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Mon 22 Mar 2021
The Many Lives of a Religious Window
Iona Hart BA (Lough), MA (Ebor) // Researcher
The stained glass in Burton Constable's chapel has proved something of a mystery for years. With its many repairs, unfamiliar heraldry and unknown origins, it proved a puzzle for University of York student Iona Hart when she began her research on the windows varied history. The story unravelled is a fascinating one, stretching back across a turbulent history and beginning in the distant village of Childrey in Oxfordshire, which was then in Berkshire.

One of only two stained glass windows in the entirety of Burton Constable, the chapel window has been something of a mystery for years. Staff have known little of its subject matter or history.

Brought across from the family’s home of Tixall in Staffordshire in the mid-1800s, it was placed in the Chapel following Catholic emancipation. Some sources speculated that patched repairs were the work of William Peckitt, an internationally renowned glass painter from York – but evidence for this was always short. 

So, who really painted the window? When and where was it created? And how and why did it end up at Burton Constable Hall?In 2020, Iona Hart, from the University of York, carried out extensive research on the window and discovered that the window has a very complex and exciting story to tell.

About the Window

The Chapel window has four main sections (lights) and eight small sections across the top (tracery). The tracery panels are a mix of grapevine and diamond patterns, with the grapevines likely to represent the wine drunk at the Eucharist, Christ's last supper with his disciples.

The lower section of the lights contain an elaborate pattern of sunflowers, blue flowers and pomegranate flowers; these appear to be purely decorative, without the theological significance of the tracery grapevines.

Each of the main lights depicts a different figure

  1. A woman kneeling in prayer with an angel carrying her heraldic shield above her
  2. The Throne of Mercy - God the Father supporting Christ crucified on the cross
  3. The Pietà - Mary, mother of Jesus, holding Christ's crucified body
  4. A mirror image of panel number 1 but with different heraldry

The Throne of Mercy and The Pietà, along with the Eucharist vines in the tracery, all pick up devotional, sacrificial and redemptive themes within the Christian faith which suggests that whoever commissioned this window, highly valued these themes.

Anyone who has ever visited Burton Constable Hall will know that the entire Hall is covered in heraldry. The chapel itself has 16 armorial shields painted around the top of its walls. However, the two heraldic shields in the window do not match any of the heraldry in the Hall.

Instead, the window's heraldry is made up of the family emblems of the Fettiplace family (left hand shield) and of the Waryng and Englefield families (right hand shield, split horizontally). These three families are from the south of England, previously Berkshire but now Oxfordshire, and have no known familial or political links with the Constables. So why is their heraldry in a window in Burton Constable Hall?

Early Days in Childrey
The Chapel Window started its life at the other end of the country, over 300 years before it found its home at Burton Constable Hall.

In 1526, William Fettiplace, a wealthy and influential landowner in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, founded a chantry chapel in his local parish church, St Mary the Virgin, in Childrey.

William Fettiplace dedicated the chapel to the Holy Trinity, St Mary and St Katherine and spent large sums of money adorning the space with stone corbels, bronze epitaphs and stained glass covered in his family’s heraldry, a commonplace medieval practice.

These embellishments included the Chapel Window which, due to its size and layout, would most likely have been installed in the south window, the largest in the chapel.
The Fettiplace Family & Civil War Strife

The two kneeling figures at either side of the window are most likely William Fettiplace and his wife Elizabeth. Though both figures now have female heads, the left-hand figure is actually dressed in the medieval garments of a man and the female head is a much later, and mistaken, repair.

This female head isn’t the only piece of glass that has been replaced since the window was created in 1526. In fact, only a handful of pieces of glass are actually now medieval. So, what happened to the original window?

The most likely reason for the losses would be damage inflicted intentionally during the English Civil Wars. King Charles I stayed as a guest in the Fettiplace family manor in April 1644, during the first phase of the conflict. As well known recusants who supported the Catholic faith, the family naturally supported the more sympathetic Royalist cause.

During the Civil War, the Childrey chapel was victim to iconoclasm - that is, the destruction of religious imagery as being heretical. Anything associated with the Catholic faith or with Royalist sympathies would have been a prime target for violent vandalism. The stained glass would have been an obvious, and easy, target.

It's uncertain when this damage occurred; certainly Parliamentarian troops were billeted at the rectory of St Mary the Virgin in 1649, but the damage could have been carried out before or even after that time. During 1649 the troops stabled their horses within the church itself, causing great amounts of damage to the building. 

Life after Childrey
Following the damage to the window, remaining fragments of glass would have been removed by the local parishioners. Most windows were re-glazed with unoffensive plain glass. The next phase of the stained glass's existence becomes somewhat unclear. This research hypothesises that they were moved to Oxford University through the rector of the church Edward Pococke, a professor at the University at the time, or through the Fettiplace family's own connections to Queen’s College, Oxford.  

