Tag Archives: Great Malvern Priory

Sir Thomas Lovell – Tudor lawyer and henchman.

sir thomas lovell.jpgI’ve arrived at today’s metaphorical advent in a rather circuitous way. My story starts with John Billesdon’s will. He wrote it on the 18th of December 1522 and left rather a lot of money to chantries being built for the repose of Sir Thomas Lovell’s soul.  The image on the left comes from the National Portrait Gallery. Here’s the will:

Billesdon (John),”grocer.”—To the Wardens of the Commonalty of the Mistery of the Grocery of London he leaves certain messuages, comprising “the Weyhouse,” (fn. 2) in Cornhill in the parish of S. Michael, held by him in trust, so that the said wardens maintain two chantries, in the chapel erected by Sir Thomas Lovell on the south side of the priory church of Halywell without Bysshoppisgate, for the souls of the said Sir Thomas when dead, Isabell, late wife of the same, and others, with observance of an obit, &c., in manner as directed. The sum of three hundred pounds he declares to have handed over, on behalf of the said Sir Thomas Lovell, to the wardens aforesaid, for repairing the above messuages. In case of default made in carrying out the terms of the devise the property is to go over to the Master and Wardens of the Marchaunte Taillours of the Fraternity or Guild of S. John Baptist of London under like conditions, with further remainder to the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London. Desires that his will be enrolled of record before the Mayor at the Guildhall, there to remain for ever. The will made tripartite: one part to remain with the Wardens of the Commonalty of Grocers, another with the Prioress of Haliwell, and the third with Sir Thomas Lovell and his heirs. Dated 18 December A.D. 1522.

Roll 240 (54).


‘Wills: 21-38 Henry VIII (1529-47)’, in Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2, 1358-1688, ed. R R Sharpe (London, 1890), pp. 634-651. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/court-husting-wills/vol2/pp634-651 [accessed 10 December 2016].

Why was I perusing  wills?  Well, for a start wills are an insight into the medieval/Tudor hereafter and the way ordinary people perceived themselves.  In this particular hereafter it was important, somewhat unexpectedly, for Mr Billesdon not to care for the repose of his own soul but to fulfil a debt to Sir Thomas Lovell.  Lovell would die two years after our grocer made his will but it is clear he was already concerned with his immortal soul – and further exploration suggests he may have had cause for concern.

The specific purpose of a chantry was to say prayers for the dead so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory before heading off to Heaven – think of Purgatory not so much as God’s waiting room but God’s sauna for the soul where you had to go in Catholic ideology until such time as your soul was sufficiently cleansed in order to be admitted to Heaven. The prayers offered by the monks and nuns who prayed in the chantries weren’t necessarily ‘get out of Purgatory free cards’ but definitely ensured that you would arrive at your destination sooner than otherwise.

And who was Sir Thomas Lovell? The name Lovell is suggestive of someone with strong white rose sympathies – think Francis Lovell of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire- but this particular Lovell came from a Norfolk family and was not related to Richard III’s friend, chamberlain and most loyal supporter. Sir Thomas, a Lincoln’s Inn trained lawyer, was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, so Lancastrian in fact that he’d had to flee to Brittany to join Henry Tudor during the reign of Richard III in 1483 having become involved with Buckingham’s rebellion. His brother-in-law was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth.

Sir Thomas returned with Henry and after Bosworth was elected to Henry’s first parliament. Sir Thomas was the chap who asked that Henry should honour the arrangements made between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville and marry Elizabeth of York – of course, Henry was going to do it anyway but by having Parliament make the request dressed the whole thing up as the will of the people. The logic is rather like a succession of falling dominoes: if the people want something to happen anyone reacting against it or Henry in particular was essentially not only a traitor to the Crown but also a traitor to the country…a nice piece of Tudor spin.

