THE ENAMEL-PAINTED WINDOWS OF BRANCEPETH CASTLE:
HISTORY AND SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THE GLAZING SCHEME
Brancepeth Castle, located in County Durham, was listed as a Grade I building in 1967 and has recently been added to English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register (Fig. 1). Architecturally and historically exceptional, the castle houses stained-glass windows made by the firm of William Collins (1773–1845) of London in the early nineteenth century. They are among the few surviving Collins windows, and together make up an impressive collection.
From the middle of the eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, an aesthetic change took place in England. The models of antiquity were gradually abandoned in favour of the Gothic style, which came to symbolize England’s glorious past. The style provoked a new interest in medieval architecture and decoration, which was furthered by collectors and George III’s renovation of Windsor Castle. Stained glass, then regarded as the medieval art par excellence, was highly prized, adorning the then-burgeoning ‘Romantic interiors’, in the words of Wainwright. A departure from the aesthetic of medieval mosaic-style stained glass, which reached its peak in the 1840s, was the adoption of a glass-painting language mimicking oil painting and it was within this favourable context for artistic expression that the enamel-painted windows of Brancepeth Castle were created.
On account of its rich medieval history, Brancepeth Castle was a perfect place to recreate a ‘microcosm of Old England’ and integrate stained-glass windows into a scheme. Brancepeth was the military stronghold of the Nevilles, one of the most powerful families in Northern England and the first builders of the castle. It remained the property of the Nevilles until 1569, when the Crown seized their estates as a result of their participation in the Northern Rebellion and the unsuccessful attempt to liberate Mary, Queen of Scots, from prison. When William Russell of Sunderland (b.1734), a nouveau riche who made his fortune in the coal-mining industry, bought the castle in 1796, it was in poor condition, far from its medieval glory. It was not until 1818, when William’s son Matthew Russell (1765–1822) inherited the castle that reconstruction began. For this purpose, Russell employed Scottish architect John Paterson (d.1832), who trained with Robert Adam, the renowned architect considered a product ‘of the great eighteenth-century force of the Scottish Enlightenment’. In this enterprise, Matthew was assisted by his friend and brother-in-law Charles Tennyson (1784–1861), a man passionate about the Middle Ages, who acted as a major advisor in the rebuilding of the castle. The grand design planned by Matthew and Charles included arms and armour, rich decorations, and the stained-glass windows, and it is likely that Tennyson himself was involved in commissioning the glazing. Matthew however only lived to see the stained-glass windows adorning the entrance hall and the Barons’ Hall, including the famous representation of The Battle of Neville’s Cross painted by Charles Muss (1779–1824), a glass-painter employed by the firm of William Collins. Matthew’s death in 1822 left his heirs responsible for completing his plans for the castle. The rest of the glazing scheme was completed in 1824. The stained-glass windows were fully integrated to the architecture and were displayed in the public spaces where guests were entertained, including the entrance hall, the armour gallery, saloon, drawing room, state bedroom, octagon rooms, and the Barons’ Hall. (The windows in the billiard room and in the chapel were made at a later date, and may relate to the work completed by the architect Anthony Salvin at the end of the nineteenth century (Fig.2, see key at end of article).)
Of the rich decoration of Brancepeth in the nineteenth century little has survived. Part of the arms and weapons collections was sold at auction in 1922, followed by the furniture. The only contemporary views of the castle decoration are from photographs dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, before the auction. Photographs taken during the Second World War show that part of the interior decoration remained in situ (Fig. 3). The majority of the stained glass had been removed, resulting in extensive loss and damage. However portions of the windows adorning the entrance hall, armour gallery, saloon, drawing room, octagon rooms, and the Barons’ Hall, were spared and are still in situ mainly in the tracery. The two windows depicting The Battle of Neville’s Cross and six figures of the Nevilles and their blood relatives were salvaged. The Battle of Neville’s Cross (in a fragmentary condition) and two of the six figures (which are heavily damaged) are in storage in the castle. The remaining four figures are exhibited at the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre; two of these have been conserved recently by Jonathan and Ruth Cooke, while the two others require attention.