Oxford was, at the time, the centre of operations for one of the most renowned families of glass painters at the time. Three generations of the Price family worked in the city for much of their careers. Analysis of the window’s new sections reveal that the subject matter and glass technology used the non-original glass in the Chapel Window are very similar to those used by William Price the Younger. His painting style also matches that found on the chapel windows, indicating that he was responsible for reglazing and repainting the vast majority of the window.

Some stained glass painters of Oxford colleges were paid for their work with the remnants of old windows. As Price the younger, his father Joshua and grandfather William Price the elder carried out huge amounts of glazing at the Oxford colleges, it is possible the Childrey window may have been given to them in payment.
Melding Old and New
However the glass came to William Price the younger, between the 1720s and 1761, he seamlessly incorporated the original medieval fragments into the version of the window we see today.

Art historical analysis confirms that the figures of William and Elizabeth Fettiplace, the Throne of Mercy, the Pietà and their architectural backgrounds were all in the original design of the medieval window in Childrey. The rest of the window, however, is Price’s own design. The large sections of ornamental and natural patterns at the bottom of the main lights are Price’s signature design. Every single medallion of glass is individually leaded into a complex, interlocking pattern.

After 1761, the window goes missing. There is no surviving documentation of William Price the younger’s commissions, and the glass itself gives no clue of where the window was installed following its repair. It was not installed in Tixall Chapel by the Chichester family until 1828, some 67 years later.
Damaged Repairs
We have only one clue about what happened to the window after Price repaired it. All but one of the figures’ faces have been replaced after Price’s glazing.

The fact that only the heads needed to be repaired strongly suggests that they were deliberately targeted and destroyed by vandals. Anti-Catholic sentiment was rife during this period and occasionally manifested itself in iconoclasm against depictions of saints and biblical characters. The fact the window could only have been in situ it that location for less than a century before its removal suggests that it was quickly removed due to this violence.

Finally, in 1828, the Chapel Window was installed in Tixall Chapel by the Clifford Constables in the south chapel. Previously, the window was composed of just the four lights. The eight tracery panels were added to the four main lights at this time by Joseph Hale Miller, a Catholic glass painter who oversaw the installation of all the windows in Tixall Chapel.
The Window's Final Journey
Due to some rather questionable financial mismanagement, Tixall Hall and its chapel were sold in 1845. The chapel was moved, stone by stone, two miles down the road and became the local Roman Catholic church of Great Haywood. However, a clause in its sale stipulated that all the stained glass in the chapel would move with the family to their new home, Burton Constable Hall.

So, in 1844, the Chapel Window was removed from Tixall Chapel and travelled almost 140 miles to Burton Constable Hall by either boat, train or carriage. Replacement of most of the glass at the edges of the pieces indicates that they were heavily damaged in the move. The new additions were made up of a textured, bobbled glass sometimes known as ‘cathedral glass’. The different texture of these sections can still be seen on the exterior of the window.

In 1844 the Chapel Window finally found its last and longest home in the chapel at Burton Constable Hall, where it has remained ever since.

One question still remains: why did the Clifford-Constables purchase a window with someone else’s heraldry in it? And why did they take such great pains to transport the window so far when they could have just commissioned a new, bespoke window? The answer lies in the window itself.
The Power of the Past in the Present

The Chapel Window bears the shields of a very prominent, royalist yet recusant family whose chantry chapel and parish church was devastated by Parliamentarian forces.

The subject matter is also highly devotional and of a Catholic nature - strict Protestants would have seen the scenes depicted as sacrilegious.

The figures in the window were subjected to further violence at the turn of the nineteenth-century, when Catholic traditions of religious imagery were forbidden.

Each of these elements would have been incredibly poignant to the Clifford-Constables, who had only very recently been free to practice their own Catholic faith. Before building the chapel at Tixall, they had surreptitiously worshipped in their illegal house chapel at Tixall Hall.

By visually aligning their own heraldry along the walls of the chapel with those of the Fettiplace family, the Clifford-Constables were declaring that they shared the same undying loyalty to the Catholic religion as those who endured persecution and alienation from society during and after the Reformation.

This window was the family’s opportunity to bear witness to their Catholic faith as a devotional act of worship to God, and to tie themselves to the powerful recusant households who had shared their struggles in the past.

A Complicated Jigsaw of Glass from Different Eras (C) Iona Hart

Burton Constable Hall is very grateful to Iona Hart for her work researching the history of the chapel stained glass during another tumultuous period of time - the coronavirus pandemic!

If you would like to read more about the Chapel Window, you can access the original research here:



Philippa Wood (editor)
Curator at Burton Constable Hall

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