Saturday, February 04, 2012

Question from Stuart - Henry VIII's banner in France in 1513


I have read reference that Henry VIII took the banner of the virgin mary to France on the 1513 campaign, can anyone offer any suggestion as to its appearance or principal colours?

PS,if you're interested in Tudor vexillology invest in 'Banners standards and badges from a Tudor manuscript in the college of arms'; a great book !

Kind Regards



Foose said...

I couldn't find any description in contemporary records. Hall just says that the king had "the standard of the redde dragon, next the banner of our lady [the Virgin], and next after the banner of the Trinitie ... Then went the banner of the arms of England ... under which banner was the king himself." Finally, the account mentions several times the banner of St. George.

So it's time to speculate!

Starkey's book on young Henry suggested that the example of Henry V, conqueror of France, was a very powerful influence on the king's mind as he prepared for his 1513 invasion. Hence it might be reasonable to assume that Henry's expedition, as organized by Wolsey, followed closely on the lines laid down by his predecessor, at least in terms of talismans and religious imagery.

Contemporary chronicler Seigneur de St-Remy described Henry V as having at Agincourt "five banners: that is to say, the banner of the Trinity, the banner of St. George, the banner of St. Edward, and the banner of his own arms." That's four - which was the fifth? Some speculate it was St. Edmund's banner, but Henry's contemporary and protege, the poet John Lydgate, says in his poem on Agincourt:

Avaunt baner, without lettyng;
Seynt George before avowe we hyme,
The baner of the Trynyte forth ye bring,
And Seynte Edward baner at this tyme,
Over he seyde, Lady Hevene Quene
Myn own baner, with hire shall be.

(The king said, the Lady Queen of Heaven, my own banner shall be with hers.)

I don't see in Hall anything that indicates Henry VIII took along St. Edward's banner - possibly the "redde dragon" was a substitute, highlighting the Tudor Welsh heritage (also possibly a reference to the Arthurian legends) - but the other three (if Lydgate is correct) match up with Henry V's banners.

Foose said...

The next question is, what was the banner of Our Lady like - what did it represent? The Virgin's medieval iconography is extensive, and different aspects of her were emphasized at different times. Lydgate's poem points to the Virgin being represented as "Queen of Heaven," an extremely popular cult of the medievals, in which the simple peasant of Nazareth was closely assimilated with chivalric culture and transformed into a regal focal point of worship for royalty (as she was now a fellow royal and a suitable object of devotion).

In the English mythology, the Virgin as Queen of Heaven is served by St. George, the patron of England, and hence by the English king. Miri Rubin's Mother of God states "[Henry V] claimed her as a model of majesty and priesthood, of sacred kingship embodied in his own person ... Mary was a dynastic patron and she merged with the well-being and safety of England."

Moreover, in late medieval theological thought, the Queen of Heaven is also a warrior, leading armies of angels in defence of just causes (to the English, invading France is always a just cause). The choice of the "banner of our Lady" might have attracted influential support from Catherine of Aragon; in Spain, Mary as "Queen of Heaven" was powerfully identified with her mother and the crusade against the infidel - "For Mary was the particular patroness of the reconquest of Spain" (Theresa Earenfight, Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern Spain).

So what did the banner look like? The iconography of the Queen of Heaven inevitably includes a crown. Some sources mention a scepter. I have seen images of the Virgin in this aspect standing on the crescent moon, but I'm not sure that this isn't from later centuries. I couldn't find more specific information in my search. Regarding the colors - blue is traditionally regarded as the Virgin's color, but her elevation to regal status might have meant that purple or red were used. There's a letter extant from Richard III to the Wardrobe ordering banners of St. Edward, the Trinity, St. George, St. Cuthbert and "one banner of sarsenet of Our Lady"; these are included in an order with a number of highly detailed clothing requests, and the lack of description for the banner orders may indicate there was a standardized look or template (also that the preferred banners, no matter which king, Lancastrian, Yorkist, or Tudor, were pretty much the same). One caution - Richard's order may not be for army banners but rather banners to be used at court, for ceremonies and funerals - the "Banner of Our Lady" for a funeral might be quite different from the "Banner of Our Lady" used for a military venture.

The banner of Our Lady that Henry VIII brought to France was certain to be a lavish production, though - with the finest cloth, elaborately embroidered, perhaps even with jewels and gilt.

Again, I caution that this is all just speculative.

Anonymous said...

Wow! thank you so much, that's a lot to consider and some avenues that I hadn't thought of.

I'm very appreciative, thank you for your time.