THE GLAZING OF BRANCEPETH CASTLE
The survey of the castle undertaken in the seventeenth century by Thomas Emerson provides evidence that some of the windows were adorned with ‘marvelous glass of Normandy wrought with arms and imagery worked in roundels’. It is possible that this glazing remained in the castle until the alterations carried out by Paterson, who redefined the window openings that were subsequently reglazed by William Collins. The glass still in the castle today consists of enamel-painted windows all of similar craftsmanship, indicating that they may have been produced by Collins’s firm. Such a vast iconographic programme surely involved several glass-painters. Although Collins claimed authorship of the stained glass produced in his workshop by marking it with his trademark ‘W. Collins’, he does not appear to have been involved in the actual production process, but rather in the management of the studio. No reference to his skills as a glass-painter or his artistic training has been found in the contemporary literature. Instead, he hired glass-painters, among whom were Charles Muss, John Martin (1789–1854), Edward Jones, Antony Oldfield, George Hoadley, and perhaps a sixth, John Nixon. Muss seemed to have been the most prolific and important glass-painter of the studio. He possibly provided Collins with glass-painters whom he had trained himself in the use of enamels, beginning with Martin and Jones, and followed by Oldfield and Hoadley.
Only The Battle of Neville’s Cross can be attributed to Charles Muss with certainty. This window, formerly located in the Barons’ Hall, was part of a scheme dedicated to the battle, which took place on 17 October 1346 only few kilometres from the castle. By transcribing the battle into glass, the importance of the castle and its strategic position during the conflict were underlined. This window, together with the panels depicting six members of the Neville family at life size – King Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault; Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland, and his second wife, Joan Beaufort; Richard, 3rd duke of York, and his wife Cecily – are among the most significant windows in the castle, and together they form a strong narrative about the history of Brancepeth Castle (Figs 4–7). The depictions of historical figures also underlined the Nevilles’ and their relatives’ blood connection with the royal family (see the genealogical tree in Fig. 8). Owners of historic medieval castles at the time would claim affiliation to high society, so that they could present themselves as heirs of an ancient lineage. Through these depictions, Matthew Russell sought to immortalize significant figures and events in English medieval history to demonstrate his social status and his sense of national affiliation. Unlike canvas painting, stained glass appeared to be the perfect medium to represent large-scale historic figures and important historic battles, with the compositions being dramatized by light effects.
The Battle of Neville’s Cross
In the late eighteenth century, George III commissioned a series of eight paintings relating to major historical events from the artist Benjamin West (1738–1820), to decorate his audience chamber at Windsor Castle (Figs 9-11); the intention was that the audience chamber would become a Garter Throne Room. These paintings were part of the redecoration of Windsor Castle and had a notable impact on commissions to artists. The Battle of Neville’s Cross was painted by West for Windsor in 1789, and surely provided inspiration for the glazing scheme at Brancepeth – the battle, in which the Nevilles had a prominent role, took place very near the castle.
