Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plates 1.21-1.26: Westminster Tournament Roll

Plates: All six engravings are unsigned, but the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London confirm that they are by George Vertue (1684-1756) from copies of the manuscripts made either by himself or by another artist for this purpose (SAL Minutes I.146). Plate 1.21 is dated 1726, but Peter Le Neve (1661-1729) “communicated” the tournament roll to the official attention of the Society on 15 April 1719 (I.23). On 24 February 1725, members of the Society agreed by ballot to “engrave the tournament of Henry VIII” (I.145). On 3 March 1725, the minutes record that Vertue “is to have a sum not exceeding £20 for Engraving the Tournament” (I.146). One week later, Le Neve let the Society know that “he had obtained leve of the College of Arms for our engraving the tornament [sic] of H.VIII.” (I.148). In February of 1726, Le Neve exhibited another “manuscript being the articles of the tilts of the tournaments [sic],” and the Society ordered the manuscript to be “printed wth the Tilts and Tournamente” (I.185). The plates featuring the entire Westminster Tournament Roll and the “articles of the tilts” were completed by 18 May 1726 (I.190). The original drawings were sold at auction in 1775 (Sweet 2004, 368n79).

Objects: Plates 1.21-1.26 depict two early sixteenth-century manuscripts: the Westminster Tournament Roll (in the College of Arms, London) and “the articles of the tilts,” a manuscript which appears to be either an emended or grossly imperfect copy of the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” (Harley 83 H 1, now in the British Library)—or a copy of a different document altogether, the location of which today remains untraced. The material relative to the “articles of the tilts” occupies the right two thirds of Plate 1.21, described below as the first and second panels of the print. The rest of the prints, including the first panel of Plate 1.21, represent the Westminster Tournament Roll: an almost sixty-foot vellum manuscript commemorating a tournament held by Henry VIII on 12 and 13 February 1510/11 to celebrate the birth of his son, Prince Arthur, with Catharine of Aragon.


Plate 1.21, First Panel—The Poem that Concludes the Westminster Tournament Roll on Membrane 36:1

Owre Ryall Rose now Reignyng Rede and Whyte
Sure graftyd is on grounde of nobylnes
In harry the viij owr Joye and our delyte
Subdewer of wronges mayntenar of rightwysnes
ffowntayne of honer exsampler of larges
Our clypsyd Son now cleryd is from the darke
By harry owr kyng the flowr of natewrs warke.

Myrror of men owr lodystar and lyght
Our banner of blys on brode thow has displayd
Seint George preserue thy lyfe longe for his myght
Sethe thow art he for whom we ofte haue prayd
Owre drowned hartes In dolor depe decayd
Be now restoryd to paradyse from pyne
By harry our kyng felowe to the worthys nyne.

The noble nyne which was the worthyest
To thy begynnyng was not comparabyll
Loke on their workes thow may stand with the best
As for thy tyme as actyve and as abyll
And sethe thy dedys be to them so semlabyll
Why now thow the tenthe as well as they the nyne
Sethe non of them more nobyll for the tyme.

Thow ayre to Ector In armes and honor
Julyos Judas nor dewke Josewe
In so shorte tyme their famys dyde neuere more flowre
Not Charles of ffraunce nor Arthure the worthe
Alexander the great full of liberalyte
Davyd nor godfras larges was not lyke thyne
Than why not thou the tenth as well as they the nyne.

The fader of heuyn whos mercy and myghte is most
The sapiens of the son be thy support
The grace and godenes of the holy goost
Thy lyfe preserue longe to our comfort
Thow art owr hope our ankyr havyn and port
In which we sayle now sure from sorrows darke
By harry our kynge the flowr of natewrs werk.


[1]: Transcription is here taken from The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A Collotype Reproduction of the Manuscript (Anglo 1968, 1.106-07).

Plate 1.21, Second Panel—The Tournament Challenge:1

Justes at WestmR. the 12 of Feb.r by the King, my ɔ / Lord of DEVON SR. THO. KNYVET and EDW: NEVILL / A. I.ơ H. VIII.

The noble Queen lade RENOME considering the good & gracious fortune th.t y.t hath pleased God to Send hyr deyre and best beloved cosyns the KING & Quene of England and of France that is to say. the byrth of a yong Prynce hath sent iiij Knights borne in hyr Realme of CEURE NOBLE that is to say CEURE NOBLE, VALLIANT DESYRE, BEN VOLYR, & JOYEUX PENSER, to fornyche & coply the certen articuls as foloeth.

