[He was] tall and slim, wise, regal and his beard was white as milk, his skin roseate and his face appeared satisfied.
- The Life of Blessed Edward King and Confessor, Osbert of Clare (my translation)
The Wilton Diptych, from wikimedia commons
Recently, on one of my favourite blogs, I read a wonderful little piece in which Wytham Church of All Saints in Oxfordshire was presented. The current church was rebuilt to its present appearance in the period 1811-12. On the inside it is decorated with sculpture and stained glass from sundry epochs that have been gleaned from various other venues. I was particularly fascinated by two roundels with stained glass, and they led me to write this present piece. The images are most courteously lent by A Clerk of Oxford.
14th-century saint ostensibly modelled on Anne of Bohemia, courtesy of A Clerk of Oxford
14th century saint ostensibly modelled on Richard II, courtesy of A Clerk of Oxford
According to the church website and information made available at the church itself, these two roundels date from the late 14th century, and they are said to depict royal saints rather than contemporary historical figures. Despite this claim, however, it is acknowledged that the two faces in question bear resemblance to King Richard II and his wife Anne of Bohemia. In this blogpost I will take this claim seriously and compare this image of a saint looking like Richard II with other contemporary representations of him.
Richard II died in 1400, about 33 years old, and depictions of him portray him often as a young man. In the the Wilton Diptych, commissioned by the king and executed in the mid-to-late 1390s, his youth appears almost exaggerated considering he was nearing thirty by the time it was ordered. It may, however, be that the image is meant to capture the king's likeness in retrospect, depicting the accession to the throne as a boy of 10 in 1377. This hypothesis is strengthened when we compare the Wilton Diptych with the depiction of Richard in the Liber Regalis - the book of the coronation order - from c.1382, prepared for the accession of his wife Anne of Bohemia. Here we see Richard's face adorned by the two wisps of beard, similar to the face in the Wytham roundel.
Liber Regalis, c.1382, from wikimedia commons
By this time the king was about 15 years old. It is tempting to say that the illuminator of Liber Regalis has added some age to Richard's appareance - perhaps to give him greater gravity - and thus gone the opposite route of the makers of the later Wilton Diptych. This is, however, mere speculation.
Despite the king's aged countenance in Liber Regalis, several depictions from the 1390s portray Richard II as a young-faced monarch. First of all, we see this in one of the most famous images of the king, showing Richard seated on his throne in coronation regalia. This panel-painting - allegedly the earliest portrait of an English monarch - was made in the 1390s by an unknown master. Although the coronation regalia suggest that this depiction, like the Wilton Diptych, may be retrospective, it is interesting to note that two such portraits came about in the 1390s.
Anonymous master, Richard II, from wikimedia commons
Another depiction, however, suggests that the above image is not retrospective but contemporary. The depiction in question is an illumination from Philippe de Mézières' Epistre au roi Richart, the letter to king Richard, composed in Central France in 1395-1396. This book was given as a token of friendship from the French king and his people, and on the second folio we see an illumination showing Philippe de Mézières handing his book to Richard II. The king is here depicted as a young and clean-shaven man.
The last portrait of Richard II from his own lifetime to be presented here, is the effigy made for his tomb in Westminster Abbey. Here we find once more the king's characteristic wisps of beard issuing from either side of his chin, though less profusely than in Liber Regalis. The king's youth is hard to detect in this effigy, but whether this is because age has been added for gravity or whether he had aged significantly during the times of civil unrest remains an open question. It may also, however, have been that the artist making the effigy added years because he did not expect the young king to depart very soon.
Richard II's tomb, copyright Westminster Abbey
Richard II's effigy, copyright Wesminster Abbey
King Richard II was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399 and died the year after. Shortly after his death, the Book of the Capture and Death of King Richard II - La Prinse et mort du roy Richart - was prepared in Central France. The book came about in the timespan c.1401-c.1405 and was written by Jean Creton. Here we see a number of illuminations of Richard II, in all of which his wisps of beard are depicted clearly, but these representations appears to add some age to his features, though it is difficult to assess whether this is actually the case, or - if it really is the case - whether this is deliberate or not.
