Wolf Hall has come to life in a cottage in Hanwell this week with the discovery of a Tudor coat of arms, described as a find of ‘national importance’.
The 6ft x 6ft stone Royal Arms of England had been used as building material for the cottage after a demolition of part of Hanwell Castle, visited on occasions by Henry VIII.
Builders, renovating Tudor Cottage in the village centre for new owners, David Crabtree and Karen Leonard, discovered sawn blocks as they removed plaster and on the reverse were the sculpted features, preserved packed with mud.
“It is very rare and absolutely reeks of money of the time. It is carved in very fine grained clunch (chalk) stone, possibly from Lincolnshire, which is good for carving that kind of fine detail,” said Dr Rowena Archer, medieval historian and Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford who lives at Hanwell Castle.
“The castle was originally built with four towers with interconnecting ranges. Now there is only one tower left. Possibly this armorial was built into a wall, maybe above a fireplace in the Great Hall.”
Dr Archer said there were connections between the owners of Hanwell Castle and the family of Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr.
The astonishing sculpture bears the Royal coat of arms in the centre, surrounded with exquisitely carved motto Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense.
To left and right of this are the ‘supporters’ the lion and griffin. The incredibly detailed surviving carving on the lion’s mane gives some indication of what the magnificent craftsmanship involved.
“Over the coat of arms was a helmet and above that would have been a crest - probably another lion,” said Dr Archer.
Ms Leonard said the stones making up the sculpture were revealed as they were stripping old wallpaper.
“We were removing paper and found a Tudor rose set into the stone on one wall. The builders said the plaster needed to be removed and that started the bigger find,” she said.
The jigsaw of pieces was built into walls on both floors of the cottage.
Dr Archer said it was not possible to date the coat of arms exactly as some features indicated a later date than the castle’s original build between 1500-1525. Other carved stones discovered show features possibly relating to Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII’s six wives.
The future of the stones is in doubt. Some believe their destiny should be in Banbury Museum but it appears there would not be enough funding for its renovation or the establishment of a suitable exhibition .
Mr Crabtree said it was possible they may have to consider auctioning the treasure.
Archives show Hanwell Castle had a ‘Queen’s Chamber’ leading some historians to believe that the armorial was carved for Queen Elizabeth I, who may have visited.
It is possible the Tudor coat of arms was taken down during the reign of James I who visitedHanwell Castle on at least two occasions. Spectacular landscaped gardens ‘fit for a King’ were created at Hanwell. Elizabeth I was not James’s favourite Queen as she executed his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.
Also, during the civil war Parliamentary forces were billeted in Hanwell. The English parliamentary general William Waller stayed at the castle the night before the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in June 1644. A Tudor coat of arms there would not have been a popular fixture.