A MEDIEVAL MYSTERY - by Noel C. Brindley



It is mentioned in the poem that Sir Gawain had the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of his shield - And wherever this man found himself in battle, his earnest intent was on this, above all else: that he should get all his fortitude from the five joys that the gracious Queen of Heaven had in her Child. (For this reason the knight had her image fittingly painted on the inner side of his shield, so that when he glanced at it his courage never diminished.)

In a painting by Benjamin West, Sir John Chandos is shown holding a shield with the Virgin Mary upon it.

See this link: Edward, The Black Prince, receiving King John of France after the Battle of Poitiers...

The composition was painted in 1788 for George III, to be hung in the Audience Chamber at Windsor Castle.

Description of the detail shown above - The principal figures is the PRINCE OF WALES: upon his helmet a plume of Ostrich feathers in a coronet, which was worn by the King of Bohemia in the battle of Cressy. JOHN LORD CHANDOS: his crest on his helmet, which is a Saracen's head proper, in profile bended sable: his shield Azure; on it the Virgin Mary Or, encompassed with the rays of the sun Argent.

The description of Chandos in the painting can be found in: The Beauties of England and Wales, Vol I by John Britton and Edward Wedlake.

The Web Gallery of Art says: The paintings by West must be seen as part of a revival of interest in the Middle Ages that was being pioneered by antiquarians such as Joseph Struttz and Francis Grose, to whose works the artist clearly referred for details of the arms, armour, and dress. For the historical narrative the primary sources in English were an early translation of the Chronicles (1325-1400) of Jean Froissart and the History of England (1754-62) by David Hume.

The sheild of Sir John Chandos in West's painting (www.royalcollection.org.uk/egallery)


Froissart - Virgin Mary Or and/or bleue Dame?

The Virgin Mary or bleue Dame is mentioned before the battle of Poitiers as being an armorial device used by Chandos. Various references from other sources, Rev. George Shand, Joshua Barnes, M. J. Huxtable, Rodney Dennys, The Heraldic Imagination, all describe the Virgin Mary as being used by Chandos as one of his armorial devices used either on his shield or on his surcoat.

Sir John Froissart's Chronicles, Thomas Johnes translation, 1806 edition

It chanced, on that day, that Sir John Chandos had rode out near one of the wings of the French army, and Lord John de Clermont, one of the [French] King’s marshals, had done the same, to view the English. As each knight was returning to his quarters, they met. They both had the same device upon the surcoats which they wore over their other clothes; it was a Virgin Mary, embroidered on a field azure, or, encompassed with the rays of the sun argent.

Johnes Translation differs from earlier translations of the 16th century, such as Lord Berner's, as the Virgin Mary is described as being Or (gold) on a azure (blue) background. Berners described the image as a blue Madonna.

Thomas Johnes translation was published at the beginning of the19th century, nearly twenty years after Benjamin West's painting, West could not have used Johnes translation as reference for Chandos' golden Virgin Mary. Where did West get his information? Johnes had many historical manuscripts stored at his Hafod estate. Perhaps one of these documents, destroyed in a fire at Hafod in 1807 and perhaps known to other historians, contained the information that the device used by Chandos, was a gold Virgin Mary.

Bloodied banners: martial display on the medieval battlefield by Robert W. Jones, p.24 refers to this incident and also believes it is a depiction of the Virgin Mary.

Marian Devotion - "He (Chandos) founded and endowed the Carmelite convent at Poitiers." - from, Thomas Johnes Froissart. The Order of Carmelites was considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and as a consequence, was a Marian devotion.

https://www.carmelite.org.uk The Carmelite Order takes its name from Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and traces its origins back to the ancient hermits living on that mountain. There in the 12th century were to be found a group of hermits, mostly former crusaders and pilgrims, calling themselves the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From its very beginning the Order of Carmel always had a special love and veneration for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She is the Mother and Patroness of all Carmelites. The early hermits on Mount Carmel in Israel chose to consecrate themselves to the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was to Mary that these pioneers looked as their living exemplar. Always they knew her as a real person - their lady to whom they owed allegiance. She is never an abstraction and each Carmelite develops a personal relationship with her.

