]. He stands on the left wearing a voluminous red mantle. A large curved scabbard hangs from a strap and on his head is an ornate crown. St Margaret stands on the right, and Olybrius grasps her raised right. Behind Olybrius stands a bearded man, and to the right of St Margaret is Olybrius’s squire. The inscriptions will be considered below. Lesser remains are in some of the tracery lights, including Olybrius sitting on a throne and fragments, among them part of a throne with a fur covering, on the front of which are two recessed quatrefoils surmounted by shields of arms [Fig. 19]. In another light the saint stands (or perhaps originally knelt) with her back to the viewer, looking to the right with right hand raised and with her hair wrapped round a horizontal beam, while she is flogged across the back with a triple-ended scourge [Fig. 20]. On a scroll below in blackletter is ‘in eternu(m)’. Another fragment includes Olybrius and his squire [Fig. 21]. It is impossible to say how extensive the original series was when complete, but it probably occupied a whole window, perhaps with one or more donor figures and some heraldry.
Our focus will now turn to the inscriptions and the small shields. The inscriptions are set out here, together with translations, parallel passages from Osberne Bokenham’s life of St Margaret from his Legendys of Hooly Wummen, and inscriptions from a lost window depicting the life of St Margaret recorded by Blomefield at Heydon in Norfolk.
Olybrius’s squire invites St Margaret to follow him
1. St Margaret
North Tuddenham: ‘Miserere / d(omi)ne a(n)i(m)/e mee’ (‘O Lord, have mercy on my soul.’).
Bokenham: ‘Haue mercy, lord ihesu, vp-on me’.
North Tuddenham: ‘Veni d(omi)ne [for domino] loquere meo’ (‘Come and speak with my lord’).
Bokenham: no equivalent.
3. St Margaret
North Tuddenham: ‘Co(m)pac(ti)o non potest esse’ (‘There can be no agreement.’).
Bokenham: no equivalent.
Olybrius questions St Margaret
North Tuddenham: ‘Ex quo gen(er)e es? Libera [an] a(n)cilla?’ (‘Of what social status are you? Free or a servant?’).
Bokenham: ‘Sey me, damysel, of what kyn thou art, / And whethyr thou be bonde or ellys fre.’.
2. St Margaret
North Tuddenham: ‘Libera no(n) solum s(ed) chri(sti)ana ‘ (‘Not only free, but a Christian’).
Bokenham: ‘Seruage in me had neuere no part, / For cristene I am sekyr, sere, quod she.’.
V, C4. St Margaret is scourged
Heydon: ‘Hic Margareta flagellatur et per crines suspendatur’ (‘Here Margaret is scourged and hung by her hair.’).
Bokenham: ‘He comaundyd hyr be hange in the eyr heye, / And to betyn wyth yerdys …’.
North Tuddenham (fragment): ‘in eternu(m)’ (‘for ever’).
Heydon: ‘Speravi in te Domine, non confundar in eternum’ (‘I have placed my hope in you, oh Lord; may I not be confounded for ever.’)
Bokenham: ‘In the, Lord, I truste, and in thy mercy. / Let me not confoundyd be, lord, endelessly.’).
Three points arise. The least important is that the fragment of text in the scourging panel with ‘in eternu(m)’ appears to be from that scene, as the Heydon comparison shows. Secondly, there are close comparisons to be made between the Bokenham life of St Margaret and the inscriptions in the North Tuddenham glass. The third and most important point is that in two cases there is no equivalent in the Bokenham version. The first of these is when the squire addresses Margaret (‘Come and speak with my lord.’) and the second is her reply (‘There can be no agreement.’). After consulting other sources – other texts of the life of St Margaret (including that owned by Anne Harling at East Harling, that in the Acta Sanctorum, that in the Legenda Aurea); the lections for the feast of St Margaret in the Sarum Breviary; the lections in the Helmingham Breviary of c.1420 from Norwich Priory (for variants); and Juliana Dresvina (who has written her PhD thesis on texts of the life of St Margaret) – my finding that the two inscriptions in the glass just mentioned have no parallel elsewhere is confirmed. Experience tells me that when something unusual (which I believe this is) crops up in fifteenth-century Norwich glass-painting, there is normally a good reason for it.
