‘Of the finest colours’: Music in Stained glass at Warwick and Elsewhere 



The Beauchamp Chapel, Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick. © YM Pictures.

Fig. 1. The Beauchamp Chapel, Collegiate church of St Mary, Warwick. © YM Pictures.

Although the appearance of angels playing musical instruments is not uncommon in stained glass windows, images of music notation are rare across medieval Europe. Hence our delight in publishing this fascinating article by Dr Alexandra Buckle, Lecturer in Music, St Anne’s College and St Hilda’s College, Oxford, about four pieces of music depicted in the Beauchamp Chapel, a fifteenth-century chantry chapel appended to the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, a site of special interest to musicologists and stained glass enthusiasts alike. [Fig. 1]


The Beauchamp Chapel

The chapel was created for Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382–1439), a royal favourite and renowned patron of music (see Further reading: Buckle). Earl Richard was a close friend of Henry V and guardian to Henry VI, he was also, notably, a Knight of the Garter, ambassador at the Council of Constance, Lieutenant of France and Normandy, and Captain of Rouen at the time of Joan of Arc’s trial (see Further reading: Carpenter). As a music patron, Earl Richard cultivated a household chapel of nineteen men and eight choristers, employed at least two eminent composers of the time, and had a retinue of secular musicians.

Earl Richard succeeded his father as earl of Warwick in 1401, and thereby became the patron of The Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. This was an important musical institution founded by the first earls of Warwick (Henry, and Roger de Beaumont) in c.1123. The Beauchamp family had been earls of Warwick since 1268 and, as an important and influential family, had greatly supported the musical provision at the church. Earl Richard was the penultimate member of this dynasty (1268–1445), and epitomised its success, becoming one of the two wealthiest men of his generation in England.

Towards the end of his life, in 1437, Earl Richard made his will. In it specified that he wished to be buried in the church of St Mary, continuing a Beauchamp family tradition of using the church as a mausoleum:

I will that when it liketh to God that my Soule depart out of this world, my Body be enterred within the Church Collegiate of our Lady in Warrwick where I will that in such Place as I have devised (which is known well) there be made a Chapell of our Lady, well faire and goodly built, within the middle of which chappell I will, that my tombe be made.

Earl Richard made it clear that this chapel was to have a dual function: it was to be a commemorative chapel for him but also a new Lady Chapel for the college. Soon after making his will, Earl Richard left England to serve in France, where he died on 30 April 1439. Plans for the chapel were evidently in place by the time the earl died: we have seen he made his will two years previously. In addition, four years prior to this, in 1435, the earl had put aside funds for the chapel’s creation and planned an expansion of clergy at the church to staff it (see Further reading: Buckle).

It was Earl Richard’s executors who were responsible for the construction of the chapel and work began shortly after his death. The executors commissioned the best craftsmen available – men who were working on contemporary building projects at Eton College, Canterbury Cathedral, and All Souls College, Oxford (see Further reading: Monckton). Rarely their contracts have survived and these provide valuable information on the glass, tomb, woodwork, painting, and sculpture. Although all of these are of interest, especially for the continuous, repeated desire for the best materials and work of the utmost quality, it is the glazing contract that offers most interest to the musicologist as the glass contains images of music notation and musical instruments.

The glazing contract

Before examining the music, it is necessary to discuss the glazing contract, which does not stipulate the musical content but does show the quality of work expected. The contract was drawn up on 23 June 1447, between ‘Thomas Huggeford, Nicholas Rodye, and William Berkeswell, executors, on the one hand, and John Prudde of the town of Westminster, on the other hand’. Prudde (d. 1460/61) was an outstanding glazier and seven years earlier had been appointed the king’s glazier. At Warwick he was asked:

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. (see Further Reading: Myers)

The cost of glazing the chapel windows came to a total of £106 18s. 6d., one of the most expensive glazing programmes carried out in England (see Further reading: Marks).

