Friday, June 1, 2012
Abbey Dore, Herefordshire
The king's arms
As Britain is celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it might be appropriate to share an example of the royal arms from an English Parish church. Royal arms have been displayed in English churces for centuries, but especially since Henry VIII assumed leadership of the Church of England in 1534. The composition of the arms has changed over the years, with the comings and goings of different monarchs and ruling houses, and during the Commonwealth (1649–60) royal arms were removed, to be replaced later. The result is that English churches display arms from many different periods, with the 18th and 19th centuries well represented.
Sometimes a coat of arms from before the Commonwealth escaped the hands of Cromwell’s supporters – or was replaced when the monarchy was restored. An example of one of these Stuart coats of arms is in the wonderful gothic church at Abbey Dore in Herefordshire, a building that began as a Cistercian abbey 1147. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the building and land passed to the Scudamore family, who dismantled many of the abbey buildings and sold off the stone. In the 1630s, John Viscount Scudamore restored the abbey as a parish church, and amongst his gifts to the building was a magnificent classical screen topped with this coat of arms, which is that of Charles I. The characterful lion and unicorn are surrounded by vigorous carved wooden scrolls in the style of the time. The detached tail of the lion is a poignant touch: I think of it as an accidental symbol of interrupted Stuart rule.