Shield of Light: The Making and Logic of Heraldic Schemes in English Medieval Stained Glass c.1380-1560 – Oliver Fearon (York)

Combined Arms of William Harwedon d.1434 (dexter) and Margery de St. John d.1441 (sinister) from Fawsley Hall, Northamptonshire 1500-1542.' The copyright is '© The Burrell Collection, Glasgow

Combined Arms of William Harwedon d.1434 (dexter) and Margery de St. John d.1441 (sinister) from Fawsley Hall, Northamptonshire 1500-1542 (© The Burrell Collection, Glasgow)

The planning and making of series of heraldic shields in medieval England is likely to have confronted medieval artists and patrons with unusual demands. As images that brought with them the weight of ancestral history, the commissioning of heraldic projects might require a patron’s historical and genealogical knowledge as much as the skills of medieval craftsmen for the fashioning of heraldic blazon in its physical form. The importance of this dialogue between patron and artist is perhaps most evident when one considers the delicate nature of making heraldry in stained and painted glass. In order to achieve complex heraldic designs in such a fragile and expensive medium we must assume a close collaboration between patron and glazier. When making heraldic arms, the translucency of stained glass was also manipulated through an array of technically impressive methods that suggest stained glass to have had qualities particularly germane to heraldic representation for medieval viewers.

Analysing multiple relationships between patrons and glaziers, my doctoral work draws on heraldic schemes made in England between 1380-1560. Important cases of heraldic patronage are the successive commissions of glass associated with three marriages of the Knightley family of Fawsley, Northamptonshire in the early Sixteenth Century. The first series of shields commemorated the marriage of Jane Skenard and Sr. Richard Knightley in 1501. Jane was a high-status Northamptonshire heiress and their heraldic series, which documents her local ancestry, shows evidence of detailed planning and historical research into her genealogy. Whilst Sr. Richard Knightley was probably an important influence upon the scheme, Jane Skenard outlived him by many years and is known to have been a very influential widow and patron of the arts. The patronage of successive heraldic schemes by their two sons, Edmund and Valentine Knightley, also represents the family’s consistent contact with medieval glaziers over a period of sixty years.

The project also explores how heraldic glazing can describe the structure of the medieval glassmaking craft. Financial accounts for the glazing of Henry VI’s Palace at Richmond give a rich insight into the preparation methods behind planning large series of heraldic schemes. The presence of a pattern book, specifically for making royal heraldry, gives an indication of the degree of accuracy desired its execution. The financial accounts also give an indication of the great financial cost involved in the making of heraldic shields, which suggests a large amount of both intellectual and artistic labour was involved in the workshop.

My research also wishes to tap into the visual appeal of stained glass for representing heraldic devices during this period. The mid-fifteenth-century glass from Ockwells Manor in Berkshire demonstrates the apparent enjoyment of virtuoso heraldic glazing by Sr. John Norreys, Henry VI’s Keeper of the Wardrobe. The Ockwells glass includes unusual shield designs with lavish mantling, suggesting it to be the work of a high-level glazier such as the aforementioned John Prudde. Norrey’s court affiliations also mirrored his taste for lavish glazing, such as Richard Beauchamp’s patronage of Prudde for the glazing of his chantry chapel at St. Mary’s Warwick. My analysis of the Ockwells glass focusses in particular on the use of “jewelled” or inserted glass within the heraldic designs. This method of inserting solid glass pieces, seamlessly, within the body of larger pieces of glass creates a jewel-like effect. Far from an easy solution to using a variety of colours in glass painting, these technical feats suggest some patrons were interested in the aesthetic variety which stained glass made available to heraldic art through the manipulation of light.

I would be interested in collaborating with other academics and researchers who are interested in a variety of issues relating to heraldic art but especially those working on the relationship between heraldry and issues of materiality and the involvement of medieval heraldry in historical and intellectual discourses.

Oliver Fearon

University of York and The Burrell Collection


Cite this blog post
Oliver Fearon (2015, July 6). Shield of Light: The Making and Logic of Heraldic Schemes in English Medieval Stained Glass c.1380-1560 – Oliver Fearon (York). Heraldica Nova. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

Oliver Fearon

I am a currently studying for a PhD at the University of York, researching how the production of medieval heraldry in stained glass participated in the formation of elite identities in England c.1350-1560. Funded by the Burrell Collection (Glasgow), my research draws attention to the social concepts that heraldry, especially in the expensive and jewel-like medium of stained glass, facilitated for a variety of medieval patrons such as the gentry, members of the English royal family and clerics. Aktuell arbeite ich als Doktorand an der Universität von York und gehe hier der Frage nach, in welcher Weise die Produktion heraldischer Kunst, insbesondere in der Glasmalerei, zur Identitätsbildung im englischen Adel des späten Mittelalters und der beginnenden Frühneuzeit beitrug.

1 Response

  1. I have been researching a painted scheme of over 80 Latin texts, shields, technical drawings and allegorical emblems. This scheme aligns with your study area “formation of elite identities” though it is slightly later (c1572) and is paint on wood. It illustrates the dynastic, moral and intellectual values of the Dryden-Copes at Canons Ashby near Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire. The dynastic element is ~60% of the scheme. [Interestingly there is a system of ciphers at work within the heraldry which explains why the nature of the display has been mis-understood for more than 30 years after its discovery in 1983]
    The Knightley Arms are part of the heraldic assembly – Knightley were kin-folk of the Copes via the Spencers. But which of several candidates is represented is a puzzle. The Arms have the paly quarters at 1 and 4 (Ermine at 2/3), but they have a red border (bordure gules). Are these represented in the Fawsley glass in the Burrell Collection? There is no record of these locally or in heraldic sources.

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