We return to King’s Lynn. After the election in August 1414 of John Lakynghithe as Mayor of Lynn, one of the former mayors whose claim for expenses had been dismissed, the issue of electoral procedure was again raised. On 18 February 1415, chancery issued a certiorari writ addressed to the mayor, ordering a new round of negotiations among all parties dealing with all dissensions, with the conclusion to be brought before chancery on 14 April 1415. The response to this was late, not coming until 14 June 1415, when the mayor, Robert Brunham, the burgesses and the community submitted all disputes to the bishop and Thomas Beaufort for arbitration. Between the deadline and this submission, the king took action, as recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls on 10 May 1415: ‘Commission to Oliver Groos, John Glemham, John Norwich and Richer Lound to enquire concerning divers dissensions, discords and debates which have continued for no small time and still do so daily between the mayor and certain of the burgesses of King’s Lynn and certain other burgesses and the commonalty of the town, since the king, desiring to pacify these, has caused certain persons of the said parties to be called before him and his council very often but has so far been unable to induce the parties to compromise, negotiate and make a final agreement on the dissensions in a way which seemed suitable to the king and council or to obtain true knowledge of the cause, origin and continuance thereof from either party.’
I would like to suggest that the first St Margaret panel with the unusual inscriptions was intended to allude to these events. When the squire says ‘Come and speak with my lord’ and St Margaret replies that there can be no agreement, this echoes the words of the commission: ‘the king … has caused certain persons of the said parties to be called before him and his council very often but has so far been unable to induce the parties to compromise, negotiate and make a final agreement on the dissensions’. The word used by St Margaret for an agreement is compactio, one of the meanings of which is ‘composition’; it is alo the word used to describe the settlement of a political dispute, for example, Yelverton’s Composition of 1452 in Norwich. In the second panel, Margaret’s assertion of her free status can be seen as the often expressed wish of urban authorities in the late Middle Ages to maintain their independence vis-à-vis higher authority. We shall see in a moment that the shields on the fragmentary panel suggest that the conceit was carried across at least one more panel.
This idea would seem fanciful, were it not for three facts. Firstly, it is certainly feasible to see St Margaret in this panel as a personification of King’s Lynn, as she already had a symbolic role in the town’s identity: the town’s parish church (part of the priory church), where Bishop Wakering preached to Margery Kemp, was dedicated to St Margaret, and the town’s coat of arms (with its three dragon’s heads pierced by a cross-staff) alludes to the standard image of the saint, in which she pierces a dragon in this way [Fig. 22]. Secondly, the shield on the belt of Olybrius’s servant bears the arms of John Glemham, Argent a chevron between three annulets sable [Fig. 23]. Glemham was, as we have seen, one of the commissioners ordered by Henry V to enquire into the situation at Lynn and summon the citizens to make a composition. In a fragmentary panel in the west window, two more shields are seen on the side of a throne [Fig. 24]. The first is almost certainly meant to be also for Glemham, although the annulets have been filled in. The second shows Argent a fess between two caltraps sable; although the bearer of these arms has not been identified, the most likely identification is Sir William Calthorp, who died in 1420 and whose name is a variant spelling of the word caltrap (a spiked device used in battle to injure horses’ feet). I suggest here that his normal arms, Chequy or and azure a fesse ermine, would have been impossible to represent on this small scale, so alternative canting arms, retaining the fesse but replacing the chequy pattern with caltraps, were used. Although I have not found his name amongst those used by the king and his deputies to enquire into the King’s Lynn troubles, he was active on the king’s behalf in the area. He was given a commission by Henry V in 1415 to look into why some French prisoners escaped from Wisbech Castle, and in 1419 he was on a commission of array for Norfolk with Oliver Groos, who appears with John Glemham on the King’s Lynn commission in 1415. These rather obscure heraldic allusions may be compared to the arms of the Duke of Suffolk on the Jew arresting the funeral of the Virgin in the glass at St Peter Mancroft, with the squire at Wiggenhall personifying the king’s agents tasked with settling the dispute, and St Margaret the citizens of Lynn reluctant to do this.
It is significant, moreover, that the Keeper of the Rolls when this commission was enrolled on 3 May 1415 was Bishop Wakeryng himself. He would have been in charge of the safe keeping of all the enrolled Letters Patent issued by the king in chancery under the great seal and could well have read the very document I have cited. A further possible piece of evidence is that the presence at Wiggenhall St Peter of windows relating to St Margaret and St George can also be seen as alluding to the twin functions of John Wakeryng as lord of Bishop’s Lynn, as it was called then, and Bishop of Norwich, where, as has been stated, the Guild of St George played a dominant roll in the administration of the city.
