The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

The Friends of St Peter's Berkhamsted

Supporting the work of maintaining and enhancing St Peter's Church and the churchyards that belong to it.

On the wall of the north aisle near the west end of St Peter’s Church hangs a Coat of Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. The conservation of this rare and unusual Coat of Arms was undertaken in 2014 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and was funded by the Friends, with an additional grant from the Church Building Council .

The painstaking conservation work was undertaken by the Cambridge fine art conservator Sally Woodcock. To mark the Jubilee and to record the restoration work, the parish would also like to have a board made in the style of the restored coat-of-arms and bearing the Coat of Arms of the present Queen. This is a project that the Friends are actively supporting.

You can read about the restoration work in more detail in the June 2014 edition of the Friends Newsletter.

History of the Coat of Arms

Royal Coats of Arms were first displayed in churches in the time of Henry VIII to affirm his newly established position as head of the Church of England. This position was reasserted by Elizabeth I, who ordered that all churches should display the royal arms. The arms in St Peter’s are those of Elizabeth I, a rare survival from the 16th century. The coat of arms is painted on canvas on an oval panel mounted in a larger frame of later date. Attached to the frame, and of the same date is a panel (not on display at present) bearing a short poem celebrating the reign of Elizabeth:

This mighty Queen is dead and lives
And leaves the world to wonder
How she a maiden Queen did rule
Few Kings have gone beyond her

We know that this poem was already on display in St Peter’s in the 17th century because it is recorded by Chauncey in his Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire, published in 1700. In its present form this panel and the frame supporting the coat of arms appear to date from the late 18th century. The panel bearing the coat of arms is fixed to the frame with a single hinge so that it can be lifted to reveal beneath it a further inscription:

Robert Harcourt Loader and William Johnson Churchwardens 1797

It seems likely that this records the conservation of the coat of arms in 1797, involving the fabrication of the frame and the repainting of the poem on a separate panel.

Heraldry

The Royal Arms of Elizabeth I is rich with symbolism:

  • the escutcheon (shield) of King Henry IV bearing the three lions passant guardant (representing England) quatered with the fleur-de-lys (representing France)
  • two supporters – the English Royal Lion and the Welsh Dragon
  • two mottos: “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Latin for “Shame on whomsoever would think badly of it”), the moto of the Order of the Garter; and “Dieu et mon Droit” (French for “God and my right”), the motto of English Monarchs

These heraldic elements assert Elizabeth’s rights as Queen, not only of England and Wales, but also of France (English monarchs laid claim to the French throne right up until 1800).

Elizabeth I and Berkhamsted

By the time of Elizabeth I’s reign, Berkhamsted Castle had fallen into disrepair and was no longer a royal residence. Queen Elizabeth I granted the manor of Berkhamsted, along with the lease of Berkhamsted Castle, to her Keeper of the Jewels, Sir Edward Carey in 1580. Carey used stones from the castle to build a mansion, Berkhamsted Place, on top of the hill overlooking the castle.

The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

To commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, a new board was commissioned from the distinguished heraldic artist Baz Manning to hang immediately below the Coat of Arms. The new board was unveiled at a special ceremony in St Peter’s Church by Her Majesty the Queen on Friday 6 May 2016. The new board bears the inscription:

The Tudor Royal Coat of Arms of QUEEN ELIZABETH I
was restored to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of
QUEEN ELIZABETH II

It also bears the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Elizabeth II and the dates of the Queen’s accession and Jubilee year 1952.

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