Donor Knight, British, 15th century
Birtsmorton, Worcestershire, UK
Fragments shows knights kneeling in full armour which date back to the late 14th or early 15th centuries.
It may have been the widow of a prominent Worcestershire lawyer, Richard Ruyhale, who donated the glass.
He served Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and held the Manor of Birtsmorton until he died in 1408.
Before his death it seems he fell out of favour with the crown, possibly due to his association with Despenser who rebelled against Henry IV.
Tobias Capwell, curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection in London, wrote of the stained glass: "The Birtsmorton figures are unique in that they illustrate helmet visors of the Italo-German 'klappvisier' form, wherein the visor opens and closes on a single hinge located centrally over the brow.
The glass has been dated to 1385-1400. Liberal amounts of white glass and yellow stain are used in the figural schemes. The glass is painted in what Professor Richard Marks has called the 'second figural style' of late English Gothic with characteristic facial features such as strongly emphasised eyes and arched brows. It was almost certainly commissioned by a member of the Ruyhale (Ruyhall) family, most probably either Richard Ruyhale, the Worcestershire escheator of 1375-6 and 1379-80 (a local official responsible for 'escheats', or upholding the king's rights as feudal lord) or his son and namesake.
Richard senior probably died around 1396/97 as his son was described as the 'younger' in 1395 and is known to have presented to the church in his own right in 1398/99. The younger Richard held the manor of Birtsmorton until his death in 1408. His arms and those of his second wife, Elizabeth, survive in the south window of the chapel of St Anne at Great Malvern Priory where Elizabeth's will of 1428 directed that she be buried.
The kneeling figures are of equal size and face in the same direction. One is more complete than the other. When Prattinton saw the glass, c.1825, the more complete figure was accompanied by a kneeling woman behind him with heraldic arms on her dress, probably three lions rampant. The men wear armour to symbolise their status in life as forming part of the dominant landed and politically active second estate in society. They were almost certainly once part of an extended donor figure scheme probably arranged at the foot of a stained glass window.
An important – unique – feature of the donor figures is that both men are depicted wearing contemporary armour of the period with helmets of a peculiarly German design, i.e., the visor is raised or lowered from a hinge in the centre of the brow. Known as a 'Klappvisier' this is the only known recorded example of this type of visor in Britain. No other glass painting, brass memorial or monumental effigy has such a feature. According to Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the world famous Wallace Collection in London, the painter has also depicted this detail extremely accurately; most such images are generic and lack the finesse displayed at Birtsmorton. It is unknown if this detail was taken from a real life model and was included at the request of the donor family.
The date of death of Richard's father and namesake (the Worcestershire escheator of 1375-6 and 1379-80) is not known, but he probably did not die before 1395, for until that year our MP was usually described as 'the younger'
Richard Ruyhale was in possession in 1346, and a Richard Ruyhale presented to the church in 1398–9. He was probably the Richard who died in 1408, leaving a son Richard. The latter died while still a minor in 1415, and his uncle and heir Edmund Ruyhale granted the manor to John Merbury, Edward Brugge and William Poleyn, probably as trustees