THE SIX KINGS
A CANTERBURY DISCOVERY
The discovery of a manuscript which helps to identify the Six Kings of the Cathedral screen is recorded below by the Deputy Librarian of the Canterbury Chapter Library.
By Charles Cotton
It has been my good fortune to discover a small roll of manuscript in an unused drawer in the Chapter Library at Canterbury. The paper and writing appear to be of about the middle of the nineteenth century, and the subject is the architecture of the Western Towers of the Cathedral and the Screen of the Six Kings. The references to the screen, in view of the interest shown by many who took part in the recent pilgrimage to Canterbury, and their inquires whom the statues represent, will be a welcome contribution to the clearing of a fog of uncertainty that has exited for over 300 years.
The builder of the screen was Prior Thomas Chillenden (1390-1411), who is called by Canterbury's most eminent antiquary, William Somner (1640), "the matchless benefactor who deserves the eternal memory," and by John Leland in his Itinerary (1535-1543) "the greatest builder of a Prior that ever was in Christes Chirche." For over 120 years the screen seems to have been left in the dilapidated conditions shown in Carter's "Print," 1785, until the first quarter of the following century, when, under the influence of Canon Hugh Percy, the Chapter took in hand much restoration within the Cathedral as well as necessary repairs without.
The manuscript is written on paper with an impressed stamp showing it to have been made about the year 1845; and the handwriting appears to be that of the late Sir George Gilbert Scott, who at that date was much engaged in the restoration of ancient buildings, and later in a complete restoration of the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral. Taking the statues severally from north to south, i.e., from left to right facing the screen, he writes:—
The second king is altogether of softer complexion, youthful, but somewhat fat; delicate but less refined, energetic and striking, than the preceding. He holds the ball and sceptre and is crowned. [Later this is held by the writer to be Richard II.]
The third is evidently an ideal representation of the Patriarchal Founder of the Church of St. Augustine, which he holds in his left hand, the sceptre in his right. His flowing and curling Saxon hair, and venerable beard, spread over his breast and shoulders, and we cannot fail to recognize the appropriate statue of King Ethelbert.
The veteran king to the right, also having a long beard but short hair, holding a sword in his left [hand] while his right is in a gesture seeming to deprecate teh use of it may well be pronounced to be the Conquerer.
The central effigy on the south side seems unmistakenly to represent Henry IV., the good king whop delighted to adorn this chruch, and desire to be buried in its north-eastern end. Comparison of the countenance of this, and of the monumental effigies close by, with its very peculiar beard confined to the chin and no hair to the head, a fashion observable in most of these statues, points so plainly to their identity that we can no longer doubt the intention of this statue, and Bolingbroke seems plainly intended …The sixth, also crowned and with the ball and sceptre, has so strong a resemblance to the first that one appears to be a copy of the other; in this the head appears to be of inferior workmanship and from its darker colour would seem to be a restoration in another quality of stone. [Henry VI.] was considered to be the very image, lively and lovely countenance of his noble parent (Turner's History of England, V. ii.. p. 469). Thus the copy of the first already observe in the sixth statue, will be accounted for.
The evidence which can b adduced in favour of these interpretations may be summarized as follow:—
No. 1.—Henry V. (1413–1422): A comparison with his portraits at Queen's College, Oxford, the National Portrait Gallery, and Windsor will probably quite sufficient for identification.
No. 2.—Richard II. (1377–1399): All writers who have ventured to offer identifications have agreed that Richard II. was one of the six kings represented, as he was so great a benefactor to the rebuilding of the Nave of the Cathedral; and a comparison with effigy on his tomb at Westminster, or with the magnificent portrait showing him enthroned, more than life-size, which also hags in the Abbey, will probably convince any one of the correctness of this interpretation.
With regard to Nos. 3 and 4, on either side of the doorway, that on the left cannot be other than Ethelbert, the kingly founder of St. Augustine's Church, with the model of the Cathedral on his arm; but when he turned to that on the right, our author, instead of using his own judgment, was evidently mislead by the short sort sword placed in error in the left hand of "a figure of kingly mien, with hair and beard of snowy whiteness, a face plump and a ruddy and with manners evidently affable and gracious" (D.N.B.), so different from the powerful William, a very rigid and cruel man," according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The statue really represents Edward the Confessor.
No. 5, Henry IV, (1399–1413): The manuscript gives excellent reasons for tis identification. Besides the effigy on the tomb at Canterbury, there is a well-known portrait of him at Windsor Castle.
No. 6, Henry VI. (1422–71): The manuscript suggest a strong family likeness to No. 1. There are original pictures of him to be seen at Eton and in the National Portrait Gallery; but a better identification is to be found in the figure itself. As a child he had been taught "to love, worship, ad dread God." As an adult he is described as "tall of stature, and slender of body, whereunto all his members were proportionately correspondent, of comely visage, where did glisten his bountifulness of disposition. … He said grace before meals like a monk and always had on the table a dish representing the five wounds of Christ. His piety was no mere form, there was not in the worked a more pure, more honest and more holy creature." (Polydore Vergil.) It is not, therefore, surprising that "he preferred a row of signs of the Holy Cross to be set in his royal crown rather than any likeness of flowers or leaves, according to that word of the wise 'A crown of gold was upon his head marked with the sign of Holiness.'" (Henry VI., with a reprint of John Blacman's Memoir. M. R. James.) Such a row of crosses will be found in the crown of this sixth king on the screen, and is the only example of such an embellishment I am aware of.
∵ Picture on page 16