And for as moche as after the order & Honnor of Arms hyt is not lefull for any man to enterpryse Arms in so high a presens without hys Stocke and name be of Nobles dyscended. In consyderaton theis iiij Knights be of so fer & Strange partes they shall present selff w.t their Names and Arms aportend in their Shylde.

Item these four Knights shall prsent themselves in the feyld at the paleys of Rychmond or elles where hyt shall please the Kynges Grace. at the tyme of Candelmas next or neigh theirupon in harnys for the tylt w.tout tache, or breket, wolant pece on the hedde Rondell on the garde rest. aduðntag. fraude. deceyt or any other malengyne.

Item to every comer shall be Runne vj cources bpvyed allway yf the comers be of so greate number that they cannot resonably be for con day Hyt shall be dlefull for the iiij Chalengers to enter the felde the second day and so to answere all the comers eto the full nomber be served of soche as be noble of name or of Armes and w.tout report.

Item all Speres to be garnished and brought to the ffeyld at the pvision and chardge of the Chalengers of the Speres the answerers to have the Choice.

Item yf y.thappe any Man as God defend to kyll his fellows Horse by way of foule Runnyng. He shall be bound yt so doth to give the horse y.t he rydeth on to his felow or the pryse of the Horse so kyld at the dyscresion of the Judges.

Item who Stryketh his felow beneth the wast or in the Sadell with full course fbe way of fowle Ronnynge he shalbe dysalowed for ij Speres be-fore broken.

Item who stryketh his felow uncharged & disgarnyshed of his Speare he shalbe disalowed at the descresion of Judges.

Item who breaketh his Spere about the Charnell to be allowed ij speres well broken after the old custom of Arms.

Explanatory Notes on the Engraving, at the Bottom of the Second Panel: a. pourtray'd, b, provided. c, one. d, lawfull. e, till. f, by.

Plate 1.21, Third Panel—The Tournament Challenge, continued:

Item who breaketh his Spere amorme to morme to be alow'd iij Speres after the Custome of Arms.

Item who breaketh most Speres by.s better worthey the pryse.

Item who Stryketh Down Horse and Man is better cworthe the pryse.

Item who Stryketh his felow clene out of the Sadell is best dworthe of the pryse.

Item if any Gentleman chalenger or defender break a Staff on the Tylt to be disalow'd a Staff.

Item yf y.t is the pleasure of the Kynge our most Dred [Souaigne] Lorde, the Queens Grace and the Ladies with the advice of the Noble and dyscret Juges, to give pryses after their deservings unto both the Parties.

Item that every Gentleman eanswer doo Subscrybe his name to the Artyculles.

Item yt ys the humble request of these iiij Gentlemen that yf in there Articles be comprised more or fells than amowre, or curtese requereth ever to submit them to the Quene and the Ladyes and gtheir alwayes to adde & menysche at their noble pleasure.

The Kings Grace, Coeur Loyal.,
L.d W.m of Devon, Bon voloir.
S.r Tho. Knyvet, Valliant Desir.
S.r Edw. Nevyl, Joyeux Penser.

Explanatory Notes on the Engraving, at the Bottom of the Third Panel: a. Morion to Morion, b. is. c, Worthey. d, Worthey. e, Answerer. f, lesse. g, they are. / v. Edw: Halls Chronicle. 1o. Henry VIIIo. p.9. / and Hollingsheads Chron An.o 1510.

Plate 1.21, Bottom: Sumptibus SOC. ANTIQUARIӔ Lond. A.D.1726.

Plate 1.22, Running Label: a Description of the Solemn JUSTS held at Westminster the day of February in the first year of King HENRY ye VIII. in honor of his Queen KATHERIN / upon the Birth of their eldest Son Prince HENRY. A. D. 1510. taken from the Original Roll now in the College of Armes. London.