Richard II at Conway, MS. Harley 1319, courtesy of British Library
Richard II disguised as a priest, MS. Harley 1319, courtesy of British Library
Richard the II and Bolingbroke, MS. Harley 1319, courtesy of British Library
Now let us return to the Wytham roundels. From the images we have seen depicting Richard II,we see there is a clear resemblance betweent these and the face of Wytham, characterised first of all by the easily recognisable beard. However, if we are to accept the claim that this is not Richard but a saint made to resemble him, a very interesting question naturally arises: which saint is this?
To my mind, the most probable answer is St. Edward the Confessor (d. 1066, c. 1161), whom Richard II adopted as his particular saint. Richard's embrace of Edward the Confessor manifested itself in 1381 when the king started to visit his tomb in times of trouble for solace and counsel. Gradually, Richard's devotion to the Confessor became more acute, and in 1390 he attended Prime, Vespers, Compline and Matins on Edward's translatio, and during Mass that day he wore his crown. Richard II also began more and more to identify with, or at least emulate, Edward the Confessor, and in the Wilton Diptych we see Richard presented to the virgin by Edward, Edmund and John the Baptist. Furthermore, Richard impaled his coat of arms with the arms of the Confessor, and although this was not done publicly until 1397, we see this new heraldic conflation on silverware items from before that year.
Katherine J. Lewis has also suggested that following the death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394, and prompted by his childlessness, Richard began to emulate the Confessor's virginal virtue by presenting himself as a virgin king.
If the Wytham roundel is meant to depict St. Edward the Confessor, it is therefore only natural that the depiction should be modelled on the king who was his most eager devotee. This idea is particularly tantalising when we consider that the glass was donated by the Golafre family, who had served at Richard's court and must have been familiar with his devotional tastes.
The case for Edward the Confessor therefore fits well with both the times and the religious climate at court. It is further supported by the conflation of appearances executed in the roundel. The face has Richard's characteristic beard, but it is given the whiteness of old, sagacious age so common to the representations of Edward the Confessor.
Edward the Confessor, MS. Royal 20 A II, courtesy of British Library
Whether the roundel at Wytham does depict Edward the Confessor or not, may probably never be properly answered. Nonetheless, the evidence in favour of this proposition is considerable. It may be further strengthened by the fact that a boss inside the church depict the arms of the Confessor, but this may be a coincidence given the compilatory nature of the decorations, or it may refer to the University College of Oxford, which in modern times has adopted the legendary arms of Edward the Confessor as its emblem. In any case, it makes perfect sense if the donors of the glass modelled Edward the Confessor's likeness on that of Richard II, resulting in perhaps the most overt conflation of devoted and devotee in the history of English royalty.
Arms of Edward the Confessor, courtesy of A Clerk of Oxford
Binski, Paul, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: kingship and the representation of power, 1200-1400, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1995
Bloch, Marc (ed.), “La Vie de S. Edouard le Confesseur par Osbert de Clare,” Analecta Bollandiana 41, 1923
Hector, L. C., and Harvey, Barbara F. (eds. and transl.), The Westminster Chronicle 1391-1394, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983
Lewis, Katherine, "Becoming a Virgin King: Richard II and Edward the Confessor ", printed in Riches, Samantha J. E. and Salih, Sarah (eds.), Gender and Holiness - Men, women and saints in late medieval Europe, Routledge, 2002
Mitchell, Shelagh, "Richard II: Kingship and the Cult of Saints", printed in Gordon, Dillian, Monnas, Lisa and Elam, Caroline, The Regal Image of Richard II and the Wilton Diptych, Harvey Miller Pub-lishers, London, 1997
Saul, Nigel, Richard II, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997
Tuck, Anthony, ‘Richard II (1367–1400)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23499, accessed 3 July 2013]