Panel of the Month

Philip le Bel, King Philip IV of France, York Minster 

King, thought to be Philip le Bel, King Philip IV of France, window CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

King, thought to be Philip le Bel, King Philip IV of France, window CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

This month’s panel is a figure of a king, thought to represent Philip IV of France, otherwise known as Philip le Bel, from the Chapter House Vestibule of York Minster. It forms part of a unique late-13th-century glazing scheme emphasising the royal reign of Edward I, his political allies and familial ties with the French monarchy.

Description of the Panel

King and Queen, perhaps Philip le Bel and Joan I of Navarre, CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

Fig. 1. King and Queen, perhaps Philip le Bel and Joan I of Navarre, CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

Our panel depicts the figure of a king, one of a series of royal personages in the windows of the chapter house vestibule of York Minster. It appears in window CHn8, the second window on the left as one enters the vestibule from the doorway in the north transept. [Fig. 1] The window has four lights with two rows of standing figures under canopies separated by horizontal bands of grisaille glass. Our figure is of a king, placed in the second light of the lower row of figures against a ruby background. He has curly hair and a beard and wears a golden crown. A yellow tunic and blue cloak are cast loosely around him. In his left hand he holds a sceptre out of which grows a small sprig of white harebells, whilst his right hand points to the Queen in the first light who holds a white dove in her hand. [Fig. 2] The figure has a contrapposto stance which combines a graceful and relaxed pose with the suggestion of movement.

Window CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

Fig. 2. Window CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

The king is framed by an architectural canopy which predates those at Merton College, Oxford (glazed in the first decade of the 14th century) and is an early surviving example of such canopies in stained glass. [Fig. 3] A tri-lobed arch in pot metal yellow glass is seen above his head which rises up to form a pointed arch of green glass decorated with a quatrefoil plate tracery. White maple leaves spring like crockets from the arch which terminates in a pinnacle of white glass. Behind, a white castellated building with a blue roof can be seen. On either side the King is framed by a border of white glass painted to reveal bricks surmounted by long windows with geometric decorated tracery, and an outer border of maple leaves against a ruby background. All the figures in the window follow this format with either a blue or ruby background, and with varying border patterns.

Canopy and figure in Merton College, window nIII, panel 3c, c. 1305-10.

Fig. 3. Canopy and figure in Merton College, window nIII, panel 3c, c. 1305-10.

The panel is from the most well-preserved window in the vestibule. It was restored in 1952 under Dean Milner-White at a cost of £180. Our panel was one of three figure panels to be changed during this restoration during which the yellow dress was improved and the sceptre made up. No panels were moved although some 15th-century ‘scraps’ were removed as were a number of quarries which had been inserted into the grisaille panels. Several of the birds at the base of the window were also made up of coloured scrap pieces to correspond with the surviving ones. The window was reinserted in 1958.

Iconography of Panel

Philip le Bel, originally from the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, now in the V&A Museum, c.1496

Fig. 4. Philip le Bel, originally from the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, now in the V&A Museum, c.1496

It has been suggested that our panel may represent the figure of Philip le Bel, or Philip the Fair, King of France 1285–1314 and father of Isabella, Queen Consort of Edward II of England (See Knowles and Benson). The inclusion of harebells may be a rebus symbol alluding to the King, known as Philip le Bel. In a late 15th-century stained glass window depicting Philip le Bel, originally from the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, the King of France also clutches a sprig of harebells. [Fig. 4]

Our figure is one of a series of royal personages which fill the windows of the Chapter House Vestibule. Although there are no inscriptions from which we can positively identify the figures in the window, they certainly represent the Kings and Queens of England and France. Various attempts have been made to identify the figures and it may be helpful to recount a few biographical and historical details here.