Plate 1.22, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Le Maistre de L'armurerye du Roy; Les Trompetter; Les Gorgyas de la Court; Les Officers d'armes

Plate 1.23, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Joyeux Penser; Bon. Vouloir Vaillan Desyr; Noble Cueur Loyal; Les selles d'armes

Plate 1.24, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Le pages du Roy; La selle d'honneur; Le grant Escuyer

Plate 1.25, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Le maistre des pages; Les Quatre Tenants; Les Venants; Les son des Trompettes à l'hostel; L'issue du champ

Plate 1.26, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Le heaulme du Roy; Le Roy desarmey


[1]: There are notable differences between the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” (Harley 83 H 1, now in the British Library) and the document presented by this print. They include differences in the introductory language and in the names listed at the end. This transcription reflects what appears on Plate 1.21 and preserves in superscript the notes (“a-f” and “a-e” that appear at the bottom of the text in the second and third panels of the print, respectively); for a transcript of Harley 83 H 1, see Anglo (1968, 1.109-11).

Modernized Text and Translation:

Plate 1.21, First Panel—The Poem that Concludes the Westminster Tournament Roll on Membrane 36:

Our royal rose now reigning red and white
is grafted sure on the ground of nobleness.
In Henry the VIII, our joy and our delight:
subduer of wrongs, maintainer of righteousness,
fountain of honor, exemplar of largesse.
Our eclipsed sun is now cleared from the dark
by Henry our king, the flower of nature's work.

Mirror of men, our lodestar and light,
our banner of bliss abroad thou hast displayed.
Saint George preserve thy life long for his might,
since thou art he for whom we often have prayed.
Our drowned hearts in dolor deep decayed
be now restored to paradise from pine
by Henry our king, fellow to the Worthies Nine.

The noble nine which were the worthiest
to thy beginning were not comparable.
Look on their works. Thou may stand with the best,
as for thy time as active and able [as they].
And since thy deeds be to theirs so semblable,
why not thou the tenth as well as they the nine
since none of them [were] more noble for the time.

Thou heir to Hector in arms and honor.
Julius, Judas, nor Duke Josewe—
in so short a time their fames did never more flower;
not Charles of France, nor Arthur the worthy,
Alexander the great full of liberality,
David nor Godfras's largesse was not like thine.
Then why not thou the tenth as well as they the nine?

The Father of heaven whose mercy and might is most,
the sapience of the Son be thy support.
The grace and goodness of the Holy Ghost,
thy life preserve long to our comfort.
Thou art our hope, our anchor, haven, and port
in which we sail now sure from sorrows dark,
by Henry our king, the flower of nature's work.

Plate 1.21, Second Panel—The Tournament Challenge:

The noble Queen Lady Renome considering the good and gracious fortune that it has pleased God to send her dear and best beloved cousins, the King and Queen of England and of France[,] that is to say[,] the birth of a young prince[,] has sent four knights born in her Realm of Ceure Noble[;] that is to say[, from] Ceure Noble, [she has sent] Valliant Desyre, Ben Volyr, and Joyeux Penser to furnish and comply with the certain articles as follows.

And for as much as after the order and honor of arms, it is not lawful for any man to enterprise arms in so high a presence without his stock and name descending from nobles. In consideration [of the fact that] these four knights [are from] so far and strange parts[,] they shall present [themselves] with their names and arms portrayed [on] their shield[s].

Item[:] These four knights shall present themselves in the field at the Palace of Richmond or else where it shall please the King's Grace at the time of Candelmas next or nigh thereupon, in harness for the tilt without [the "piece which covered the pocket and therefore the belly"], or [the "brichette"], [or the "volant piece"] on the head, [or "the flat vamplate for the lance",] without fraud, deceit, or any other trickery (Meyrick 1842, 2.209).

Item[:] to every comer shall be run six courses[;] provided all way if the comers be of so great a number that they cannot reasonably be for one day[,] it shall be lawful for the four challengers to enter the field the second day and so to answer all the comers till the full number of be served of such as be noble of name or of arms and without report.

Item[:] all spears to be garnished and brought to the field at the provision and charge of the challengers of the which spears[,] the answerers [are] to have the choice.

Item[:] if it happens [that] any man as God defend [does] kill his fellow's horse by way of foul running[,] he shall be bound [so as] to give the horse that he rides on to his fellow or the price of the horse so killed[,] at the discretion of the judges.

Item[:] who strikes his fellow beneath the waist or in the saddle with full [force] by way of foul running[,] he shall be disallowed for 2 spears before broken.

Item[:] who strikes his fellow uncharged and [without the "the usual appendages as coronells, mornes, etc."] of his spear[,] he shall be disallowed at the discretion of judges (Meyrick 1842, 2.209).

Item[:] who breaks his spear above the charnel to be allowed two spears well-broken after the old custom of arms.

