Panel of the Month

‘Fit for a King’s… Glazier’: John Prudde’s Work in the Beauchamp Chapel

St Thomas Becket, Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick.

Fig. 1. St Thomas Becket, Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick.

This month’s panel comes from the Beauchamp Chapel; the chantry chapel situated at the south-east of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, established as a mausoleum for the Beauchamp family. The chapel is remarkable for many reasons. First, the surviving contracts for the artistic and architectural work are extensive, providing details of cost, materials, design and names of craftsmen. Second, the glazing programme is the most expensive known to have been carried out in England in the fifteenth century; a result of lavish coloured glass and technical virtuosity deployed on an unprecedented scale.

Description of the Panel

Figures on ornamental band of cope.

Fig. 3. Figures on ornamental band of cope.

Background design of chained bear and ragged staff.

Fig. 2. Background design of chained bear and ragged staff.

Relatively little of the original glazing scheme survives, the greatest quantity of what remains being concentrated in the east window, where our panel resides and where it probably originated. It depicts St Thomas Becket vested in full pontificals with an archiepiscopal cross-staff. [Fig. 1] He stands against a ruby background, decorated with repeated designs of a chained bear and ragged staff. [Fig. 2] The panel is exceptionally sophisticated in its technique. Drenched in colour and beautifully painted, the archbishop’s robes and mitre are richly ornamented with ‘jewels’, and with miniature figures which demonstrate the accomplished abrasion of flashed ruby. [Fig. 3] [Further Reading: Marks 2003]

History of the Chapel

The Beauchamp Chapel looking east.

Fig. 4. The Beauchamp Chapel looking east.

The Beauchamp Chapel, or Lady Chapel of St Mary’s church, dedicated to the Virgin, was built to house the burial place and monument of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382–1439). [Fig 4] Built at Richard’s behest, his 1437 will specified that:

…my Body be entered within the Church Collegiate of our Lady in Warwick where I will that in such a place as I have devised (which is know well) there be made a chapell of our Lady, well, faire and goodly built, within the middle of which chapell I will, that my tombe be made (see Further Reading: Hearne 1729).

Plans for construction were in place during 1437, but Beauchamp then died serving the king in France in April 1439. As a result, the construction and fitting out of the chapel was managed by the earl’s executors. Work began shortly after his death with the foundation stone being was laid in 1443. It was completed in 1462.

Its extravagance is shown by the cost and high quality materials used. It was one of the most expensive architectural commissions of its day, costing just over £2,481, plus an additional £720 for Beauchamp’s tomb. The extremely high cost can be better understood by comparison with the large collegiate church and almshouse built at Tattershall (Lincolnshire) in the 1460s, which amounted to £1200, a staggering half of what was expended on the Beauchamp chapel. Thus, ‘the ensemble clearly announced to any contemporary, Richard Beauchamp’ status and aspirations: that this was a monument fit for a king’ (see Further Reading: Monckton 2004).







The chapel forms a separate liturgical space (as attested in Beauchamp’s will), south of the chancel and east of the south transept. A doorway connects it to the transept at the west and to the chancel through a passage north of the chapel sanctuary, opening into the burial places of both Richard’s father and grandfather. The chapel itself is particularly broad and is lit by seven large windows in the upper half of the side walls culminating in the east window; the largest window of all. The rest of the interior is covered with panelling on all surfaces, both internal and external, with emphasis put on the east window by the deeply moulded figural jambs and by highly decorated canopied niches which surround and flank the glass.

Patronage and Production

In 1447, the work of glazing the chapel was entrusted to John Prudde of Westminster, who held the post of the King’s Glazier; an office existing from at least the later thirteenth century. Prudde held an esteemed and prestigious position, undertaking work on the royal palaces and castles, but also attracting important and lucrative commissions from other clients, of which the Beauchamp Chapel is a prime example. Prudde was also responsible for work at Westminster and Shene Palaces in 1442 and c.1445, Eton College (1445–50), All Souls’ College Oxford (1441), and Fromond’s Chantry in Winchester College (1443–4).