The eulogistic comments made when the window was exhibited in Collins’s workshop in London and on its installation in the castle bear witness to what could be achieved with enamel-painted glass and the quality of the work done by the Collins firm. Visitors who viewed the window in Collins’s workshop marvelled at the window, describing it as ‘a finer historical illusion’ that ‘unites the beauties of the old and the new style’. It was such a success that, once installed, the castle was opened to the public for people to admire. The work was designed by Thomas Stothard (1755–1834), a Royal Academician and renowned painter and book illustrator. Stothard proved adept at drawing up the cartoon, as he was a skilled draughtsman in various media. His previous works, in particular The Pilgrimage to Canterbury (commissioned in 1806 by engraver Robert Cromek), introduced him to medieval subjects. Muss meanwhile was demonstrating a mastery of miniature work and was himself an outstanding draughtsman. His draughtsmanship can be appreciated in his illustrations of The Gay Fables, a collection of fables in two volumes (1727 and 1738) written by John Gay and preserved at the British Library. The skills of these two artists were therefore suited to a historical and detailed reproduction of a battle scene. The overall impression of the window was surely enhanced by the theatrical effects of changing light and the decorative setting (it was encircled with a garter without inscription, and the vaults were adorned with armorial ensigns of the Order of the Garter). Today it is difficult to picture the overall effect, as The Battle of Neville’s Cross was removed and is now in a fragmented state. Its design, signed by Collins, is still preserved in the British Library, and a watercolour sketch may be found in the Prints and Drawings Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Muss’s treatment was unusual for the time: although large sheets of painted glass were used, he chose to employ lead calmes to emphasize the design (Fig. 5). From observation of the numerous fragments of The Battle of Neville’s Cross, it appears that the use of pot-metal glass was limited to dark- and pale-green glasses; all the other colours were obtained by using enamels. Examination also revealed little round pieces of colourless glass, coloured yellow by silver stain and inserted into the green glass. A similar technique was used in the Middle Ages to mimic small gems adorning garments as well as other elements of a window. It was first mentioned by the monk Theophilus, who referred to the process in chapter 28, ‘The Setting of Gems in Painted Glass’, of the second book of his treatise. These gems were supposed to be similar to emeralds or sapphires, to stand out from light-coloured glass, such as yellow. They were attached to the surface of the glass with glass paint. In the Muss window the little round piece of glass is inserted into the green glass and secured with glass paint rather than lead (Fig.6). In the light of recent research carried out by Megan Stacey at the University of York on this medieval technique, it appears that this is a rare technique; only a few examples are known to date, among them two dating from the sixteenth century. Muss appears to have been in the vanguard in his use of this technique in the nineteenth century. Although it is possible that he was familiar with Theophilus in Latin and in a German translation – the English version was not published until 1847, by Robert Hendrie – the most reasonable hypothesis is that he experimented with the technique on his own, perhaps after seeing it first hand in medieval stained glass.
The Neville Family and Their Blood Relatives
To reinforce the historical theme, the Nevilles and their blood relatives were depicted as individuals, highlighting their importance in the castle’s history (Fig.4). Six sash windows contained a standing figure in the upper sash and an empty arch (to allow light in) with insignia and inscriptions in the spandrels appropriate to the figures above in the lower sash (Figs. 12-13). These figures are signed ‘W. Collins Glass Enameller to the King’ and dated 1824, the year of Muss’s death. It is likely that he was involved in creating some of the figures, and that he was succeeded at his death by another of Collins’s glass-painters. Differences in painting style between the figures suggest the involvement of several painters in the scheme.
Like the The Battle of the Neville’s Cross, these figures suffered a sad fate. They were removed from their original location and relocated numerous times. Today one can only hypothesize about their former location in the castle. The only round-headed openings for the sash windows are the drawing room (which could accommodate four panels, see fig. 14), and the state bedroom or the octagon rooms (for the remaining two) (Fig. 2).
King Edward III and his Queen, Philippa of Hainault
King Edward III was not directly involved in the Battle of Neville’s Cross – he was away fighting the French in Northern France, and Philippa had been appointed regent in his absence. 1346 marked the beginning of a series of bloody confrontations between the English troops of Edward III and the French troops of Philip VI, set against the backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War. After several confrontations during the summer that year, the French troops were weakened. Philip of France had no choice but to call upon his ally King David II of Scotland ‘to make a counter-attack upon the masterless kingdom of England’, which would help with ‘relieving the pressure upon Calais’. Philippa proved crucial in the confrontation with the Scottish army at Neville’s Cross. When she was informed that King David was approaching with his army, she had no choice but to ‘help her people in such martial matters’, and on 17 October, ‘her army having assembled during the early morning in Bishop Auckland, she mounted her white charger and rode’ (Fig. 9).
The portrayal of Philippa of Hainault and Edward III contrasts with the chaos depicted in The Battle of Neville’s Cross. They are represented as grand life-size figures comparable to historic portraits. Only assumptions can be made about possible sources of inspiration for the figures, particularly for the stained glass representing Philippa of Hainault and Edward III, as their faces are missing and we currently have no information concerning the designer or glass-painter. Their postures and rich royal garments are however reminiscent of the depictions of them in West’s paintings commissioned by George III for Windsor (Figs 9-11).
Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort
Joan Beaufort (1379?–1440) was the illegitimate daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, and half-sister of Henry IV. Her marriage to Ralph Neville (1364–1425) gave the Nevilles a royal pedigree. Ralph Neville is an important figure in the history of Brancepeth Castle, as he contributed to its rebuilding and extension. To a certain extent, he could be compared with Matthew Russell, as both were instrumental figures in the rebuilding of the castle.
Ralph Neville was involved in different building campaigns in his vast domain. He was known to have rebuilt Raby and created a collegiate church for priests and laymen at Staindrop, a parish near Raby Castle, a few kilometres from Brancepeth. He and his two wives, Margaret Stafford and Joan Beaufort, were buried in an alabaster tomb in Staindrop with their effigies carved above it (Fig. 15). Perhaps with a view to historical and aesthetic authenticity, the figures of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort at Brancepeth may have been based on drawings of their monumental effigies at Staindrop copied by Charles Alfred Stothard (1786–1821), son of Thomas Stothard, who designed The Battle of Neville’s Cross. Charles Alfred’s work The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain was published in 1821 and was considered to be a reference work for the representation of costumes of kings and queens of England from the twelfth century until Henry VIII. The study was surely a valuable source of inspiration for Collins’s glass-painters. Stothard’s drawings are extremely meticulous, reproducing every detail, including the armour, swords and ornaments, of the effigies he observed. As Charles died in 1821, it is unlikely that he would have provided the design for Collins, so his father may have based the designs on his son’s study.
Richard, 3rd duke of York, and Cecily Neville
Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort’s daughter Cecily (1415–1495) was known as the ‘Rose of Raby’, because she was born in Raby Castle. She married Richard Neville (1411–60), 3rd duke of York, and bore him twelve children, among whom were two future kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. Richard was a descendant of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault: his great-grandfather was Edmund Langley, Edward III’s fourth son.
Although an inscription beneath the figure of Richard at Brancepeth identifies him as ‘Ric(ard)us Duc Ebor(acensis)’ (‘Richard, duke of York’), he has been mistaken by visitors to the castle and scholars for the Black Prince, first son of Edward III and heir to the throne, who together with his father founded the Order of the Garter in 1348. Being of royal lineage, Richard was a ‘magnate and claimant to the throne’, and was thus depicted in stained glass here wearing the Plantagenet surcoat. This could have led to his being confused with Edward the Black Prince, whose effigy at Canterbury Cathedral also wears the Plantagenet coat of arms. A watercolour sketch by Thomas Stothard, A Knight Sheathing his Sword, now in the V&A Prints and Drawings Collection, is similar to the figure of Ralph Neville, with its bascinet and camail, but wears the Plantagenet surcoat, as Richard in the Brancepeth glass. The figure in glass is much elaborated than the sketch however, suggesting that the latter was a first proposition for the glass at Brancepeth. The commissioner may have wanted to highlight Richard’s royal lineage, which probably led the designer Thomas Stothard to take inspiration from the figure of Edward III in West’s painting The Burghers of Calais (Fig. 11): Richard and Edward III both wear the same surcoat and armour, but also a crown with a lion.
The enamel-painted windows of Brancepeth Castle demonstrate the skill of the glass-painters working for the firm of William Collins, among them Charles Muss, whose style was considered to have ‘the smoothness of ivory’. This pictorial style typical of the Georgian era was progressively abandoned in favour of an aesthetic closer to medieval stained glass. Although Collins’s workshop was renowned, this change of taste affected his production, which suffered the same fate as other Georgian glass-painters. Despite the popularity enjoyed by his workshop, few records have survived about him or his company. Brancepeth has proved to be one of the largest schemes known to date.
1. ‘Brancepeth Castle is added to “At Risk” register’, BBC News, last modified 7 July 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/wear/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8796000/8796827.stm (accessed 8 January 2016).
