In a new preface to his seminal The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy recalls how one of the discoveries which gave impetus to his revisionist approach to the history of the English Reformation was his realisation that, on the very eve of that 'reformation', so many parish churches were having (lay-funded) additions made to them ... a sure sign of the vitality of the cultus which they symbolised and enabled.
My own studies have given me reasons to conclude that this may be even truer than Duffy was able to gather from the evidence. I suspect that in many places building work was going on which has left only oblique evidence.
In 1644, when King Charles I was marching West, the cavalier diarist Richard Symonds traveling with him made notes about the heraldry he saw in the windows (and monuments) of all the churches and gentry houses he could get into. I was taking an interest in Lifton Church, near Okehampton; so I looked at the Victorian edition of Symonds to see what he noted there. An initial mistake ... I couldn't make his account fit. But when I looked at his ms in the British Library, and eliminated the mistakes the Victorian transcription had made, matters were much clearer. In terms of new armorial glass dignifying new local potentates, a great deal was going on in the 1490s!
But one problem continued to stand out. Symonds listed no heraldry in the South aisle windows. And when I looked carefully at the tracery in those widows, the penny dropped ... what I (and other observers) had assumed to be part of a late medieval set were nothing of the sort; they were top-quality Victorian additions deliberately made to match the earlier work.
I think it is pretty clear that a major reshaping of Lifton Church was going on just as the Reformation struck; work stopped; within the next century, the uncompleted South aisle was patched up; but not to the best standards. That is why Symonds can give us no information about any heraldic data in those windows. There was none.
Fast forward 250 years ... the Victorians put in good matching masonry and tracery; further evidence that good late medieval work had not survived.
Because, with the lack of vision and optimism which accompanied the Reformation, no decent work had been put up there to survive!