Plate 1.21, Third Panel—The Tournament Challenge, continued:

Item[:] who breaks his spear Morion to Morion ["short point on the end of the spear to prevent injury"] to be allowed three spears after the custom of arms (Meyrick 1842, 2.209).

Item[:] who breaks [the] most spears is better worthy the prize.

Item[:] who strikes down horse and man is better worthy the prize.

Item[:] who strikes his fellow clean out of the saddle is best worthy of the prize.

Item[:] if any gentleman challenger or defender break[s] a staff on the tylt to be disallowed a staff.

Item[:] if it is the pleasure of the king, our most dread sovereign lord, the Queen's Grace and the Ladies with the advice of the noble and discreet judges, [are] to give prizes after their deservings unto both the parties.

Item[:] that every gentleman answerer do subscribe his name to the articles.

Item[:] [I]t is the humble request of these four gentlemen that if in ["these"] articles be comprised more or less than ["gentleness"], [our] courtesy requires [us always] to submit them to the queen and the ladies[;] they are always to add and "diminish" at their noble pleasure (Meyrick 1842, 2.209).

The Kings Grace, Heart Loyal.,
L.d W.m of Devon, Good Will.
S.r Tho. Knyvet, Valiant Desire
S.r Edw. Nevyl, Happy Thinking

Plate 1.22, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: The master of the King's Armory; the trumpeters; the gentlemen of the court; the officers of the arms

Plate 1.23, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: Happy Thinking; Bon; Good Will; Valiant Desire; Loyal Noble of Cuer; the war saddles

Plate 1.24, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: the pages of the king; the saddle of honor; the master of the horse

Plate 1.25, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: the master of the pages; the four tenants; the comers; the sound of trumpets at the hostel; the issue of the field

Plate 1.26, Labels from the Westminster Tournament Roll: the king's helm; the king without his armor

Colored Prints: Click here to see Colored Prints for Plates 1.21-1.26.

Commentary by Crystal B. Lake: The manuscript depicted by the bulk of Plates 1.21-1.26 is known today as the Westminster Tournament Roll: an almost sixty-foot long manuscript on vellum, originally brightly colored but now faded, depicting a Burgundian-style jousting tournament hosted by Henry VIII on 12 and 13 February 1510/11 to celebrate the birth of his first son with Catherine of Aragon.1 The manuscript, which was in the possession of the English heralds who have been based at the College of Arms in London since the middle of the sixteenth century, depicts three scenes across thirty-six painted membranes from the extravagant two-day affair; it remains one of the most important primary sources for assessing the significance of tournaments in late medieval England's cultures of chivalry.

As noted on the bottom right of Plate 1.21, the tournament itself is described in Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families (1550), commonly called “Hall’s Chronicle” and, briefly, in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (2nd edition, 1587). Additionally, the Revels Account of Richard Gibson (TNA, E. 36/27, fols 41r-55r) provides a list of the items commissioned and ordered for the Westminster Tournament, and a copy of the jousting cheques for the tournament is preserved in the Bodleian Library (Ashmole MS 1116, fols. 109-110b). This tournament, in short, is an unusually thoroughly-documented event in early sixteenth-century England.

The chronicles describing the two days of festivities are generally in agreement about the details of the event. The jousting tournament held in Queen Catherine’s honor at Westminster featured four main challengers: the King, William Courtenay (c. 1475-1511), Thomas Knyvett [Knyvet] (c. 1485-1512), and Edward Neville (d. 1538), who adopted the four allegorical personae of "Noble Coeur Loyal," "Bon Vouloir," "Vaillant Desyr," and "Joyeux Penser," respectively. Before the tournament, a challenge was issued—here also represented in Plate 1.21. The challenge announced the occasion for the tournament, the rules of the joust, and the names of the participants; it was reportedly hung from a tree on the first day in a curious table-like device. Most accounts of the tournament emphasized the pageantry more than the actual jousting. According to Hall’s Chronicle, the palace at Westminster was lavishly decorated for the event, which began with the entry of a “pageant of a great quantity, made like a forest with rocks, hills and dales, with diverse sundry trees, flowers, hawthorns, fern and grass all made from green Velvet, green [Damask], and silk of diverse colors;” the pageant was large enough to accommodate “six foresters” “by whom lay a great number of spears” (1809, 517).2 In the middle of the pageant forest, there was a castle, “made of gold” paper, attended by a gentleman weaving a “garland of Roses for the prince” (1809, 517).