Lovell continued in his support for Henry not only politically but militarily at the Battle of Stoke in 1497 where he was knighted and also in terms of his financial policies.  Henry’s best known money men were Empson and Dudley but records show that Lovell was also a signatory to the forced loans that much of the nobility were required to make during this period, thus ensuring they didn’t have money to plot against Henry and were finically reliant upon the Tudors. Empson and Dudley were the sacrificial tax collectors executed by Henry’s own son when he became Henry VIII in 1509 in a bid for popular acclaim. It should be noted he also cancelled most of the outstanding loans.

Lovell may well have felt that he was lucky not to join Empson and Dudley, not least because as Chancellor of the Exchequor ( an appointment for life) as well as master of wards for a time, he’d successfully feathered his own nest during the reign – the Magnificat Window at Great Malvern was part funded by his donations which is why his image once featured in it.  Lovell even lent Elizabeth of York money.  The debt was secured against her plate.  A clue as to where this younger son gained his wealth can be gleaned from William Worseley,  Dean of St Paul’s.  The dean kept careful accounts which reveal that he paid Reginald Bray and Thomas Lovell ‘fines of allegiance’ on a regular basis.  Lovell was perhaps fortunate in 1909 that he was one of the executors of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s will along with Reginald Bray, Henry VII’s own shady ‘Mr Fix-it.’

Lovell could bear looking at a little more closely.  He was appointed Constable of the Tower and was present at the time when the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck made their ‘escape’ in 1499. This very foolish not to mention convenient action allowed them to be executed, leaving the way clear for Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur.

It was Lovell who arrested Sir James Tyrell at Guisnes near Calais  in 1501 where he’d served since 1485 with only a brief interlude to change allegiance from Richard III to Henry VII who pardoned him not once but twice from all possible crimes he might have committed whilst in the service of Richard III (you can just feel the conspiracy theory thickening nicely can’t you?)

Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution was precipitated from having become involved with the doings of the de la Pole family. Tyrell had given Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, shelter at Guisnes then waved the earl merrily on his way rather than arresting him on the spot. Lovell turned up, offered Tyrell safe conduct and then promptly arrested him. Tyrell rather belatedly made his confession as regards to the killing of the two princes in the Tower but claimed not to know where the bodies were on account of the fact they’d been moved.  He also named another person who was alive at the time – oddly Lovell didn’t feel the need to have words with the chap.  No one has ever clapped eyes on Tyrell’s confession (That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course because things can get put on the proverbial safe place only to turn up five hundred or so years later but none the less circumstantially very suspect whatever Thomas More may have thought on the subject). Thomas Penn, Henry VII’s award winning biographer, notes that ‘strange things tended to happen’ in Lovell’s vicinity. It’s also worth noting that Tyrell was attainted two years after his death but at no point does the bill against him mention slaughtering the princes in the Tower – which in the circumstances you might think it should. Tyrell’s son was arrested at the same time as his father but was granted his freedom and after a sufficient time had elapsed regained his father’s estate…make of it what you will. There will be more posts on the topic in 2017.

And how does our grocer fit into this rather shady picture? Further exploration reveals that  Billesdon was one of a number of merchants sent to negotiate with Lovell on behalf of the Mercers’ Company in relation to subsidies and rates (Watney:349). His name also turns up on the Calendar for Payment of Fines. This together with the will suggests that palms had been greased and favours exchanged in the cut throat world of Tudor politics.

Lovell is one of Henry VII’s new men. These men were appointed for their ability rather than their bloodline and because since Henry had made them, Henry could break them. This did not necessarily win friends and influence people at the time but it ensured that the Tudor administrative system was much more effective than anything that had come before. I’ve posted about Bray earlier in the year.  Double click on his name to open a new page for the earlier post.

anne_ashby_largeIn an interesting aside, Sir Thomas featured in another of the History Jar’s posts. He and his wife had no children. He left his estate at East Harling in Norfolk to his nephew Francis. Francis married Anne Ashby who turns out to be Hans Holbein’s ‘Lady with the Squirrel.’ I told you the Tudor world was a small one! Double click on Anne’s image to open the post on a new page if you want to read further.