Edward I of England (b. 1239, reigned 1271–1307) married Eleanor of Castile and bore a son, Edward II (b. 1284, reigned 1307–1327). As Duke of Aquitaine Edward I was a vassal to King Philip IV of France, or Philip le Bel. After a naval incident between the Normans and the English, Philip le Bel summoned Edward to the French court, but Edward refused to appear. Philip reacted by stripping Edward of his French possessions. Anglo-French hostility broke out in 1294, triggered by a secret Franco-Scottish pact of mutual assistance against Edward I. A war followed which was ended by Edward’s second marriage to Philip’s sister Margaret. Margaret of France bore Edward I two more sons – Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund Woodstock. After the 1303 Treaty of Paris, intended to seal peace between France and England, King Philip’s daughter, Queen Isabella, was married to Edward II, heir to the English throne. Their son, Edward III (b. 1312, reigned 1327–77) married Philippa of Hainault (the youngest daughter of Earl of Hainault and Jane de Valois) in York in January 1328.

The figures in window CHn8 have usually been identified as the three successive Kings of England: Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and their consorts, and the King of France and his consort. Yet, as we shall see, such an interpretation does not fit with the date of the glazing scheme. An alternative identification was suggested by the York glazier J. W. Knowles (1838-1931). He thought the figures along the top row depicted Edward I and his two consorts, Queen Eleanor and Queen Margaret, and Philip le Bel. He identified those along the lower row as Prince Edward II, his wife Isabella, and the young Princes Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund Woodstock. Knowles noted that if the panels were arranged in this order the colour backgrounds of the figurative panels would form a sequence of blue, blue, red, red along the top, and red, red, blue, blue along the bottom. The sequence of the panels as they are arranged today does not form a pattern.

Architectural History and Significance of the Vestibule

It remains difficult to establish the precise dates of the chapter house and its vestibule as no document survives to confirm their construction, but it is thought that both structures were built c.1275–1300. The vestibule was probably completed during the time of Archbishop John le Romeyn the younger (1285–96). The octagonal chapter house was built before the vestibule and was in use by 1295. The vestibule, which connects the chapter house to the cathedral via the north transept, must have been in use the following year when King’s Parliament was held in York.

The chapter house was important for religious, political and administrative reasons. In regional terms it was the place from which the cathedral chapter governed the diocese of York. The chapter house also took on national and royal significance when Parliament assembled there in 1296 to orchestrate the Scottish War. Edward I was in York in 1280, 1284, 1291 and on several occasions from 1296 in connection with his campaign against the Scots. Between 1298 and 1204–5 the sovereign maintained his state from, and summoned his military forces to, the city of York. The strong political and royal associations may account for the heraldic decoration and symbolism both within thechapter house and its accompanying vestibule, the sole passage from the main cathedral to this important meeting place.

Windows in north choir clerestory, Troyes Cathedral, c.1240-50.

Fig. 5. Windows in north choir clerestory, Troyes Cathedral, c.1240-50.

The vestibule is an ornate architectural space, vaulted in stone and lined with eight colourful stained glass windows with varying two- to five-light openings. Five different tracery designs are used in the glazed windows of the vestibule. The varied use of tracery patterns in the windows shows triangles replacing circles, demonstrating a stylistic development from the strong decorated forms visible in the York chapter house. Along with the chapter house windows, the magnificent windows of the vestibule contain the earliest use of architectural canopies in the Minster. The windows have narrow lights and are diapered similarly to those in the chapter house, having two rows of figures under canopies, heraldic shields and borders. The vestibule windows are band windows, the alternating row of grisaille and coloured figurative glass panels of which form horizontal bands throughout the passage.

The chapter house vestibule interior, showing windows CHn8, CHn7 and CHn6.

Fig. 6. The chapter house vestibule interior, showing windows CHn8, CHn7 and CHn6.

