On Friday I attended an event at St Mary’s Hall (following on smoothly from my last blog post!). The conference was hosted by Tudor Coventry Community Interest Company and was based around the theme of “The Mystery of the St Mary’s Hall Tapestry- Pulling the Threads Together”. Speakers gave their interpretation of the tapestry on the North Wall of the Guildhall.
Conclusions at the end of the event suggested that the tapestry was likely to have been produced within five years of 1510 (based on costumes worn – which were contemporary to the makers of the tapestry rather than the characters depicted).
It is generally accepted (although not universally even by the speakers at the event) that the scene depicts Henry VI and his influential queen Margaret of Anjou facing each other - both kneeling - with the Virgin Mary surrounded by saints portrayed between them. These saints are the patron saints of the medieval guilds of Coventry. The royal couple had very strong links to Coventry holding court and parliaments in the City. The “Diabolical” parliament was held here in 1456 – so called by Yorkists who were excluded from an event which fueled the conflicts now known as the “Wars of the Roses”.
It is suggested that one of the figures – who is looking away from Henry – is either Richard III or Richard Duke of York. There is strong evidence that the tapestry had been edited over time with the suggestion that this “Richard figure” had originally been holding a serpent and dice (not the symbols of a virtuous person). There is a possibility that these features were removed for a visit of Henry VIII in consideration that he promoted both his Lancastrian and Yorkist “heritage” (however tenuous). This acts as a reminder that history tends to be rewritten to favour the powers that be over time – something that we all should be wary of!
Although much of the background of the tapestry is undocumented what is generally agreed is that it reflects the importance and wealth of the merchants of the city - having been commissioned for its particular place below the North Window of the hall and imported from the continent. It is recorded that there were strong ties between Coventry’s merchants and the influential Hanseatic League so such a commission should not come as a surprise.
This is just a fraction of aspects of the tapestry discussed at the conference – another of Coventry’s treasures that is not widely enough appreciated so good to see a large turnout there and a sharing of expert knowledge with us which should certainly help in promoting our heritage.