This contraption was dragged into the palace by “two great beasts” tied to its front with thick, gold chains: a mechanical lion and an antelope, the former wrapped in gold cloth, the latter “wrought all over with silver” except for its horns which were also in gold (Hall 1809, 517). These were led by men “appareled like wild men” and accompanied by two ladies, one on each beast’s side. When the pageant stopped in front of the queen, the “devise” “opened on all sides,” and out burst the four challengers on horseback, clad in their shining armor, their plumes flouncing; their names were “embroidered” on their horses’ “basses and trappers,” which were also decorated with images of pomegranates and posies. “And so the jousts began,” Hall writes (1809, 517).

Henry and his Challengers performed well in the first rounds of jousting. On the second day, the one clearly depicted on the Westminster Tournament Roll, the four knights entered the field accompanied by various courtiers in their pavilions, accompanied by their attendants. The Challengers and Answerers all performed well a second time; the king, however, enjoyed the limelight. Henry VIII was the crowd-pleaser, and he had his horse bang its hooves like drums at the tilt. That evening, the event concluded with another elaborate banquet and a new pageant. This time, the pageant depicted a garden of pleasure, a contraption so heavy that it crashed through the floor during its construction (Anglo 1968, 56). Once assembled, however, the pageant could fit six ladies with six lords inside, costumed in satin robes of white and green, richly decorated by prominent gold letters, H and K. Henry’s costume was reportedly “decorated with 887 pieces of gold” affixed in the shape of the letters H and K (1968, 56). There was dancing and feasting.

The pageant of the garden of pleasure was driven to the end of the palace, where it was to wait for its inhabitants to finish dancing and then it would drive them out the way that they came in. The event quickly escalated, however, into a frenzy of activity as “the rude people ran to the pageant, and rent, tore, and spoiled the pageant” (Hall 1809, 519). Perhaps sensing that the crowd needed appeasing, Henry and his retinue began stripping their lavishly decorated clothes so as to distribute the “letters of the garments, in token of liberalitie [sic],” but again the crowd seems to have been more enthusiastic than they anticipated, for “Sir Thomas Kneut stood on a stage, and for all his defense, he lost his apparel. The ladies likewise were spoiled” (Hall 1809, 519). The king and his court removed themselves to a private chamber where they resumed their festivities. In the end, Hall reports, “this triumph ended with mirth and gladness;” one man, a “shipman of London,” sold the letters he retrieved for a significant sum thereafter (1809, 519).

Believed to be a product of the workshop of the important early-modern herald Thomas Wriothesley (d. 1534), if not necessarily in his hand, the Westminster Tournament Roll documents the following elements of the tournament: 1) the entry of the four challengers (King Henry VIII, William Courtenay, Thomas Knyvett, and Edward Neville) to the field on the second day 13 February, 2) a scene representing the King at tilt, watched by a gallery of onlookers, including the Queen, and 3) the procession of the challengers exiting the field. The manuscript also contains two heraldic devices and five verses celebrating Henry VIII.

The engraving, for the most part, reproduces the Tournament Roll in the manner of a facsimile, although with some notable differences—especially with regards to Plate 1.21. Plate 1.21 actually represents not the beginning but the end of the Tournament Roll; in the original manuscript, the five verses celebrating Henry VIII conclude the depiction of the tournament on membrane 36 whereas in Plate 1.21, they begin the print series. Additionally, Plate 1.21 splices in an engraving of a manuscript identified in the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) as “the articles of the tilts.” This document resembles another manuscript known as the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” (Harley 83 H 1) but contains notable differences. For example, the text on Plate 1.21, contains a distinct title which is absent on the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” and opens with a differently-worded and shorter paragraph. Likewise, the text on Plate 1.21 concludes with a list of the four allegorical personae whereas the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” concludes with a list of the names of twenty-one of the participants in the joust. Although the rules of the joust documented in both Plate 1.21 and the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” are virtually the same with regards to content, the spelling used on Plate 1.21 is markedly more antiquated. Finally, Plate 1.21 depicts the text in a modernized script form. Taken together, these differences between the “articles of the tilts” engraved for Vetusta Monumenta and the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” suggest that the former may be either an emended or a grossly imperfect copy of the latter; alternately, the “articles of the tilts” depicted on Plate 1.21 may represent an entirely different manuscript, currently untraced.

