It’s a window recreated out of some of the bits of the original Placentia palace during the 1970s excavations, including a specially-commissioned stained glass insert with two coats of arms – those of Henry VIII and his current squeeze at the time, Anne Boleyn.
Henry was besotted with his new queen, and since there was a whiff of scandal, to say the least, about how she got the position, he was keen to assert her place by his side. So when he had a new coat of arms created for her, he went overboard – her device is one of the busiest ever designed. It’s got everything the court heralds could throw at it – the badges of every noble family (both sides of the Channel) he could possibly shoehorn in and, like some lovestruck teenager carving into tree trunks, Henry had the letters ‘A’ and ‘H’ intertwined in it too, for good measure.
He ordered the entire palace re-glazed to celebrate Anne’s arrival on the scene. Shame he didn’t have a crystal ball installed at the same time, since the whole thing had to be done again three years later when he had Anne’s head cut off and Jane Seymour’s coat of arms was hurriedly inserted instead. He kept the court decorators in employment with a succession of new wives after that, though perhaps he just went for something neutral after his third attempt (not, I suspect, that very much was ‘neutral’ in the Tudor court – everything seemed to have some kind of significance in those days and be on someone or other’s coat of arms…)
Ultimately, all that coloured glass shenanigans was in vain. The palace was pretty successfully demolished a century or so later, first damaged by Cromwell’s men then finished off by Charles II to create his new palace on the Restoration, but for the restorers who painstakingly trawled through boxes of old rubble from the site, there seem to have been enough broken windows that were identical to piece together one decent example.
The guy who did the stained glass, Alfred Fisher, is a specialist in 16th Century techniques, and he used the original methods – abrasion, etching, painting, silver staining and firing – to create his new work. It was particularly tricky as the glass of the 1530s was much thinner than we make today, and if he wanted it to fit into the original stone grooves, he had to be very picky about the depth and tint of the glass he worked with.
Apparently the most difficult bit was the expressions on the Royal Beasts’ faces. Tudor lions, especially, are a pig (so to speak.) They range from happy, smiley, cuddly kitties, to snarling, scowling kings of the plains, and it’s hard to know which to choose in any one circumstance. Fisher hedged his bets by having a few of each variety…
Will, who works for the new Discover Greenwich Centre, and who sent me this pic, tells me that there will be all kinds of exciting stuff coming up over the next few weeks as the place gets ready for its grand opening – he’s promised to keep me up to date.
In the meanwhile, I’ve been reading about the sturdy fellows who did original building work at Placentia – but that’s for another day.