While the contract does not state the exact contents of the windows, we are to assume this was made explicit to the glazier and the contract was merely paraphrasing this with ‘images and stories’. As Philip Lindley has shown, ‘the choice of iconography will often have been broadly indicated by the patron’ (see Further reading: Lindley). Whether Beauchamp indicated the contents during his lifetime or whether the executors thought a musical content would be fitting for such a musical patron will probably never be known. However, significantly, the glazing contract discusses the use of patterns in paper, which certainly fits the ‘growing number of mentions of the use of patterns in contractual negotiations between private patrons and specialist craftsmen’ at this time (see Further reading: Ramsay). The executors clearly desired exactitude as the patterns in paper were to be traced and then ‘pictured by another painter’. It is not known whether these were newly-created drawings or images borrowed from pattern books but it is clear there was a high degree of specificity required in their execution. The glazing contract is thus carefully worded with strict instructions, leaving no room for artistic agenda. The executors were careful to state that realism was optimum from the start and we see this in the glass: the music notation in the windows represents contemporaneous manuscripts almost note-for-note and the musical instruments are drawn so intricately that they represent real instruments.

The music in the windows

The musical instruments and music scrolls have not received much scholarly attention. Some musicologists have discussed single instruments or the most unusual but the accuracy of their depiction and possibility of performance practice has gone by unnoticed. The music scrolls have similarly been neglected: these were first and last reported by C. F. Hardy a century ago (see Further reading: Hardy 1909). Subsequent study has been carried out by non-musicians who have largely repeated Hardy’s work. This has been problematic as, whilst some of Hardy’s work was painstakingly accurate, much can now be discounted. Especially notable was his belief that some of the music in the east window was ‘far from harmonious, if not radically absurd’. This is far from the case and the music is not anachronistic but rather contains a fragment of fifteenth-century polyphony, which has lain dormant for over 500 years.


Fig. 2. Diagram showing windows with music in the Beauchamp Chapel. © The author.

Fig. 2. Diagram showing windows with music in the Beauchamp Chapel. © The author.

Fig. 3. Westernmost windows: imaginary notation. © The author.

Fig. 3. Westernmost windows: imaginary notation. © The author.

Turning to the glass, the original scheme comprised six side windows and one main east window. Much was destroyed or damaged at the Reformation, by the Puritans, through bad weather, and inept or incorrect Victorian restoration. The large lights of saints and prophets have suffered especially with few remaining but the depictions of music have fared better, presumably because of their height – the music scrolls and musicians are located in the upper tracery lights, some 6.5 metres above the ground. It seems likely that all seven tracery windows (the main east window and six side windows) in the Beauchamp Chapel once featured music. However, today, two windows survive with music notation, two survive with musical instruments, and one survives with angels whose one-time music scrolls are now filled with imaginary medieval music, courtesy of the Victorians (see Further reading: White; Buckle). The remaining two windows were completely obliterated by the 1694 Great Fire of Warwick and exhibit similar imaginary Victorian music. The layout of the tracery windows, as seen today, can be seen below. [Fig. 2]

As has been mentioned, the tracery lights of the north and south westernmost windows are completely patchwork. Victorian scrolls with the attempted shapes of fifteenth-century music notation make no coherent arrangement (backwards, upside down or otherwise). [Fig. 3]

As for the surviving music, the central window on the north side remains largely intact and contains a chant for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Gaudeamus omnes in domino. [Fig. 4]

Fig. 4. Detail from the Gaudeamus window, Warwick, St Mary, Beauchamp Chantry. © Gordon Plumb.

Fig. 4. Detail from the Gaudeamus window, Warwick, St Mary, Beauchamp Chantry. © Gordon Plumb.

Fig. 5. Detail of south side Ave regina window, original angels, modern notation.

Fig. 5. Detail of south side Ave regina window, original angels, modern notation.

The window opposite the Gaudeamus shows the original angels but the scrolls are now missing and have been replaced with the same nonsensical Victorian notation as mentioned previously. However, a misplaced fragment of plainchant, now located in the east window, suggests that this window once contained the Marian antiphon, Ave regina celorum, sung at the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. [Fig. 5]

The east window is the centrepiece of the chapel and contains music for the Gloria. There are two items of Gloria music: the first is a chant sung at the Ordinary of the Mass, and also on principal feasts, such as the Assumption, and Nativity of the Virgin. As such, the Gloria chant and two chants for Marian festivals (Gaudeamus and Ave regina) could all have been sung together, representing liturgical practice.