That the “articles of the tilts” may represent a currently untraced manuscript is suggested in particular by the fact that Plates 1.22-1.26 represent the Tournament Roll with a fairly high degree of accuracy, with the exception of added text on Plate 1.22 that provides a running title for the plates underneath the depiction of the Tournament Roll; the labels that run along the top notably appear on the manuscript itself. Plate 1.22 commences with a reproduction of the heraldic device that appears on the first membrane of the roll, featuring a rose and pomegranate. These were traditional emblems of Henry’s reign, until Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon in 1533, at which point the pomegranate no longer featured on the Royal Badge. Here, the pomegranate and the rose are dimidiated and joined together, emerging from a stem with two branches of leaves that support and entwine the letters H and K, the whole surmounted by a crown. The rest of Plate 1.22, and the entirety of Plates 1.23 and 1.24, reproduce membranes 2 to 23 of the roll; these depict the entry of the challengers onto the field on the second day of tilting.

The top half of Plate 1.25 reproduces membranes 24-27: the scene of the King at the tilt, shattering his lance on his opponent’s helm. Here, the creator of the Westminster Tournament Roll took a notable liberty. The jousting check in the Bodleian reveals that the King performed admirably in the tournament, although he did not—as the manuscript suggests—shatter his lance on his opponent’s helm. The Tournament Roll does, however, appear accurately to capture the lavishness of the gallery from which the Queen and others could watch the tilt, and it seems likely from the Revels Account that this was repurposed from the gallery used in Henry VIII’s coronation. The bottom half of Plate 1.25 and the rest of Plate 1.26 represent membranes 27-35, the ceremonial exit from the field on the 13th prior to the evening’s banquet.

Sydney Anglo characterizes the discrepancies between the descriptions of the event in the chronicles and manuscript as one best understood by recognizing two things. Firstly, tournaments in the reign of Henry VIII operated only nominally as military exercises; they were political maneuvers designed to promote Henry’s prowess, and entertainments designed to highlight his court’s technological innovation and aesthetic taste. Secondly, the manuscript documenting the event worked similarly to the tournament itself. On one hand, it served as a historical record of the event by depicting the categories of attendees, images of their costumes, and the general order of their activities; on the other hand, it functioned as a testimony to Henry VIII’s attempts to conceive of his reign as one that should be auspiciously and lavishly documented for history.

As Anglo suggests, the tournament and the manuscript roll that depicted it reflect Henry VIII’s concerted effort to craft his image as a virile, wealthy king, well-prepared to meet the courts of Europe on their own footing. Meanwhile, the production of a tournament roll offered the heralds an opportunity to showcase their value—as the practical arrangers of ceremonial events as well as artists and storytellers—to the court. The manuscript, therefore, by no means appears to be a perfect record of the tournament. Rather, the roll provides a series of narrative snapshots of the tournament and performs a propagandistic puff in the service of Henry VIII, a point borne out not only by the appearance of the lance that did not really shatter, but also by the five verses celebrating Henry. Describing Henry twice as the “flowr of natewrs warke,” these verses celebrate him as a political administrator and a military powerhouse. The verses characterize Henry VIII as a “subduer of wrongs, maintainer of rightness, fountain of honor, [and] exemplar of largess” who has delivered his people from darkness while also comparing him to figures such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

That the verses were occasioned by the event is belied by the reference to the “banner of blys on brode” that Henry had “displayd,” likely a reference to the “Westminster Tournament Challenge” (Harley 83 H 1) that had been hung from a tree on the first day of the event. Like the verses in the Westminster Tournament Roll, the “Challenge” indulges in a mythical rendering of Henry VIII and his court. Although the “Challenge” served the pragmatic purpose of establishing the rules of the jousting, it is framed as a missive from the Queen of Ceure—a fictional gambit. By appearing to be a missive from a mythical queen who ruled over a mythical land, the “Challenge” participated in the fictional worldbuilding with which the tournament as a whole appears to have indulged (Walker 2011). The allegorical role-playing of Henry VIII, Courtenay, Knyvett, and Neville as Sirs Noble Heart, Good Will, Valiant Desire, and Happy Thinking, for example, must have been enhanced by virtue of appearing as a response to the demands established by the “Challenge”: “In consyderaton theis iiij Knights be of so fer & Strange partes they shall present selff w.t their Names and Arms aportend in their Shylde.” Such a provision would have inspired as well as rationalized the lavish costuming and the stage designs of the event.