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

 Watney, Frank D and  Lyell Laetitia. (2016) Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wroe, Ann (2003) Perkin A Story of Deception. London: Jonathon Cape

‘London and Middlesex Fines: Henry VIII’, in A Calendar To the Feet of Fines For London and Middlesex: Volume 2, Henry VII – 12 Elizabeth, ed. W J Hardy and W Page (London, 1893), pp. 16-68. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/feet-of-fines-london-middx/vol2/pp16-68 [accessed 28 November 2016].



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Great Malvern Priory and Henry VII

IMG_7791.jpgHenry VII stamped his presence as King of England on Great Malvern Priory. His is the least of the medieval windows.  His son destroyed the monastery.

The window is called the Magnificat Window and tells the story of the Incarnation and scenes from Christ’s life including his presentation at the Temple and turning water into wine.

The bottom lights, or panes, depict the donors and send a significant political message alongside the joys of the Virgin Mary. The key donor is King Henry VII.  He is pictured along with his queen, Elizabeth of York.  Sadly her image is lost. There are tiny Tudor roses as well as the Tudor heir, Prince Arthur. Pictures of Arthur are rare so this is a treasure, that Worcester Cathedral copied.  The window was placed in 1501 or early 1502 to celebrate the Tudor success of an heir married to a Spanish princess. Arthur, the red and white rose combined, died in 1502 at Ludlow a few months after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so the grand window with its less than subtle political message, trumping the Plantagenet west window of Richard, then duke of Gloucester, is rather flawed.


Two other donors feature.  There is Sir Thomas Lovell on the far left, then Sir John Savage, his image is gone as well, and finally Sir Reginald Bray.

Lovell, a Norfolk man, was attainted by Richard III but under Henry VII, having fought alongside him at Bosworth, became chancellor. In 1487 he fought with Henry at the Battle of Stoke and in 1489 he became Constable of Nottingham Castle.  He had links with the Malvern area. He was also an executor for Margaret Beaufort. He died in 1524 having served Henry VIII but increasingly sidelined by the rise of Wolsey although in 1506 it was Lovell who went to Dover to collect Edmund de la Pole and transport him to the Tower.  It is said that Lambert Simnel attended Lovell’s funeral.

Sir John Savage, another of Henry VII’s privy council, commanded the left wing of Henry Tudor’s army at Bosworth.  He was also the nephew of Margaret Beaufort’s husband Thomas, Lord Stanley. The Savages were a Cheshire family with strong connections to Macclesfield. They were also linked to Malvern Chase being keepers of Hanley Castle. Savage and his father were both Sheriff of Worcestershire.

IMG_7792.jpgSir Reginald Bray was a Worcestershire man and as Chrimes observes it is unlikely that Henry VII, if he had been the key donor of the window, would have placed Savage, Lovell and Bray alongside his son – or himself for that matter.  Far more likely then that Bray and his fellow privy councillors paid for the window which Henry VII graciously permitted (Chrimes: 337). To find out more about Bray double click on his name.

Chrimes, S.B. (1999) Henry VII (The Yale English Monarch Series)

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass at Great Malvern Priory.  Friends of Great Malvern Priory.



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Richard III and Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2426Richard donated funds for the west window of the nave. It was  largely destroyed  but some fragments are now in other windows scattered around the priory church most notably the arms of Richard. The boar supporters are noticeable.  The same window also depicts Edward IV’s arms as Earl of March. Anne Neville’s arms are in the first window of the north quire; the so-called Museum Window.  The coat of arms is a modern reproduction but the heads of the bear supporters of Warwick are original.

Clearly the leading families of the day vied with one another to contribute to the alterations in Great Malvern Priory.  One of the reasons that the Duke of Gloucester and his wife would have made a donation was that Richard at that time was the Lord of Malvern Chase.

