Relhan Collection : 90 Cambridge King’s College. Hearse cloth of Henry VII, carried over Queen Elizabeth, 1564

Relhan, Richard, 1782-1844

Relhan Collection

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This cloth of gold hearse cloth, reused for Elizabeth I’s visit to Cambridge in 1564, bears a cross of red silk velvet with embroidered motifs of alternating portcullis and roses, with a central coat of arms of Henry VII, and is 3092mm wide x 4310mm long. It is now recognised as the hearse cloth of Henry VII, whose arms appear at the cross of the orphrey. The main ground is cloth of gold and cut velvet, with a silk warp and a gold thread weft in which motifs have been brocaded in a serpentine curve, similar to ceremonial textiles of the 15th century. The red orphreys or decorated bands are of red velvet and have an arrangement of alternating motifs, Tudor rose and portcullis, either embroidered directly or as 'slips' applied to all four bands, the rose being the Tudor symbol reconciling the Houses of Lancaster and York and the portcullis referencing Margaret Beaufort. The central motif is the arms of Henry VII with the dragon and greyhound supporting his shield. When Elizabeth I made her only visit to Cambridge in 1564 both Queen and University wanted to impress with their learning and their moderate brand of Protestantism. William Cecil coordinated events and emphasised the need to demonstrate loyalty, conformity and sober scholasticism. Not surprisingly the young queen, although she herself gave a long speech in Latin, cut the visit short and at debates staged at Great St Mary’s she complained that she couldn’t hear the mumbling scholars and disliked the ‘<i>torne and to much soyled’</i> clothes of university men. Ceremonies, speeches and plays took place in King’s College Chapel, which was richly decorated with tapestries, Turkish carpets and 2 cushions of cloth of gold. A ‘joyful welcome’ included items such as reuse of this magnificent canopy to cover the Queen’s open carriage. From 1505 until 1547 it was in the vestry at the University Church of St Mary’s the Great to be used at an annual requiem for the death of Queen Elizabeth of York and then to commemorate the death of Henry VII. Ceremonies were also held at Oxford where there is a similar pall in the Ashmolean Museum. Thanks to the memory of its use by Queen Elizabeth the pall escaped destruction as a superstitious item. Its rather sad afterlife includes display at the Public Library in C18, storage in the Registrary’s Office 1810 to 1890, although the evidence of Relhan is that it was displayed in King’s College Chapel around 1820, and by 1890 it was in the Music Room of the University Library. J Willis Clarke found it there, by then torn and filthy, had it washed and mended then folded up and displayed in a glass case, and he presented it at a lecture to Cambridge Antiquarian Society as the canopy for Elizabeth, the tradition that persisted until 1929. It survived all this and was transferred to the Cambridge Archaeology and Anthropology Museum (CAAM) 1890. In 1928 it was exhibited in Lansdowne House, London, and the Victoria and Albert Museum had it cleaned and repaired and exhibited it 1930 (exhibition of English Medieval Art). It was returned to CAAM, who transferred it to the Fitzwilliam 1936, and by 1956 it was displayed in the Armour Room. In 1979 it was loaned to Great St Mary’s (where we can remember it looking rather dull and draped over a hearse in the N aisle), who persuaded the Fitzwilliam to take it back in 2002. After full conservation it is magnificently displayed in the Rothschild Gallery there.</p><p>Tait H 1956; Waring forthcoming; Wickens 2003</p><p><i>Photograph © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Reproduced with the kind permission of the University of Cambridge, </i>accession number <i>AAL.3-2002</i></p></p>


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