Unusually, the contract for the Beauchamp glass, dated 23 June 1447, still survives:

Wherein the said John Prudde of Westminster doeth covenant to glaze all the windows in the new chapel in Warwick with glass [made] beyond the seas, and with no glass of England, and that in the finest wise with the best, cleanest, and strongest glass of beyond the sea that may be had in England, and that of the finest colours of blew, yellow, red, purple, sanguine, violet, and of all other colours that shall be most necessary and best to make rich and embellish the matters, images and stories that shall be delivered and appointed by the said executors by patterns in paper afterward to be newly traced and pictured by another painter in rich colour at the charges of the said glaziers. All these proportions the said John Prudde must make perfectly to fine glass, anneal it, and finely and strongly set it in lead, and solder it as well as any glass that is in England. Of white, green, and black glass he shall put in as little as shall be needed for the showing and setting forth of the…matters of images and stories

This unique document provides a number of fascinating insights into the commissioning process. First is the degree to which Beauchamp’s executors were responsible for selecting the glazier and determining the iconographic programme. Second is their insistence on the use of high quality imported materials and – in particular – on coloured glasses. By the mid-fifteenth century, white glass dominated many ecclesiastical glazing schemes, even where coloured glasses were also used. Here, the executors sought to create a richly coloured scheme in which white glass was used only minimally.

The contract specifies the process by which the executors’ programme was executed. A design was to be produced on paper by one artist and cartooned by another, at the expense of the glaziers. The process by which glaziers worked from paper designs, was used to convey ideas to guarantee patrons’ approval. In fact, from the very beginning, the executors’ focus was on the accuracy of the designs. For example, the numerous musical instruments illustrated throughout the majority of the windows are depicted in a contemporary fashion and performance practice, whilst the musical notation of the plainsong is in accordance with contemporary sources from the Use of Sarum (see Further Reading: Buckle).

‘The Annunciation’, Jacques Coeur Window, Bourges Cathedral, France.

Fig. 5. ‘The Annunciation’, Jacques Coeur Window, Bourges Cathedral, France.

Yet this attention to detail and minute precision came at a price. The glazing commission alone was one of the most expensive of the Middle Ages at £106 18s. 6d. This was presumably because of the emphasis on expensive materials and highly sophisticated techniques. The Beauchamp Chapel glass is most notable for its sumptuousness, resulting from its extensive use of coloured glasses (with minimal use of white glass), and the technique known as ‘jewelling’, employed here on a vast scale. This effect was achieved by drilling holes and leading coloured discs of glass into borders of drapery, head-gear and haloes, in imitation of the precious stones which adorned contemporary ecclesiastical and royal attire. Jewelling was not a new technique and can be found at Augsberg Cathedral, Germany as early as c.1120 (see feature by Paul San Casciani in Vidimus, issue March 2010 for more examples). The first English surviving example in figural glass is from Tong in Shropshire and dates to the early fifteenth century. Yet the lavish scale on which it was deployed in the Beauchamp Chapel is unmatched in England, and very untypical of the type of glazing popular in the country during this period.

The Beauchamp Chapel influenced later medieval glaziers, and was much imitated by other patrons and craftsmen, especially in the West Midlands. But it may have drawn its inspiration from the continent. Gillian White has compared its decorative details with the striking window at Bourges cathedral, donated by Jacques Couer and begun in 1447 [Fig. 5], suggesting that Prudde, or the ‘pattern designer’ of the Beauchamp glass, was aware of continental styles (see Further Reading: White). Further French parallels may be found in the crowns of royal donors at Le Mans Cathedral (c.1440) and in the south rose window of Angers Cathedral (c.1450).


Roof boss depicting the crowned Virgin, Beauchamp Chapel. © Vitrearum (Allan Barton).

Fig. 6. Roof boss depicting the crowned Virgin, Beauchamp Chapel. © Vitrearum (Allan Barton).