The reason for this goes back to the Scottish Wars of Independence.  One Gilbert de Clare died without children.  This made his sisters Eleanor and Margaret heiresses.  Their mother, as a matter of interest, was Joan of Acre one of Edward I’s daughters.  Eleanor was married to Hugh Despenser the Younger when she was about thirteen. Eleanor’s grandfather (Edward I) died the following year and her uncle became king (Edward II).  This was not necessarily good news for a marriage made by politics rather than in Heaven as Hugh was Edward II’s favourite.  He’s the one that Edward II’s wife, Isabella, the so-called she-wolf had hanged, drawn and quartered when the opportunity arose after having him tattooed with all sorts of Biblical verses beforehand.  Warner’s book mentions that Eleanor’s relationship with uncle Edward was close.  So close, in fact, that contemporary chroniclers drew some decidedly dodgy conclusions about the king and his niece, as though there wasn’t already enough scandal surrounding Edward II.

The younger sister, Margaret, was married to Piers Gaveston – Edward II’s other favourite. Sometimes, you just couldn’t make it up.

Malvern Chase fell into the hands of the Despensers via Eleanor. The chase left the family when Isabel Despenser, three generations on, married Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Richard managed to get himself killed in foreign parts during the Hundred Years War and his son died without issue meaning that the whole lot passed to Richard’s daughter Ann who was married to Richard Neville a.k.a. The Kingmaker.

Bear with me, we’re nearly there.  Ann Beauchamp had right and title to the land after the death of her king making husband at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  However, in order that the lands, titles and money should end up in the paws of his brothers, Edward IV had Anne declared legally dead.

So that was how Richard, Duke of Gloucester came to be lord of Malvern Chase.  He was married to Anne Neville and, of course, that’s not without a tale of its own. Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence was married to Isabel Neville, Anne’s older sister.  He wanted to keep Warwick’s wealth for himself so tried to prevent the marriage between Anne and Richard from happening.  Legend has Anne being disguised as a kitchen maid having been briefly married to Henry VI’s son Prince Edward but widowed at Tewkesbury and then placed in the custody of her sister and brother-in-law.  Who needs Game of Thrones when there’s this amount of intrigue happening?

What the west window, to get back to the priory,  does demonstrate is that Malvern was part of Anne’s portion rather than Isabel’s and that it was commissioned and created prior to 1483.

The original window depicted the Day of Judgement.  This has been largely lost.  In one account it is put down to a storm.  Wells suggests that the window also experienced vandalism. The glass in the current west window remains fifteenth century but it has been relocated from other sites within the priory.

An interesting feature of the window is that the lower panels are filled with stone, apart from two small windows or ‘squints’ designed to allow monks who were unable to attend services – through poor health or great age for example- to watch.


Warner, Kathryn. (2016)  Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen Stroud:Amberley Publishing

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of  Great Malvern Priory



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Stained Glass in Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2447.jpgThe priory’s treasure is its windows.  It has the largest collection of fifteenth century glass in England which means that the parliamentarians didn’t get there during the English Civil War. It also means that although the parishioners of Great Malvern were able to buy the priory for £20 they were unable to remove the coloured glass and replace it with plain Protestant panes in later years.

I was told that the glazing of the East Window began in 1430 and although the pieces of glass no longer tell a story because of the impact of time and ivy the panes are still medieval having been moved around from other locations within the church. Wells suggests that the window was originally given by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel Despenser because of the roses and circle stars that appear there and which also feature on their coat of arms.


DSCF2426Looking to the west, the arms of Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester can be found.  This was probably moved from the West Window which was originally donated by him and his wife Anne Neville.  Her coat of arms can be found in the western choir aisle in the so-called museum window which is largely plain with sections of medieval glass being inset there.  The heads of two bear supporters – referencing the bear and ragged staff can be seen. The West Window told of the Day of Judgement. Depending upon your viewpoint of Richard III there may well be some irony in his donation and the fact that of all the windows this was the one which survived least well into the modern era.

The west window of the transept is known as the Magnificat Window and was donated by Henry VII.  I shall do a separate post on that as it contains images of Henry, Prince Arthur and some of his leading henchmen.