2. Sarah Frances Baylis, ‘The Eighteenth-Century Windows – and Where are they Now?’, in Sarah Brown (ed.), A History of the Stained Glass of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Historical Monographs Relating to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, XVIII, Windsor, 2006, p. 79.
3. Clive Wainwright, The Romantic Interior: the British Collector at Home 1750–1850, New Haven CT, p. 10.
4. Ibid., p. 24.
5. A. A. Tait, ‘Adam, Robert (1728–1792)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, September 2015, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/0/101000105/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
6. Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman, New Haven CT and London, 1981, p. 73.
7. Durham County Record Office, Codicil of the Will of Matthew Russell, Esq., 3 May 1822, with inventory of plate and furniture in Brancepeth Castle, 24 May 1823, D/Br/F300.
8. Anon., ‘Viscount Boyne’s Specimens of Armor and Weapons Sold’, American Art News 21/10, 16 December 1922, p. 4.
9. E. W. Short, The Story of Brancepeth Castle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1962, 2nd edn, p. 14.
10. George Godwin, “On the present state of the art of glass painting in England and France, and on the necessity for efforts in its favour,” Civil engineer and architects journal 3, London, July 1840, p. 217-218.
11.Mark Girouard, The return to Camelot: chivalry and the English gentleman; New Haven and London: Yale Press, 1981, p. 21.
12. Royal Collection, Queen Philippa at the Battle of Neville’s Cross: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/404926/queen-philippa-at-the-battle-of-nevilles-cross (accessed 8 January 2016).
13. Rudolph Ackermann, ‘Stained Glass’, Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, 2nd ser., 12/68, 1 August 1821, p. 122.
14. Anon., ‘The Arts’, Morning Post, 22 March 1822.
15. M. G. Sullivan, ‘Stothard, Thomas (1755–1834)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 2004; online edn, September 2012, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/26/101026603/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
16. E. W. Short, The Story of Brancepeth Castle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1962, 2nd edn, p.9
17. Designs for window: 19th century, by Thomas Stothard (d.1834), RA, in British Library, Add. MS 34873, f.8 (volume VIII of the collection of drawings by Thomas Willement).
18. The Battle of Neville’s Cross, V&A, Prints and Drawings Collection, no. 1682.
19. Theophilus, On Divers Arts: The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking, and Metalwork, trans. John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith, New York: 1979, p. 71.
20. Megan Stacey, “A Veritable Tour de Force of Mechanical and Artistic Dexterity’: An Investigation into the Medieval Techniques of Inserting ‘Jewels’ in Stained Glass”, MA dissertation, York University, 2015.
21. Theophilus, On Divers Arts: The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking, and Metalwork, trans. John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith, New York: 1979, p. 19.
22. Blanche C. Hardy, Philippa of Hainault and Her Times, London, 1910, p. 158.
23. Ibid., p. 159.
24. Anthony Tuck, Beaufort, ‘Joan, countess of Westmorland (1379?–1440)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, January 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/53/101053026/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
25. ‘History of Saint Mary’s church Staindrop’, http://www.stmarysstaindrop.org.uk/Staindrop/History.html (accessed 26 June 2014, unavailable at 8 January 2016).
26. I. Carlyle, rev. Deborah Graham-Vernon, ‘Stothard, Charles Alfred (1786–1821)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/26/101026602/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
27. Christopher Harper-Bill, ‘Cecily duchess of York (1415–1495)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/50/101050231/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
28. Richard Marks and Ann Payne, British Heraldry from its Origins to c.1800, London, 1978, p. 121.
29. John Watts, ‘Richard of York, third duke of York (1411–1460)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, May 2011, http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/23/101023503/ (accessed 8 January 2016).
30. Thomas Stothard, A Knight Sheathing his Sword, beginning of the 19th century, V&A, Prints and Drawings Collection, no. 1681.
31. Lionel Henry Cust, rev. Alexander Koller, ‘Muss, Charles (1779–1824)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, September 2015 http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/19/101019678/ (accessed 8 January 2016).