19 October 2019
Processional crosses link
Peterborough Cathedral with
Bosworth, Coventry and Limerick
I was writing two weeks ago about Frank Roper’s ‘Crucifixion’ in Peterborough Cathedral, where it is suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the nave, and where it has a commanding and striking presence behind the main nave altar platform.
Frank Roper’s Crucifixion’ is 15 ft high and weighs more than half a ton. The wooden cross, painted red with intricate interwoven gold decoration on the back, carries a more than life-size crucified Christ.
But there is a second crucifix in Peterborough Cathedral that caught my attention because it reminded me of the Bosworth Crucifix, once owned by the Comerford family and now in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and a processional now on display in the Hunt Museum in Limerick.
This rare 15th century cross was used to lead processions and belongs to the parish of Lamport in Northamptonshire. Lamport is about 65 km west of Peterborough, and about 60 km south of the site of the Battle of Bosworth.
The Lamport Crucifix shows the same sequence as the Bosworth Crucifix. The Lamport Crucifix measures 609 mm × 315 mm and is very close in size and design to the Bosworth Crucifix. However, it is more complete and it preserves the side figures of the Virgin Mary and Saint John.
There are also differences between the Lamport Crucifix and the Bosworth Crucifix. The Lamport Crucifix has enamelled strips forming the body of the cross. Its Corpus may have been silvered rather than gilded and has the head in a different posture, so that it is more inclined towards the right shoulder.
In these details, the Lamport Crucifix clearly does not come from the same mould as the Corpus of the Bosworth Crucifix. The arrangement of the foliation on the top and side roundels of the Lamport Crucifix also differs from that found on the Bosworth Crucifix.
The Bosworth Crucifix, now in the collection of the Society of Antiquarians, was once the most notable antiquarian item in James Comerford’s private collection
The Bosworth Crucifix, once owned by the Comerford family and now in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and featured prominently in the exhibition ‘Making History’ (2008-2009). It dates from the 15th century, is said to have been discovered around 1778 at or near the site of Battle of Bosworth.
The Battle of Bosworth was fought on fields several miles south of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, on the morning of 22 August 1485, by two armies led by King Richard III and the Lancastrian pretender, Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII. It was the last significant battle in the War of the Roses, and the last battle in which an English king died on the battlefield.
This 15th-century bronze processional crucifix measures 585 mm x 280 mm. It is made of bronze alloy and would have been originally overlaid with gold. It has an outer frame forming a foliated border, damaged at each extremity of the transverse limb of the cross. At its centre is the figure of the Crucified Christ, crudely cast in a bronze alloy.
A mark at the crown of the head indicates that a nimbus was once attached to Christ’s head.
Each arm of the crucifix ends with a roundel, decorated on the front with the symbols of the four evangelists, and probably covered with idl. From the viewer’s perspective, these symbols are arranged as follows: at the top, an eagle (Saint John); at the bottom, a winged man (Saint Matthew); to the left, a winged lion (Saint Mark); and to the right, a winged bull (Saint Luke).
On the back, the roundels are decorated with what appear to be suns or stars, with rays streaming from them, and the familiar sunburst emblem of Edward IV and the House of York.
Additional branches may have carried figures of the Virgin Mary and Saint John. Attachments for these additional branches can be seen at the base of the cross, although the branches themselves are now missing.
Philip Schwyzer suggests in his book Shakespeare and the remains of Richard III (Oxford University Press, 2013) that the cross belonged to a travelling chapel royal, and that it was lost and abandoned in the chaos after the battle.
Chris Skidmore in Bosworth: the Birth of the Tudors (Hachette, 2013) suggests the crucifix was used during a private Mass for King Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth. After that Mass, the cross would have been taken off its base, mounted upon a wooden stave, and fastened into place by a hinged ring of iron to be led into the field of battle.
The crucifix was discovered around 1778 near the supposed site of the battlefield, but perhaps at Husbands Bosworth in south Leicestershire, about 18 miles south-east of the battlefield and east of Coventry. Soon after its discovery, it came into the possession of a woman who has been named as Lady Fortescue.
In his paper on ‘The Bosworth Crucifix’ in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (no 78, 2004), John Ashdown-Hill, who specialises in the life of Richard III, wonders whether this Lady Fortescue may have been Lady Barbara Talbot who in 1780 married Francis Fortescue-Turville of the Manor of Husbands Bosworth. She was a sister of Charles Talbot (1753-1827), 15th Earl of Shrewsbury (1787-1827), and an aunt of John Talbot (1791–1852), 16th Earl of Shrewsbury (1827-1852) and patron of the Gothic revival architect AWM Pugin.
