Admiral Sir William Penn
With the expert
advice of the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms at the College of
Arms in London, two new banners now hang beside the monument to
Admiral Sir William Penn in St Mary Redcliffe. Grafted by the
outstanding makers of the embroidered banners of the Knights of
the Garter in St George's Chapel, Windsor, the colorful
'standard' and 'pennon' draw attention to a fine monument to a
most remarkable man.
Admiral Sir William Penn, 'the famous
father of an even more famous son', wrote the code of naval
tactics, which formed the basis of the Duke of York's Sailing
and Fighting Instructions, the standard book on tactics for the
Royal Navy for much of the next two centuries. Samuel Pepys, the
diarist, was his subordinate as Secretary to the Navy Board.
Together, they reformed the structure and administration of the
navy, laying the foundations for Britain's later dominance of
the seas and, arguably, of the British Empire itself.
Under Cromwell during the Civil war, Penn
had risen to the rank of Vice-Admiral when still in his
twenties. In 1655 he led the assault on the capital of Jamaica,
which was to become the first British colony taken in war.
Knighted by Charles II and appointed a Commissioner of the Navy,
Penn went again to sea in 1665 when he was in effective command
at the crucial battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch. Dogged by
ill health and finally by impeachment for the corrupt handling
of prize-goods, Penn died in 1670 at the age of forty-nine.
William Penn's elder son, William, was
born in London in 1644. He became a leading and most troublesome
Quaker. In 1681 Charles II granted him a province in America as
redemption of the debts owed by the King to his late father.
William had chosen the name "Sylvania" but the King insisted
that it be prefaced by "Penn" in honor of the Admiral. Penn was
both the founder and first governor of Pennsylvania.
His commitment to religious freedom and
his enlightened concepts of democratic government ensured that
the state later took a leading role in the country's
independence and in the creation of the Constitution of the
United States of America.
Admiral Sir William Perm was buried in the
city of his birth in St Mary Redcliffe, where his parents had
been married and where his beloved mother was buried. He was
interred in the south transept, a spot now marked by a large
black stone. His monument was first erected nearby on the first
pier of the south transept. The funeral achievements - that is
the items carried in the spectacular funeral procession - were
placed, still more prominently, on the southeast crossing-pier
of the transept. Besides the 'streamers' and 'flags' as a
contemporary letter called them, these surviving achievements
consisted of the helmet with a wooden funerary crest, funerary
gauntlets, a wooden funerary escutcheon painted with Penn's arms
and the 16th century cuirass or breast plate. The banners, which
were probably painted by a 'herald painter' and were not the
pennants flown from his flag ship as was later to be suggested,
were placed above the achievements and hung far out into the
There they remained until at least 1854. A
drawing made in that year (Frances M. Gresley, pen and ink
drawing, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery Mb 6474) shows that the
banners were now in tatters. The epic but drastic Victorian
restoration of St Mary Redcliffe was already in progress and the
monument and all the achievements were soon to be moved and
reassembled together as a single unit very, very high on the
north wall at the far west end of the nave.
The monument and the funerary achievements
were conserved with the help of the Canynges Society in 1996.
The blackened remnants of the banners were carefully taken down.
Their condition was worse than anticipated. Very little colour
or clear design was distinguishable and there were doubts that
the remnants had been reassembled correctly, when they were
netted nearly a century earlier. As little as 10% of one banner
and at best 60% of another remained. After conservation and
re-sandwiching between two layers of nylon net fabric, the
painted silk was inevitably still extremely fragile. Rehanging
was not an option. The conserved remnants were carefully boxed
and returned to the church.
Prior to conservation, which was completed
in 1998, it was hoped that well-researched replicas might be
commissioned. However careful examination during and after
conservation proved to be extremely disappointing and the
evidence gained, even with infrared spectrometry, added little
to the existing information provided by nineteenth century
watercolors and drawings of the interior of the church. The
making of exact replicas was not possible. Informed
reconstructions would depend on considerable armorial knowledge
and familiarity with funerary achievements.
The designs for the two new banners, the
standard to the left and pennon to the right, are based on both
the sound but fragmentary evidence of the originals and on early
nineteenth century drawings of the church's interior (Bristol
Museum and Art Gallery, Braikenridge Collection) as well as on
the expert advice of Thomas Woodcock, Norroy and Ulster King of
Arms at the College of Arms. The sizes of the original banners
are unknown and the sizes of replicas are marginally different
from the netted remnants in order that they complement each
other to better effect. The original pennants were of painted
silk. For reasons of durability, cost and evenness of hanging,
the new banners were handmade by Turtle and Pearce Ltd in a
double thickness heavy polyester/cotton material with embroidery
Author - Francis Greenacre - July 2006
Our grateful thanks to Francis Greenacre
for all his hard work on this project and to the Canynges
Society for its generous support in funding the banners.