When the engravings were made in the 1720s, the activities of the SAL were largely devoted to finding a permanent home for its meetings in an effort to help stabilize its membership and its research activities. These plates highlight the Society’s interest in royal antiquities at a time when patronage and support were notably lackluster (Sweet 2004, 86-87). Joan Evans notes the “want of spirit” in the SAL during this time and identifies the plates for “The Tournament of King Henry VIII” as one of the remarkably few accomplishments made by the SAL in the 1720s (1956, 79). Evans might have been more generous. Like many of the other prints begun or completed produced during this decade—of coins and medals (Plates 1.20 and 1.55), seals (Plate 1.5), monastic ruins (Plates 1.6, 1.9-1.12, 1.27), and royal monuments (Plates 1.4 and 1.16)—these engravings evince the emphasis “the first generation of Saxonists” placed on medieval antiquities to the chagrin of many who, like John Clarke, castigated the SAL for its “Gothicism” (1956, 98). Plates 1.17-1.19 also notably document architectural improvements made by Henry VIII that incorporated the tiltyard where these jousts were held into the Westminster Palace grounds.

The inclusion of the Westminster Tournament Roll in Vetusta Monumenta reflects the early allegiances between the SAL and the College of Arms as the Society maneuvered to establish itself on surer footing by finding a permanent home for its meetings and solidifying a network of collaborators. The strong interest in heraldry among early eighteenth-century antiquaries is memorably expressed in Evans’s witticism that the College of Arms was their “natural habitat” during this time (1956, 73). The first president of the SAL, Peter Le Neve, was appointed a Pursuivant at the College of Arms in 1690, and he was the Norroy King of Arms from 1704-1729. Le Neve himself would have participated in ceremonial processions similar to that which is represented by the Tournament Roll—including the funerals of Queen Mary, King William, and Queen Anne, as well as the coronations of Queen Anne and George I. Le Neve drew the Society’s attention not only to this important manuscript but also to the Barons’ Letter of 1301 (see Plates 1.28-1.33), which features an extensive and remarkable collection of early heraldic seals. Plates 1.21-1.26 along with 1.28-1.33, therefore, indicate the interest the SAL took in heraldic history and royal ceremony under the leadership of Le Neve.

The plates depicting the Westminster Tournament Roll appear to aspire to facsimile, with the exception of some added explanatory text on Plate 1.22. Plates 1.23-1.26 include the running titles that appeared on the original manuscript and which identify the various groups appearing in the tournament’s procession; many of these labels are now obliterated (1968, 84). These labels may have still been legible on the manuscript in 1726, since the engravings do not seek to impose any other supplemental identifying information on the plates—but members of the SAL could have confirmed their spellings by consulting Robert Fabyan’s Great Chronicle and the manuscript of that work in the Cottonian Library. The Society’s commitment to creating a facsimile must have posed a significant challenge, however, given not only the fragility but also form of the original manuscript. The SAL solved the challenges posed by sixty feet of vellum, in part, by reproducing sections of the roll, one on top of the other, and by truncating some characters in half, to be continued on the bottom reproduction of the roll or on the top reproduction on the next page. Vertue added handy tags, “A,” B,” “C,” etc. at the beginnings of each slice of the manuscript he has reproduced; this not only would have ensured that the prints remained in order, but it also might have made it possible for the prints to have been cut up and assembled into one long line, mirroring the effect of the original manuscript. For inspiration, Vertue may have turned to other printed examples of ceremonial processions, including John Ogilby’s Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II (1672), Francis Sandford’s History of the Coronation of James II and his Royal Consort Queen Mary (1687), and Samuel Moore’s print, The Proceding [sic] to the Coronation of their Majesties King William and Queen Mary (1689).

This series of plates also attests to a rising antiquarian interest in the subject matter of chivalry and arms. Horace Walpole (1717-1797), for example, makes note of these plates in his Anecdotes of Painting (1762, 1.53), and it is tempting to imagine that the images played some part in The Castle of Otranto’s (1764) description of the elaborate procession of Frederick into Manfred’s castle (97-98). The antiquaries Joseph Strutt (1749-1802) and Samuel Meyrick (1783-1848) both devoted their scholarly labors to the history of arms, medieval tournaments, and related subjects. Strutt in particular used a similar graphic technique for juxtaposing sections of different manuscript rolls to create the impression of a continuous visual narrative (e.g., Strutt 1801, Plate 1). Meyrick discusses the tournament extensively in his Critical Inquiry Into Antient Armour (2nd ed. 1842), and refers his readers to consult Vertue’s rendering of the roll (1842, 2.208).

