Dr Jonathan Foyle is the author of six monographs on English cathedrals, a former curator at Hampton Court and more recently the CEO of World Monuments Fund Britain. His freelance work involves broadcasting and feature writing but concentrates on researching historic buildings and lost royal furnishings, one combination of which inspired the detective work behind this evening’s story.
Anne of Cleves, the fourth queen of King Henry VIII, is an intriguing character. Called a ‘Flanders Mare’ only after her death, she was well regarded in her lifetime and an active stepmother to Elizabeth I. But what remains of her personal environment? In St Leonard’s Church at Old Warden, Bedfordshire, is a series of curious oak panels, their design based on an oval cartouche surmounted by a coronet. Some have a lion’s head, others a spoked heraldic design, others ‘AC’, prompting speculation they came from a chapel of Anne of Cleves in Bruges. But, as Pevsner asked, “What has Anne of Cleves to do with Bruges?” One academic has labelled them as ‘French, eighteenth century’. They might well be dismissed. But what does an archaeological approach reveal?