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The Kings’ Screen in York Minster

The15th century stone screen that divides the quire (choir) and sancturary from the nave of the church, is known as the Kings' Screen, because of the fifteen figures of English kings from William the Conqueror down to Henry the Sixth that decorate it.

The Kings' Screen (photo author)

The work of William Hindley of Norwich, the screen was a project of Henry V begun around 1420, but the early and unexpected death of the king left its completion to the government of his young son and heir, Henry the Sixth. The addition of the new monarch's statue next to that of his deceased father, explains the uneven numbers on the screen; seven kings on the left, eight on the right.

The right hand side (photo author)

After the murder of the King in 1471, his reputation for sanctity led to his statue becoming a focus of local devotion in York. People knelt before it in prayer and they lit votive candles in front of it, all to the horror and fear of the archbishop of York, Lawrence Booth. He had risen in his career through the Lancastrian Court, having been chancellor to Queen Margaret, briefly Keeper of the Privy Seal, and through the Queen's influence he had been preferred to the See of Durham. After Henry and Margaret had been defeated by the Yorkists and forced to seek refuge in Scotland, Booth switched sides and was at pains to demonstrate nothing but loyalty to the new Yorkist king, Edward IV. So successful was he, that Edward happily promoted him to the archbishopric of York in 1476 on the death of Archbishop Geoge Neville. Now he must have feared the suspicion and reaction of the Yorkist Court in London to the veneration of the murdered King Henry taking place in his own cathedral.

King Henry on the screen of today (photo author)

In October 1479, to stop this unwelcome and dangerous veneration, Archbishop Booth had the King's statue removed from the screen and probably destroyed. The empty niche was later filled with a figure of the Stuart king, James I. Fortunately, the Kings' Screen survived the iconoclastic rage of the Cromwell's republican troops, since they were forbidden to ransack the cathedral by their commander who was a Yorkshireman.

In 1810, the danger of medieval veneration being long past, a new statue of King Henry the Sixth was restored to his place on the Kings' Screen in York Minster, and can be seen there today.

The author at the statue of King Heny VI, in August 2017