The antiquarian illustrations of Strutt and Jacob Schnebbelie (1760-1792), among others, suggest that these Vetusta Monumenta plates also provided antiquaries with an influential example of how to remediate three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional forms. Schnebbelie, for example, uses a splicing technique similar to that on Plates 1.21-1.26 to depict manuscript rolls in his manuscript “Life of St. Guthlac,” given in six successive numbers of his Antiquaries' Museum (1791, Numbers 4-9). As Anglo observes, the original roll depicts the figures in the tournament’s procession as “a succession of static figures,” or a “long line of stuffed bodies each differentiated from the other primarily by apparel denoting a certain class of functionary, official, dignitary or noble. The heads are masks, not portraits. The poses are stiff and formalized” (1968, 80). This is in keeping, Anglo finds, with the kind of “portraiture” found in rolls of arms, a genre to which the Tournament Roll owes a significant degree of aesthetic debt. Consequently, the Westminster Tournament Roll offered a model for reproducing early modern portraiture as well as an opportunity to consider the development of style over time. As commented in the Antiquaries’ Museum, such “paintings in the round” are “expressive of the skill of our Saxon ancestors in history painting” (Schnebbelie 1791, 4.4). Notably, the Westminster Tournament Roll has also been studied for its depiction of John Blanke—a black musician in sixteenth-century London employed by Henry VIII—as one of six royal trumpeters depicted in Plates 1.22 and 1.25. Historians such as Onyeka Nubia (2020), Miranda Kaufmann, and Michael Ohajuru (2017) have turned to the Westminster Tournament Roll as evidence of not only the existence but also the erasure and caricaturization of black figures in Early Modern England.

Both the form and the subject matter of documents such as the Westminster Tournament Roll had achieved wide circulation by the 1790s. In 1796, Joseph Jekyll, MP, presented the SAL with an original jousting cheque from the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" (Gaimster, McCarthy, and Nurse 2007, 77). In popular culture, the production of David Garrick’s Cymon in 1791 featured a “grand procession of the hundred knights of ancient chivalry, and ancient tournament,” each costumed in historically-appropriate attire, as a printed title page for the production announces. The coronation of George IV in 1821 was staged as a chivalric event and a small but elaborate manuscript roll was distributed as a souvenir. It would seem, therefore, that in devoting so many plates to the depiction of a manuscript roll that represented a lavish procession of knights into the tournament field, the SAL anticipated, perhaps even cultivated, a taste for such historical spectacles.


[1]: The manuscript gives the Old Style date of 1510.

[2]: Here and throughout, I have modernized Hall's spelling.

Works Cited:

Anglo, Sydney. 1968. The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A Collotype Reproduction of the Manuscript. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fabyan, Robert. 1811. The New Chronicles of England and France. Edited by Henry Ellis. London: F.C. and J. Rivington, et al.

Gaimster, David, Sarah McCarthy, and Bernard Nurse, eds. 2007. Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707-2007. London: Royal Academy of Arts.

Garrick, David. 1792. Cymon: A Dramatic Romance. London: T. Becket.

Hall, Edward. 1809. Hall’s Chronicle: Containing the History of England, During the Reign of Henry the the End of the Reign of Henry the Eighth. London: Johnson.

Kaufmann, Miranda. 2021. “Blanke, John (fl. 1507-1512).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meyrick, Samuel A. 1842. A Critical Inquiry Into Antient Armour, as it Existed in Europe. 2nd ed. 3 vols. London: Henry G. Bohn.

Nubia, Onyeka. 2020. “The Missing Tudors: Black People in 16th-Century England.” History Extra.

Ohajuru, Michael. 2017. The John Blanke Project.

Schnebbelie, Jacob. 1791. The Antiquaries Museum, Illustrating the Antient Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture, of Great Britain. London: J. Nichols.

Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

Strutt, Joseph. 1796-99. A Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England. 2 vols. London: J. Nichols.

------. 1801. The Sports and Pastimes of the English People. London.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.

Walpole, Horace. 1762-1771. Anecdotes of Painting in England. 4 vols. Twickenham: Thomas Farmer.

------. 1764. The Castle of Otranto. London: Thomas Lownds.