Another small piece of music does not correspond to the other music, being polyphonic (in more than one part). The words, ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo: et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis’ are set to music in two parts and then the music reverts to the Gloria chant mentioned (see below).

East window Gloria polyphony followed by chant. © Gordon Plumb.

Fig. 6. East window Gloria polyphony followed by chant. © Gordon Plumb.

These words are attributed by St Luke to the heavenly host after the angels’ announcement to the shepherds at the Nativity (Luke 2:14). This is sung at one of the first services on Christmas Day (Matins) and, because of its importance, is treated specially. For example, in the cathedral at Salisbury it was to be sung by five boys, resembling angels, from a high place above the high altar. The theatricality of these rubrics provides a clear reason for finding this text high up in the east window, and treated polyphonically, at this key point in the Christmas day liturgy (see Further reading: Buckle). [ Fig. 6]

Iconographic scheme


Fig. 7. Earl Richard tomb effigy and ceiling boss. © YM Pictures.

Fig. 7. Earl Richard tomb effigy and ceiling boss. © YM Pictures.

Why were these four items of music chosen to be depicted in the chapel? The presence of music scrolls in celebration of the Virgin Mary is obviously appropriate for a Lady Chapel. Indeed, the spectacular brass effigy of Earl Richard in the centre of his chapel shows his hands held slightly apart, allowing him to gaze up at a ceiling boss of the Virgin Mary, crowned Queen of Heaven. [Fig. 7]

Earl Richard had long favoured the Virgin Mary, bequeathing a golden statue of her to the church and specifying in his will that he would like four daily masses to be celebrated in his chapel. Two were Masses of the Dead, and the third was a Mass following the weekly votive cycle. However, the fourth was a Lady Mass and Beauchamp especially asked that this be ‘with note’ or sung.

All the surviving music in the windows is appropriate for a Lady Chapel; but the theme goes beyond this in its consistent heavenly reference. When all the stained glass in the chapel is considered, it is possible to read the iconographical scheme of the chapel, from west to east, as representing a chain of salvation from fall to incarnation. The west wall shows the fall in the doom painting, with the hope of redemption and salvation expressed through the images of the prophets, once found in the main lights. In the east window the Gloria, the song of the angels to the shepherds, proclaims the incarnation, while the other musical lights celebrate Mary assumed into heaven, indicated by the chants in the windows, and affirmed by the figure of the crowned Virgin as the central boss of the ceiling. Earl Richard, keen to avoid damnation at the day of judgement, and to shorten his time in purgatory, kept his eyes on her, hoping for her intercession and his own salvation.

Who devised this scheme, including such extensive use of notation unknown in any other surviving windows of the period? A theologian close to Beauchamp most likely. Earl Richard states that he ‘devised’ the chapel in his will but it is impossible to know whether he ‘devised’ the iconographical scheme or merely planned the chapel as a building. If someone close to the earl actually devised the scheme, William Berkswell (d.1470), chaplain and executor to Earl Richard, and canon, treasurer and dean of St Mary’s, at the time of the chapel’s construction, is a strong candidate. Berkswell held positions at St Mary’s at the same time as two known composers, Robert Chirbury and John Soursby, who were both associated with Earl Richard’s household chapel and also worked at St Mary’s (as dean and master of the choristers, respectively). Perhaps they provided music for the chapel, having known the earl’s preference in life.

‘Patterns in paper’: exactitude in the music notation


Comparison of Gaudeamus chant. © The author.

Fig. 8. Comparison of Gaudeamus chant. © The author.