The above suggests that Sir John Chandos showed particular support for the principles of the Carmelites and perhaps, like Gawain in the poem, regarded the Virgin Mary as his lady to whom he owed allegiance.

In 1358 Chandos was one of three individuals who were granted a ‘licence in mortmain’, permitting them to endow a chantry, in the church of St Werburgh in the City of Derby, with land in the surrounding county. Divine service was to be celebrated daily at the altar of St Mary; and prayers were to be said for the good estate of the king and his children and the grantors, for their souls when they were departed this life, and for the souls of the king’s progenitors, as well as for the souls of the ancestors of the said John [Chandos], and [the other grantors].
Chantry chapels were a very common feature of religious life in late medieval England; but in Chandos’s case this document shows an attachment to his home county of Derbyshire, and to the Northern Saint St Werburgh, who had been the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon Mercian king and was still widely venerated throughout the North Midlands. (Cooper)

In his book 'The Heraldic Imagination', Rodney Dennys says: "It is not without significance that the poem on the life and feats of arms of the Black Prince, the victor of Poitiers, was written by the herald of Sir John Chandos and, like its contemporary poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, illuminates the spirit of chivalry of our intensley pious forefathers. Indeed, Sir Gawain himself is said to have had the image of Our Lady painted 'in the inore half of his schelde', and it would be characteristic of Sir John Chandos to follow the romantic example of King Arthur who, Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us, had the image of the Virgin sewn on his armour at the Battle of Mount Badon. The romantic revival of the fourteenth century was in full flood by this time, and King Edward III and the Black Prince and their court were the leaders of this revival."


SHAND - Some Notices of the surname of SHAND By Rev George Shand, Norwich 1877,

It is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that in the records of the office of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, several coats of arms, in no respect resembling each other, are assigned to the name of Shand...................................The next coat of arms appropriated to the name Shand, in the registers of the Lyon office, is a very striking and beautiful escutcheon, viz., Azure in the Sun, the Virgin Mary with the Babe, all proper. To the entry is subjoined the following note, “see Randle Holmes Book, ii c 1, fig 45, for the manner of drawing.” It appears, as we shall see by and by, that in the times before the Reformation, there were several dignified ecclesiastics in the diocese of Aberdeen of the name Schand.
This fact, taken in connection with the peculiar nature of these armorial bearings themselves led us at one time to think that they might have been used by some of those individuals. But, on further enquiry, we are satisfied that this is really French heraldry, and that these bearings are the arms of the family of Chandos or Shandos, which, as is well known, produced several distinguished captains in the course of the long wars between the English and the French.


Golden Virgin Mary, symbol of the Garter Knights

From, The history of the most noble Order of the Garter by Elias Ashmole

The patrons of the order were:
first and chiefest elected, the Holy Trinity.
Secondly, the blessed Virgin Mary, accounted then the general mediatrix and protectress of all men.
King Edward IV (1461-70) was so strictly devoted, that he thought some additional ceremonies requisite to her farther honour, and thereupon ordained, that on her five solemnities the Knights Companions should annually (on the feast of St. George) wear the habit of the order as long as divine service was celebrating, bearing on the right shoulders of their robes a golden figure of the Virgin Mary.
This Virgin Mary, Or, as displayed a century earlier by Chandos may have had particular significance to the order.

Next page: The death of Chandos on New Years Day


Refs: Stephen Cooper, Sir John Chandos, The Perfect Knight - Brayley - Froissart - Of Device as Device: The Narrative Functioning of Armorial Displays in Froissart’s Chronicles by M. J. Huxtable, University of Durham - Rev George Shand, Norwich 1877, SHAND Some Notices of the surname of SHAND, particularly of the County of Aberdeen - Joshua Barnes, life of Edward III (1688)



by Noel C Brindley - May 2012

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