The Great North Window, better known as The King’s Window, dates from the 15th century. We only have approximate dates of its construction: the generally agreed dates are from 1414 to 1485. Rob Ganley writes in his 2021 book (111 Places in Coventry That You Should Not Miss) that the window is ‘the star turn in the Great Hall’.1
The North Window comprises nine glorious panels and assists in setting the stage for any grand occasion. It glows in the light and the images would have been very unusual to any onlooker because they were secular, and not religious themes. To an observer of those times the luminous colours must have been spectacular. The Great Hall as a whole has great gravitas and authority in its style, crowned by this immense stained glass window.
Stained glass was not bought in a hardware store. Just the delivery of the basic materials came on rough, unmade, rutted roads, by horse and cart at best. A single glass pane was costly and could not be made in a large piece. All coloured glass was described as ‘stained’; some was stained with metallic oxides and some with paint or scratched with a stylus or other sharp implement. The oxides were applied while the glass was molten. Iron was used to create different greens, and copper for example made light blues, whereas tin made white and so on.2
Once the glass was cold it was cut and usually set in grooved lead channels of manageable size. The lead sets were joined together by carefully melting molten metal. The windows were made on site. The cost of making was immense, to create a grand display for this nationally important building. The whole process demanded great skill.
The shape of the window frame was dictated by the architecture of the time. This window frame is an example from the ‘perpendicular’ period. It is typical of that style with its ribs and curves. The design is predominantly medieval and amazingly some of the glass is too, despite many repairs.
The images are of kings and conquerors, from left to right: Arthur, William, Richard I, Henry III, Henry IV, Edward III, Henry VI, Henry V and the emperor Constantine (these are not in chronological order). There may have been more images of kings which have been blocked out or removed by a now unseen window. The extant heads of the kings may not all be original as breakages have resulted in refills from other windows in the guildhall.
Despite breakages, the window still looks majestic. We can see coats of arms of the cities of Coventry , York and London, plus those of the kings Ethelred, Alfred, Edward II , Henry VI, Constantine, Leofric, and the Kings of Man and of East Anglia . Added to those the Earls of Hereford, Lancaster and Cornwall and the Dukes of Aquitaine and Normandy, and King Alfred’s cross. You see in this list notable, prominent people of the period and rulers of cities and regions.
Briefly looking at other aspects you will notice sheaves of corn, four feathers plus the three-legged emblem of the Isle of Man and Coventry’s emblem of an elephant. This tells a grand story of the history of Britain.
John Thornton is said to be the glazier, and these conclusions are based upon his confirmed design work in York Minster. He is known to have produced a work in York of 1680 feet in length which cost £560.3 Further, his work can be recognised by his refined, uncluttered and realistic drawing of faces, the noses of which have a prominent bulb and a curved elongated eyelid. Andrew Rudebeck writes that these images can be regarded as rare stained glass illustrations or ‘portraits’ of the times.4 This generalisation accepts that the glass has been repaired on multiple occasions. It is a glimpse of photography-free times past.
Ganley, R.,111 Places In Coventry That You Shouldn’t Miss, Emons Verlag GmbH 2021
Lancaster, J.C.,1981, second edition, St Mary’s Hall , Coventry, A Guide to the Building its History and Contents, City of Coventry 1981, ISBN 0-901606-65-0
Penoyre and Ryman, Observer Book of Architecture, ISBN 9780723215370
Rackham B., A Guide to the Collections of Stained Glass , V&A, London, 1936
Rudebeck, A, from ‘John Thornton and the Stained Glass’, The Journal of Stained Glass, 31, 2007., pp 14-34
Rakow Research library /Corning Museum of Glass: https://home.cmog.org/
Williamson, Paul, Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the V&A Museum , V&A, London 2003 , ISBN 1-85177-404-1visit us