Cost: Free

Great Cloister: A Lost Canterbury Tale

Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)

"Great Cloister: A Lost Canterbury Tale" Lecture by Dr Paul A Fox FSA

Based on a forthcoming book, and linked to a website, this new analysis of the Great Cloister of Canterbury Cathedral, constructed 1408-1414, and its heraldry, has brought to light a surprising breadth of new information not just about the monument itself, but  also about the individuals most closely involved with it. One of the glories of medieval England, the cloister is revealed as having been the brainchild of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, a man who played a pivotal role in the Revolution of 1399.  He utilised the cloister as an instrument of reconciliation following a prolonged period of bloody civil war.

The heraldry speaks of a sense of personal responsibility for the deaths which ensued following the overthrow of King Richard II, but also of his wish to honour his friend the usurper king Henry IV. Surprisingly, the archbishop included the arms of Sir John Oldcastle, with other associates who were well known to Arundel as religious radicals (Lollards). Indeed, Oldcastle himself was burnt as an heretic not long after the cloister was completed. A careful consideration of the very structure of the cloister vault shows an evolution of ideas before the concept of a fully heraldic monument came into being. The book was many years in the writing due to the challenging nature of the sources, combined with the loss of original paint, and frequent incorrect restorations which must have occurred as early as the Tudor period. The cloister is also a previously unrecognised example of the calumny of Sir Edward Dering, who in the seventeenth-century planted false evidence in order to authenticate a bogus family history.  

There are more than 800 heraldic shields to draw upon, some now lost, each one a veritable jewel of artwork, with every single county of England being represented in the list of donors.

Location: Burlington House