9 October 2009

Cardinals and an Emperor

How good to walk through Cardinal College the other day and see the Founder's Arms flying in a gigantic banner; so typically Tudor and nouveau in their elaboration and detail. The Tudor motifs are obvious, and I presume that the Cornish choughs indicate that Wolsey's Patron was S Thomas a Becket. But I wonder: does anybody know what the other details were intended to indicate? And why - despite Wolsey's disgrace and the 'refoundation' of the college by Henry Tudor - did the Cardinal's arms remain those of the college?

Wolsey reminds me of a nice little exhibition of bookbindings (finishes at the end of October) in Bodley. Among them a spectacular little volume - the earliest English gold-tooled binding - presented to Wolsey c1519, containing prose and verse encomia addressed to him, and with S George on the cover ... and roses ... and pomegranates! A real evocation of the Renaissance, humanist days before all went to pot. And what a European axis that would have been, England with Spain and the Empire! It reminded me of an occasion a couple of decades ago when the then Subdean of the Chapels Royal, the admirable Fr Anthony Caesar, smuggled me past the security guards to show me the Tudor chapel in S James's Palace with all the pomegranates in the ceiling decoration. I wondered, and wonder still, what the syphilitic old tyrant thought when his eye lighted accidentally upon them in his latter days after he had repudiated his wife and betaken himself to whores. And from the same period, Bodley displays a book, also with gold tooling, which was probably given to the humanist Cuthbert Tunstall, later Bishop of Durham, during the bonanza which accompanied the Peace of Cambrai in 1529.

This tiny one-room exhibition also reminds us of the next King Henry - the opposite in most conceivable ways to the Eighth - by showing an Italian book, the red silk binding embroidered with the arms of our late Sovereign Lord King Henry IX, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati. Crown underneath the ecclesiastical hat (which only has six tassels each side: why?).

But what I lingered over longest was an Evangelarium of c800, Court School of Charlemagne at Aachen, with an ivory inset of Christus Victor. It was made for the Abbey at Chelles, where Charlemagne's sister Gisela was Abbess. It suggested to me that earlier Renaissance, the age of Alcuin, which was so instrumental in conveying Romanita to the Middle Ages.


Arch Anglo-Catholic said...

The official website of the College itself provides many of the desired answers:
"The Christ Church coat of arms was originally that of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the founder of the first college on this site. It was granted to Cardinal College by Thomas Wryothesley, the Garter King of Arms, and Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux King of Arms, on 4 August 1525.

Derived from Wolsey’s Suffolk background, the elements are a silver cross from the Ufford earls of Suffolk, four blue leopards from the de la Pole earls and dukes of Suffolk, two Cornish choughs from the arms of his namesake, Thomas à Becket, a red lion of Wolsey’s patron, Pope Leo X who had made Wolsey a Cardinal, and the Tudor rose of his king.

The shape of the shield is not important, and many variants have been used over the centuries. The crest, which is the red cardinal’s hat and tassels, does not form part of the arms, but has become synonymous with Christ Church. Wolsey’s hat is preserved in the Upper Library, in a Victorian Gothic case specially made for it."

Why were the arms retained after Wolsey's fall from grace? I know not

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Thanks. Good to know that Pope Leo X has a pemanent toehold in Oxford heraldry.

Arch Anglo-Catholic said...

de rien mon Pere!

johnf said...

"And what a European axis that would have been, England with Spain and the Empire!"

Some years ago, Father, the BBC (R4) broadcast one of those historical 'what-if' programmes and considered what might have happened had Mary I borne a son to Philip of Spain.

The historians concluded that he would probably have been called Charles after his grandfather the Emperor Charles V and he might have been given the Spanish Netherlands as a sort of christening gift.

So we could have had in the sixteenth century a King Charles I of England, France (naturally - we dont hold with salic law) and the Netherlands.

Anonymous said...

A House-Man writes (belatedly): "Cardinal College" did/does have its own arms, but these are more complicated even than our Founder's. Described in the various college histories, but never illustrated to my knowledge. Or indeed used.