It has long been assumed that tapestries belonging to English patrons were costly imports. English manufacture has never been considered. It is even asserted that there is a complete lack of evidence for late medieval English tapestry production, an assumption that runs flatly counter to data drawn from a variety of English primary sources. The issue of lavish expenditure is similarly open to question. Indeed, it is entirely possible that English expenditure on tapestries in the 15th century has been overestimated to a considerable degree. This paper seeks to offer a revised view of English tapestry production and patronage.
Studies on monumental brasses have often tended to centre on material and/or pictorial aspects. The present paper is an attempt to focus on the inscriptions as text, and in particular on the subject of language choice. With a choice between Latin and vernacular, who gets which language? Does the choice depend on factors such as status, profession, or gender? Does it influence the nature of the text? Does it change over time?
The parish church of St Michael-le-Belfrey, rebuilt in the early 16th century, provides the opportunity for an analysis of late medieval patronal display through an examination of its contemporary nave aisle windows. One of York’s wealthiest parishes, St Michael’s parish included some of the most prominent freemen in the city, several of whom also served as city alderman and lord mayors. While the rebuilding of the church was apparently the responsibility of the adjacent minster, the glazing program was paid for by a series of lay patrons, as well as members of the minster clergy with particular connections to the church’s rebuilding. In both cases the windows are testimony not only to religious belief but also commemorate the status, wealth, and lineage of their patrons. In addition to containing a series of single standing saints, donor images, coats of arms, and donor initials, the windows feature inscriptions, almost exclusively in English, which record the names of the donors and in some cases, their trade, position, and family members. These, like other similar windows, are typically believed to reflect the donor’s wishes about subject matter and text. This series of windows with large, carefully rendered single standing saints, detailed inscriptions, and donor images advertises many elements related to the status of the donors. Some images are suggestive of their wealth. St. Martin, for example, is depicted in the fashionable dress his likely goldsmith donor would have worn himself. The involvement of the patrons in the creation of this public visual environment raises the issue of the heightened visibility of the figures due to the spatial quality of the new church and the relationship to devotional practice with reference to purgatory. Through the inscriptions, the parish community was exhorted to pray for the donors both during and after their lifetime. The congregation was surrounded by calls to pray for the windows’ donors, presumably through their chosen intercessor saints depicted above the image of the patron and their inscriptions. As such they forge a powerful connection between parochial worship in the eternal community of the saved with the donors’ status displayed during their lifetime and beyond.