The Gaudeamus scrolls remain largely intact, with few signs of restoration – as such, these represent the most complete music. The chant presented in these scrolls relates to contemporary Sarum manuscripts almost note-for-note. The chant is clearly of the Sarum rite or Use of Sarum, an order of Christian worship, including the Mass and Office, compiled at Salisbury (Sarum) which subsequently became prevalent throughout most of England, Wales, Ireland and later Scotland. The Use of Sarum gave detailed instructions regarding musical items and the music in the Beauchamp chantry windows is clearly of this rite and not of York, which differs considerably from the Sarum sources. This is fitting as Earl Richard asked for music following the Use of Sarum in his will and we know that the college followed the Use of Sarum by 1441, if not much earlier. A comparison of the first pane of the Gaudeamus window can be seen below, which shows a note-for-note comparison between the Warwick window and thirteenth and fifteenth-century manuscripts, now residing in the British Library, and Bodleian Library, Oxford. [Fig. 8]

The realism desired in the glazing contract is carried forth – the glazier must have had prior knowledge of music and have been copying an exact pattern or source. The exactitude with which the chant concords with contemporaneous manuscripts shows the level of precision with which the glazier worked. Word constraints do not permit me to enter into musical analysis of the other chants in the window but, suffice to say, all show a similar correspondence to other Sarum manuscripts and care for detail (for complete comparisons of this chant and the other music, see Buckle 2010; Buckle 2009).

‘Patterns in paper’: the instruments in the windows

The upper tracery lights in the side windows of the chapel, nearest to the east window, have survived largely unscathed. Angels feature in the north and south tracery windows of the Beauchamp Chapel, nearest to the altar, holding a variety of musical instruments, from bagpipes to lutes and shawms to organs. [Fig. 9]

South Window: Bell-chime/ Cymbalum; Positive organ ; Pipe and Tabor (x2); Rebecs (x2); Psaltery; Harps (x2); Crwths/ lyres (x2); Lutes (x2); Gitterns (x2); Angel censers (x4).

North Window: Harpsichord: Portative organ; Clavichord; Tromba marina; Triangle; Timbre (tambourine); Duct flutes (x2); Single and Double pibgorn (x2); Alto shawms (x2); Tenor shawms (x2); Bass shawm; Pipes (x2); Bagpipe.

The Beauchamp lights contain 32 instruments, 22 of which are representations of different instruments. There seems to have been an overriding order in mind as the instruments in the south west window largely comprise stringed and plucked instruments, whereas the north window features predominantly wind instruments. There are exceptions to these, but a decision does seem to have been made to depict similar instruments alongside each other. This is not where the organisation ends as, within the string, and wind windows, there are possible consorts of instruments. In short, it seems likely that the glazier’s instructions included a basic idea of the intended programme.

Angels with instruments, parish church of St Agnes, Cawston (Norfolk), c.1460. © Mike Dixon.

Fig. 10. Angels with instruments, parish church of St Agnes, Cawston (Norfolk), c.1460. © Mike Dixon.

As has been said, the depiction of musical instruments in stained glass is not uncommon at this time. Many medieval churches in Norfolk feature a musical angel or more in the tracery lights. Rearranged fragments appear in a nave window at the parish church of St Agnes, Cawston (see Further reading: Rose). [Fig. 10]


However, the care for detail is not the same in the East Anglian school of painting. As can be seen below, the Warwick glass shows instruments that are more precise in their execution, as well as more intricate. [Figs 11a and 11b]

Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick (c.1450). © YM Pictures.

Fig. 11b. Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick (c.1450). © YM Pictures.

St Agnes, Cawston (Norfolk) glass (c.1460). © Mike Dixon.

Fig.11a. St Agnes, Cawston (Norfolk) glass (c.1460). © Mike Dixon.

The Warwick windows are also unique – they are the work of a single glazier rather than being from a school of glass painters. The differences do not stop here. The Warwick windows feature many different instruments while, with the exception of St Agnes, Cawston, the Norfolk churches only feature a handful of angel instrumentalists. By means of a case study, the exactitude with which the Warwick instruments were painted is explored below (for an analysis of every instrument, as well as images, see Buckle 2009).

Positive organ

Positive Organ, Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick. © The author.

Fig. 12. Positive Organ, Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick. © The author.