We shall now consider briefly the remaining glass of this group at North Tuddenham to see how its iconography would accord with the suggested patronage and provenance. A panel depicting God the Father from a Coronation of the Virgin at North Tuddenham [Fig. 10] would have been a suitable subject for the Lady Chapel in the south aisle. The figure of St Edmund Rich (with an intruded head) may refer to the vicar appointed by Wakeryng in 1423, who was called Edmund Blake [Fig. 25], and there is also a figure of St Edmund, king and martyr, among this group of panels [Fig. 26]. Other standing bishop and archbishop saints are present, the only named one being St Martin [Fig. 27]. All suggest the possibility of episcopal patronage. The figure of St Leonard may be linked to the priory of St Leonard just outside medieval Norwich, which was a cell of the cathedral priory where the bishop had the right of confirming the appointment of priors [Fig. 8]. One of the porch windows at North Tuddenham has a fragmentary main-light figure of St James from this group [Fig. 28], and a will of 1445 mentions an altar of St James in St Peter’s, Wiggenhall. The presence of St Etheldreda [Fig. 9] may reflect the closeness of Wiggenhall to the diocese of Ely, but two contemporary legatees to the church had relatives of that name.
The suggested provenance is also consistent with what is known about the building dates of Wiggenhall St Peter, as Joan Wiggenhall, Prioress of Crabhouse nunnery in Wiggenhall, paid half of the cost of rebuilding the chancel there in 1420, and three moderate bequests to the fabric were made in 1421 and 1432. The same legatees also left similar legacies to Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, which was being rebuilt at this time and where glass of a similar date was provided. Indeed, both churches had a series of seated ecclesiastics, although those at St Mary Magdalen were made by different workshops, some or all of which may have been based in King’s Lynn. The extensive contemporary glazing work at St Mary Magdalen may be one of the reasons why Norwich glaziers were used at St Peter’s, although the fact that the Bishop of Norwich may have been a donor was another possible reason. If the glass was made with allusions to the final settlement of the King’s Lynn dispute in 1420 by Bishop Wakeryng, then a date of c.1420–25 can be suggested for the St Margaret series; some of the other glass, although by the same workshop, could be a little later.
It is possible that Joan de Wiggenhall, the Prioress of Crabhouse, may also have been a patron of the glass at St Peter’s. Her cousin was John de Wiggenhall, a highly influential cleric in the diocese and the holder of several important posts, including that of Vicar General to the Bishop of Norwich. Richard de Wigenhale, appointed by the bishop in 1421 as vicar of Wiggenhall St Peter, may well have been a relation of both Joan and John.
What are we to make of this interpretation of the St Margaret panel? It refers to a recent episode from a vantage point just outside the town where the events alluded to took place, in a window given, I am suggesting, by the bishop who came quite late to the dispute, but who, unlike his belligerent predecessor Henry Despenser, had the human qualities necessary to complete the process of reconciliation. We cannot know if this was the only contemporary allusion in the glass, but certainly this one is rather different from other examples of such conceits in Norfolk glass. There appears to be even a suggestion of humour here, possibly verging on the satirical, almost like a modern political cartoon, although that may be to impose modern sensibilities onto a medieval context. What must be borne in mind is that the window was operating on two levels simultaneously. It was both a depiction of the widely known story of the virgin saint who nobly resists the attacks of the pagan ruler on her piety and virtue and at the same time a comment on recent local political events. This polyvalency was common in medieval art, usually that of a fairly high status, and in the late medieval period can be seen as deriving ultimately from the earlier scholastic four-fold method of biblical exegesis. A work can only be elucidated when sufficient precise details of the circumstances surrounding its creation are known, and the dangers of over-interpretation is ever present.
M. Bateson (ed.), ‘The Register of Crabhouse Nunnery’, Norfolk Archaeology, 11 (1892), pp. 1–71
C. Woodforde, The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1950)
R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (London, 1993)
M. D. Myers, ‘The Failure of Conflict Resolution and the Limits of Arbitration in King’s Lynn, 1405-1416’, in D. Biggs, S. D. Michalove and A. C. Reeves (eds), Traditions and Transformations in Late Medieval England (Leyden/Boston/Cologne, 2002), pp. 81–108
K. Parker, ‘A Little Local Difficulty: Lynn and the Lancastrian Usurpation’, C. Harper-Bill (ed.), Medieval East Anglia (Woodbridge, 2005), pp. 115–29
D. King, The Medieval Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V (Oxford, 2006)
D. King, ‘Reading the Material Culture: Stained Glass and Politics in Late Medieval Norfolk’, in L. Clark (ed.), The Fifteenth Century, VIII: Rule, Redemption and Representations in Late Medieval England and France (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 105–134 (This article does not discuss the present panel, but gives other examples of political allusions in Norfolk glass.)