IMG_7777.jpgHowever, in Queen Anne’s Chapel a treat awaits.  Most stained glass involves a crick in the neck but here the windows are substantially lower so the glass is much closer.  The crucifixion window is Victorian but the rest of the glass is medieval.  One window tells the story of the Creation, another the stories of Noah and Abraham whilst the third relates the stories of Isaac, Joseph and Moses.  It is a reminder that in an age where most people lived in small dark buildings that churches were full of light and colour.  It is also a reminder that the word of God came not only from the priest but from the pictures that surrounded the congregation.







The tradition of donors, some of whom are pictured above, giving windows continued in Great Malvern Church through the Victorian era with Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV who died in childbirth, donating a window amongst others. The Friends of Malvern Priory donated the Tom Denny windows which celebrate the millennium.  They can be found in the north choir.  Their theme is psalm 36. Denny has used the Malvern hills as part of his inspiration as well as colours which echo the medieval windows.  Denny was also commissioned in Leicester for the Richard III memorial windows. Once seen, his style is instantly recognisable.


Wells, Katherine. (2013). A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of Malvern Priory.


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Medieval Tiles in Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7766The rounded apse at the east end of the church is covered in fifteenth century tiles.  The tiles were produced by master craftsmen in workshops and kilns set up on site between 1450 and 1500.  The guide book notes that originally there would have been approximately 50,000 tiles decorating the priory.  Only a fragment of them remain but, even so, Great Malvern’s collection can hardly be bettered by any other parish church. There are over one hundred different designs and each of them has a meaning.

One tile carries a coat of arms and five birds.  These birds or martlets as they are known in heraldry represent Edward the Confessor.  It is a reminder that the land upon which the priory was built was given by the king to his abbey in Westminster. Amongst the heraldic tiles the badges of the Duke of Buckingham, Mortimer, Beauchamp (Richard Beauchamp was the earl of Warwick at the time of the rebuilding), Despenser (Richard’s wife was Isabel Despenser), Clare, Talbot and Bracy can be spotted along with the royal arms and the fleur-de-lys reflecting Henry VI’s patronage.  Tiles are dated to 1453 and 1456 – tiles being dated 36 H VI – meaning the thirty-sixth year of Henry VI’s reign i.e. 1456; the year after the First Battle of St Albans.  1453 was significant in that it was the year that Henry VI suffered his first break down setting in motion an escalating conflict between the House of York and that of Lancaster.  These tiles can be found on the apse which is known as the “Benefactors Wall” – think of these tiles as the sponsors’ logos. The tiles are not in their original position. The Victorians removed them from the floors and placed them here during their renovation work. They also commissioned replicas by Minton which now adorn the chancel floor.DSCF2427.jpg

As you might expect there are tiles that carry scriptural messages in symbolic form such as   a fish, the instruments of the passion,  Mary crowned represented by the letter M surmounted by a crown, pelicans which were the medieval symbol of self-sacrifice and also tiles with texts.  The most striking of the latter is the so called ‘leper’s tile’ or ‘Job Tile’ which quotes from Job -“have pity on me my friends for the hand of God has struck me.”

IMG_7767There are even tiles that bear the name of the tiler – WHILLAR- who made that particular batch.  There’s one with a Latin inscription which reads “Mentem sanctum, spontaneuni honorer Deo, et patrie liberacionem.” As well as honouring the Lord it is also, apparently, an early form of fire insurance as this was supposed to help prevent fire. Even more practically there is a tile (immediately above this paragraph)  with a message from the monks which tells pilgrims to give their money now rather than making a bequest in their wills on account of the fact that once you’re dead you don’t know what will happen.

DSCF2428.jpgIt is interesting to note that the monks or the tilers did a healthy business selling their wares to local churches and landowners in the vicinity or even further afield – there are Great Malvern tiles in St David’s in Pembrokeshire. And, of course, once their work was finished the tilers would take their wooden stamps and go in search of work elsewhere.

Double click on the image of the Benefactors’ Wall  (not taken by me although the rest of the photographs in this post are mine) to open a new web page to view more images of the tiles and further information about the priory and its publications.

benefactors wall.jpg


Filed under Church Architecture, Fifteenth Century