This positive organ has been described as being ‘probably indicative of the size and appearance of small organs of the period 1450–1550’ (see Further reading: Bicknell). It is played by an angel and the bellows are worked by another. There are 20 graduated pipes and four bass pipes or bourdons, a standard number for an instrument of this size. The pipes are cylindrical and the mouth is well marked. Three rows of keys can be seen, which correspond to an extant keyboard from Sweden. As in all the Warwick windows, we see active music here – the angel is clearly playing the instrument. This is an important survival when few such depictions of medieval organs are extant. [Fig. 12]


Similar levels of detail can be seen on other instruments. Below we see a harpsichord, a relatively new instrument at the time of the glazing contract. This is an ornate instrument, with decorative casing, an elegant stand, and a sound board with three roses. An elaborate instrument was evidently used as the model. Such detail in stained glass is extraordinary and, again, the desire to create life-like instruments is evident. In addition to the decorative casing and soundboard, the keys and strings can clearly be seen. [Fig. 13]

Harpsichord window, Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick . © The author.

Fig. 13. Harpsichord window, Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick . © The author.

Alongside the Marian influence, the executors seem to have been interested in showing as many instruments as were known at the time. For this reason, new instruments like the harpsichord and clavichord appear alongside more familiar instruments in the Beauchamp Chapel. That there are three different types of shawm, two types of organ, and various stringed instruments within the windows demonstrates that the executors were keen to portray a heavenly orchestra as large and celebratory as that of Psalm 150 (see Further reading: La Rue).


The unusual inclusion of musical notation in the glass, as well as the musical instruments, reflects the particular concern for musical provision expressed in Earl Richard’s will and during his lifetime. This work demanded a skilled artist, such as the royal glazier, who could notate plainchant, polyphony and complex musical instruments. It is tempting to envisage that these instruments represent musicians in Earl Richard’s employ. However, whilst an avid music patron, he did not employ 32 instrumentalists. Rather, this space was created to commemorate the earl with music that was here immortalised and set in glass. For a visitor to the chapel, the musical content and Earl Richard are still inextricably linked today.


Dr Alexandra Buckle is Lecturer in Music at St Hilda’s, and St Anne’s College, Oxford. She is currently developing a new Award in Music Listening for Classic FM and Canterbury Christ Church University.

Further reading

  • S. Bicknell, The History of the English Organ, Cambridge, 1996
  • A. Buckle, Music and Liturgy, Patronage and Authority: The College of St Mary, Warwick, in the later Middle Ages, unpublished DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2009
  • A. Buckle, ‘Fit for a King’: Music and Iconography in Richard Beauchamp’s Chantry Chapel’, Early Music, 38/1, 2010, pp. 3–19
  • A. Buckle, ‘An English Composer in Royal and Aristocratic Service: Robert Chirbury, c.1380–1454’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 15/2, 2006, pp. 109–122
  • C. Carpenter, ‘“The Beauchamp Affinity:” A Study of bastard feudalism at work’, English Historical Review, 95, 1980, pp. 514–532
  • C. F. Hardy, ‘On the Music in the Painted Glass of the windows in the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick’, Archaeologia, 61, 1909, pp. 1–32
  • H. La Rue, ‘The Problem of the Cymbala’, The Galpin Society Journal, 35, 1982, pp. 86–99
  • P. Lindley, ‘The Commissioning Process’, in Richard Marks and Paul Williamson (eds.), Gothic: Art for England 1400–1547, London, 2003, pp. 89–91
  • 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, 2, pp. 5–50
  • A. R. Myers (ed.), English Historical Documents 1327–1485, London, 1969, pp. 1162–1163
  • N. Ramsay, ‘Crafts’, in Richard Marks and Paul Williamson (eds.), Gothic: Art for England 1400–1547, London, 2003, pp. 86–89
  • A. Rose., ‘Angel Musicians in the Medieval Stained Glass of Norfolk Churches’, Early Music, 29/2, 2001, pp. 186–217
  • G. M. White, ‘The Iconography of the stained glass of the Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s, Warwick’, The Journal of Stained Glass, 19/2, 1991–93, pp. 133–157

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