Lady Fortescue, or Lady Barbara Fortescue-Turville, was originally from Hoar Cross, Yoxall, about 12 km north of Lichfield and 30 km north of the Bosworth battlefield. She is said to have given the crucifix to one of her workers, John Brown, who owned the crucifix when he died in 1791 … perhaps the same John Brown of Kenilworth whose will was proved in the Consistory Court of Lichfield in 1793, although this will does not mention the crucifix.
The crucifix and many other Catholic relics passed from John Brown to Joseph Carter, the sexton of Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry (later Coventry Cathedral) by 1793. Joseph Carter had married Elizabeth Brown in Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry, in 1778. He died in June 1808, and his will was granted administration in the Consistory Court of Lichfield on 7 October 1808.
The crucifix then passed to his widow Elizabeth Carter and remained with the Carter family of Saint Michael’s Parish, Coventry. Presumably it was she who sold it to the Comerford family – probably James Comerford’s father – ca 1808-1810. However, it is still unclear how the crucifix passed from the Brown family to the Carter family and from the Carter family to the Comerford family.
The Bosworth Crucifix was owned by the family of the antiquarian and book collector James Comerford from around 1810. James Comerford was born in Holborn in 1807, probably the son of James Comerford, a Notary Public of Change Alley in Cornhill, London, who died on 11 August 1833. He appears to have been of Irish descent, although Ashworth-Hill, in his paper on the Bosworth Crucifix, wonders whether James was related to the Comerford family who lived in Saint Michael’s Parish in Coventry in the first half of the 19th century.
James Comerford is best remembered as a book collector and antiquarian. He amassed a library that included a large collection of county histories, local topographies and books of Catholic religious piety. His heraldic bookplates, with the motto So Ho Ho Dea Ne, are much sought-after collectors’ items. After his death, Sotheby’s sold his library at auction on 16-20 November 1881, realising a sale total of £8,372 13 s. His books occasionally come back on the market, but more often they are valued for his heraldic bookplates than as antique books.
The ‘Bosworth Crucifix’ was the most notable object of antiquarian interest in his private collection. In December 1881, James Comerford’s son, James W Comerford, exhibited and presented the Bosworth Crucifix to the Society of Antiquaries ‘in the name of his late father, James Comerford, Esq., FSA.’
In his bookplates, James Comerford of London also continued the tradition within the Comerford family of Ireland of claiming the Combeford arms. These claims were also advanced by my great-grandfather James Comerford (1817-1902), who visited Comberford Hall, the Moat House, Tamworth, about 12 miles from the site of the Battle of Bosworth, and Wednesbury ca 1900-1902, and described himself as a descendant of the Comberford family. He adapted the same bookplate when he privately published his personal account of the Comerford family and that visit the ancestral homes of the Comberford family of Staffordshire shortly before his death.
Shortly after the account of his visit was printed and bound, James Comerford added his bookplate and additional handwritten notes to the slim volume. The surviving copy of this small book is in the local history collection at Tamworth Library, Corporation Street, Tamworth (open shelves, T/COM), with a pencilled page of notes recording the details of his visit.
A similar 15th century English processional cross is on display in the Hunt Museum in Limerick. It bears a remarkable resemblance to the Bosworth Crucifix that once belonged to James Comerford and to the Lamport Crucifix in Peterborough Catheral.
This processional cross is dated ca 1450, is made of bronze (the labelling in the display cabinet says gilt copper alloy), and is mounted on a modern wooden base.
The outline of the cross is decorated with projecting splays of leaves and terminates in circular medallions, each bearing symbols of three of the four evangelists – Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John; the medallion depicting Saint Matthew is missing at the base.
The cross bears geometric engraving on the front and the back, with the back of each medallion engraved with a Tudor rose. Two empty sockets at the base of the cross may have carried figures of the mourning Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist.
Processional and altar crosses of this type were made in large numbers and were exported from England. There are numerous examples from Ireland, and the finest example is said to be the Ballylongford Cross, made in 1479.
The processional cross in the Hunt Museum was bought at auction in Christies in 1961 by John Hunt for £130. Dr Colum Hourihane of Princeton University attributed it to Ireland, ca 1460-1480, and says it was possibly made for a Dominican foundation. He identified it with two other crosses by the same maker, one in Multyfarnham and the other in the National Museum of Ireland, from a Dominican foundation in Sligo.
Nevertheless, the similarities of this cross with James Comerford’s ‘Bosworth Crucifix’ and the processional cross in Peterborough Cathedral are so striking it would be interesting to know how Dr Hourihane came to his conclusions 20 years ago, and how the Limerick Cross came to be sold by Christies in the 1960s.