Effigy of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382-1439).

Fig. 7. Effigy of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382-1439).

St Thomas Becket was one of four saints (the others being Alban, Winifred of Shrewsbury and John of Brodlington) for whom Earl Richard had a particular veneration. All are depicted in the east window, where they are likely to have originated, although the exact arrangement of subjects in the window is unknown. Their close association with Beauchamp is illustrated by the bear and ragged staff motifs that surround them – these were the family badges of the earls of Warwick. They are also expressive of a political allegiance, being associated with the Lancastrian dynasty, served so loyally by Beauchamp.

Becket and the three other saints probably flanked one or more images of the Virgin Mary, to whom the chapel was dedicated and to whom – like many others – Beauchamp appealed for intercession. Indeed, the theme of intercession was central to the purpose of the chapel, in which masses were celebrated to aid Beauchamp’s soul in its progress through Purgatory. This theme was, appropriately enough, also central to the chapel’s iconographic programme, an integrated scheme embracing wall paintings and sculpture, as well as stained glass, which represents a journey to salvation. This journey can be read from west to east, beginning at the west wall of the chapel, where a Doom painting shows the Fall, with the hope of redemption and salvation expressed through the images of the prophets. Then, in the next window, the Gloria, the song of the angels to the shepherd, proclaims the Incarnation, while various other musical lights celebrate Mary assumed into heaven. The latter is indicated ‘by the chants in the window, and affirmed by the figure of the crowned Virgin as the central boss of the ceiling’. [Fig. 6].

Both the decorative and architectural frameworks greatly illustrate the idea of ‘harmony’ and ‘unification’ which is imbued within the iconography of every surface of the chapel. Beauchamp’s tomb is located directly beneath the ceiling boss of the Virgin. Thus, his eyes are kept firmly on her [Fig. 7] ‘hoping for her intercession and his own salvation [while] the harmony of the earthly music of the priests and clerks in the chapel with the heavenly music of the angels is depicted in the windows’ (see Further Reading: Buckle).

Emma Jane Wells

Further Reading

For the full text of the Beauchamp Chapel contracts:

  • T. Hearne, Historia vitae et regni Ricardi II, Oxford, 1729

On the stained glass:

  • R. Marks and P. Williamson (eds), Gothic: Art for England 1400–1547, London 2003, Cat. No. 89, p. 226 (entry by R. Marks)
  • G. M. White, ‘The iconography of the stained glass of the Beauchamp Chapel, St. Mary’s, Warwick’, Journal of Stained Glass, xix (2), 1991–3, pp. 133–57

On the chapel in general:

  • D. Brindley, Richard Beauchamp: Medieval England’s Greatest Knight , Stroud, 2001
  • R. Marks, ‘Entumbid right princely: the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick and the politics of interment’, in C. M. Barron and C. Burgess (eds), Memory and Commemoration in Medieval England, Harlaxton Medieval Studies 20, Donington, 2010, pp. 163–184
  • L. Monckton, ‘Fit for a King? The Architecture of the Beauchamp Chapel’, Architectural History, 47, 2004, pp. 25–52
  • N. Pevsner and A. Wedgwood, The Buildings of England: Warwickshire, London, 1966
  • G. M. White, ‘The Church of St. Mary, Warwick and the Memorials of the Beauchamp Earls: an interpretive study’, unpublished MA thesis in Medieval Studies, University of York, 1987–8

On the music in the windows:

  • A. Buckle, ‘”Fit for a king”: music and iconography in Richard Beauchamp’s chantry chapel’, Early Music, vol. Xxxviii (1), 2010, pp. 3–20
  • C. F. Hardy, ‘The Music in the Glass of the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick’, Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 3, 1902, pp. 454–67
  • C. F. Hardy, ‘On the music in the painted glass of the windows in the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick’, Archaeologia, lxi, 1909, pp. 1–32

On stained glass in general:

  • R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, London, 1993

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