In his History of Design in Painted Glass, Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921) notes of the chapter house vestibule windows ‘there would be great difficulty in distinguishing the work from some that we find in France’ of the same period (Westlake, vol. ii, p.25). The French influence is thought to have been introduced at the Minster by John Le Romeyn, a Paris-trained theologian who became Archbishop of York in 1286. Le Romeyn is known to have visited Troyes in December 1291, which may explain why the tracery of the vestibule windows is similar to that in Troyes Cathedral. [Fig. 5] The chapter house vestibule was one of the first interiors in England to adopt fully the principles of the French architectural style known as Rayonnant. [Fig. 6] Window CHn8 also shares similarities to windows in the east end of Ripon Cathedral (started by Archbishop le Romeyn in 1286), the east window of Merton College (c.1311) and the cloister at Lincoln Cathedral (c.1290).

Heraldry and Royal symbolism

The depiction of Kings in stained glass is not uncommon; Kings Edward II and Edmund can be seen in the 14th-century stained glass at Gloucester Cathedral. However the portrayal of Philip IV as part of Edward I of England’s family is unique. Window CHn8 certainly serves to emphasise the connections the English monarchy had with the French throne and it has been suggested that the window commemorated either the French marriage of Edward I or Edward II. The inclusion of Philip le Bel of France serves to demonstrate Edward I’s aims of achieving peace with France. Furthermore it honours the French royal connections through the inclusion of Edward II’s wife Isabella, who can be seen with a sable rayed sun behind her. No doubt it would also later serve to emphasise Edward III’s dual lineage from both the English and French crown. Upon the death of Philip le Bel, who left no male heir, Edward III claimed the throne of France through his mother Isabella in 1341 and adopted the French coat of arms.

Faint traces of painted shields in the vestibule.

Fig. 7. Faint traces of painted shields in the vestibule.

The window borders show fleur-de-lis Argent, on a field Azure and thus represent the house of Valois, from which Philip le Bel and Isabella descended. The arms of France are present in the tracery of several of the chapter house windows. The shields in the windows of the chapter house and vestibule honoured Edward I and his allies; including officers of state, courtiers and the noble and knightly chivalry, several of whom fought in the battles with the Scots and some of whom were also related to the sovereign through marriage.

Heraldic devices also once adorned the wall surfaces of the vestibule, forming part of a sumptuous decoration throughout the chapter house and its vestibule arm. Today the painted shields have completely gone, and even the faint outlines of their existence are barely visible. [Fig. 7]

Dating the Vestibule Glazing

The surviving heraldic shields in the vestibule windows suggest that most of the painted glass was designed and probably executed before the death of King Edward I in 1307. The glazing scheme of the chapter house and vestibule appears to have been conceived before 1300, but probably not after 1270, and finalised if not installed by 1292. It is likely that the presence of Edward I and his Court at York between 1296 and 1304/5 influenced the royalist symbolism which pervades the new buildings of the chapter house and its vestibule. The vestibule was definitely erected during Edward I’s reign and the nineteenth-century antiquary, John Browne, suggested that the foundation stone of the vestibule was laid in 1284 during King Edward I and Queen Eleanor’s visit to York for the translation of St William’s relics. More recently, Sarah Brown has suggested that there may have been a fundraising campaign to glaze the chapter house and vestibule c.1283–85 and reaches the conclusion that both buildings were probably glazed c.1299–1306.

These dates tie in with the Anglo-French relations forged by King Edward I of England and King Philip IV of France through the marriages of Edward I and Edward II to French Queens. It appears that this vestibule window carries the propagandistic familial sentiments of King Edward I, just as the vestibule itself literally carried the King and his allies to the chapter house when the Royal court was based in York. The presence of Philip le Bel in the window is a powerful political statement.

See also: ’13th-century York Minster Chapter House Vestibule Glass Conserved’ in Vidimus 28.


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Torre, J., ‘The antiquities of York Minster: considered in its fabric … [&] ecclesiastical government … also of the Collegiate-Chappell of St Mary & holy Angels, as appendant to it / Collected out of the records of the sd church and some other authorities’, 1690–91. York Minster Library and Archives MS L/17 pom) King, thought to be Philip le Bel, King Philip IV of France, window CHn8, chapter house vestibule, York Minster, c.1299–1306.

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