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In the central tier, part of the painting - it is uncertain how much - is missing at the lefthand side, but at the left now (detail, right) Margaret stands with both hands upraised in a standard attitude suggesting in this case remonstrance, probably with Olybrius, who is in all likelihood the figure implied by a chairleg and part of a seat at the lefthand edge. Further right, Margaret is arrested, beaten with clubs, and then pushed through a Gothic-arched doorway into prison by a jailer with another club (centre of picture). Finally, at the right, the bending figure of Margaret is seen disappearing into the mouth of a red dragon with huge scaly claws. It is a great pity that so much of this dragon - an unusual example - has been damaged. But a hand and arm - a version of the Manus Dei - reaches out from a star-studded heaven at the top right in a gesture of blessing.
In the lowest panel (shown left) the story continues. At the left, Margaret is shown, quite upright and possibly with her hands clasped in prayer, emerging directly from the dragons belly. The creatures backbone seems to have burst asunder in the process - at least this seems to be the meaning of the detail to the right, where something like a chain of articulated vertebrae loops down between the legs of the man arresting Margaret for the second time.
After her miraculous escape from the dragon, Margaret suffered various tortures, some of them painted in the English church, as at Battle in Sussex, where she is shown hung up by her hair and beaten. Charlwoods version of the story is more selective, and at the right in this tier (above, right of picture) she is shown standing, and although it is very difficult to see now, thrusting the end of her cross-staff into the mouth of the dragon, on whose defeated head she now stands. She holds something else in her left hand, but I cannot identify this.
Beyond Margaret at the right, a crowned figure seated on a throne seals her fate (detail, right). This figure, in the center of the scene, is probably not the governor Olybrius, whose rank would not seem to merit a crown², and it may be intended for the Emperor Diocletian, in whose reign, according to her Legend, Margaret and those she converted were beheaded. Or this may be simply a generic authority-figure.
At any rate, at the far right, an executioner raises his sword to decapitate Margaret, who is just visible at the right hand edge, kneeling with hands held in prayer as the executioner grasps her by the hair. Above her, her soul is shown in the form of a white dove flying up to heaven.
The painting has a complicated restoration history and various published articles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries tend to confuse rather than clarify understanding. Apart from some later cleaning and retouching it was restored to its present state by Eve Baker in the 1960s³. Similarities to the paintings of the same subject in the Queen Mary Psalter (BM. MS. Royal 23, vii) have been remarked on in several of the early articles mentioned above. The painting is certainly of very high quality, as is the less well-preserved Three Living & Three Dead, beside it on the south wall at Charlwood.
Another, less well preserved Life of St. Margaret, at Wendens Ambo in Essex is now on the site. It is in some ways very similar to the Charlwood example, but there are some vital differences as well. The same is true of the example of her martyrdom at Duxford, long mistaken for a painting of S. Agatha, which is newly on the site and linked in the table below.
¹ I cannot find a source for this claim. It may be true, nevertheless.
² Although he evidently had one, not visible now, at Wendens Ambo
³ T. Organ, St. Nicholas Church, Charlwood, Surrey. Report on the cleaning and conservation of the 14th & 15th century mural paintings in the nave carried out in June 1993, The Wall Paintings Workshop, Faversham, Kent.
Website for St Nicholas, Charlwood
|St. Andrew Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland||St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read-Corby Glen, Lincolnshire||St. Antony and the Pig, Barton, Cambridgeshire||St. Barbara : Hessett, Suffolk||St. Bartholomew : Selling, Kent||St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Castor, Cambs||St Catherine of Alexandria, Cold Overton, Leicestershire NEW||St.Catherine of Alexandria : Hardley Street, Norfolk|
|St.Catherine of Alexandria : Old Weston, Northants||St.Catherine of Alexandria : Pickering, N. Yorks||St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Sporle, Norfolk||St. Catherine of Alexandria, Martyrdom of: Burton Latimer, Northants NEW||St. Catherine of Alexandria or another female saint : Ashley, Hampshire NEW||St. Clement : South Leigh, Oxon.||Scenes from the life of St. Cuthbert : Pittington, Co. Durham NEW||St. Dunstan holding the Devil by the nose : Barton, Cambs|
|St.Edmund : Boxford, Suffolk||St. Edmund : Lakenheath, Suffolk||St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Bishopsbourne, Kent||St.Edmund, Martyrdom of : Fritton, Norfolk||St. Edmund (or St. Walstan) : Gisleham, Norfolk||St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N.Yorks||St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Stoke Dry, Rutland||St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Troston, Suffolk|
|St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Weare Giffard, Devon||St.Eloi, Broughton, Bucks||St. Eloi and the possessed horse, Slapton, Northants||St. Eloi, as bishop & blacksmith, Wensley, N.Yorks||St.Erasmus, Martyrdom of : Chippenham, Cambs||St. Etheldreda : Willingham, Cambs||St. Francis Preaching to the Birds : Little Kimble, Bucks||St.Francis Preaching to the Birds : Wissington, Suffolk|
|St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Slapton, Northants||St. George & Dragon : Banningham, Norfolk||St. George & Dragon : Broughton, Bucks||St. George & Dragon : Earl Stonham, Suffolk||St. George & Dragon : Fritton, Norfolk||St. George & Dragon : Hornton, Oxon||St. George dedicating himself to the Virgin : Astbury, Cheshire||St. George, with the princess : Little Kimble, Bucks|
|St. George & the Dragon : Kirtlington, Oxon NEW||St.Helena, Broughton, Bucks||St.James the Great : Hales, Norfolk||Life of St. James, Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire||St. James the Great, meeting pilgrims : Wisborough Green, Sussex||St. James the Great, Yelden (or Yielden), Beds NEW||St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks||St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Heydon, Norfolk|
|St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Idsworth, Hampshire||St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Old Weston, Northants||St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N. Yorks||Life of St. John the Baptist : Cerne Abbas, Dorset||St. John the Evangelist, Selling, Kent||St. John the Evangelist, Weston Longville, Norfolk||St. Margaret of Antioch : Old Weston, Northants||St. Margaret and the dragon : South Newington, Oxfordshire|
|St. Margaret of Antioch Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland||St. Margaret of Antioch, Life of : Charlwood, Surrey||Life of St. Margaret, Wendens Ambo, Essex||Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Duxford, Cambridgeshire||Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire NEW||St. Martin dividing his cloak, Chalgrave, Beds||St. Martin dividing his cloak, Wareham, Dorset||St Michael, with kneeling donor, South Newington, Oxfordshire|
|St.Nicholas of Myra, life of : Little Horwood, Bucks||St. Nicholas of Myra, two miracles of : Wissington, Suffolk||St. Nicholas of Myra & the Boys in the Barrel, Padworth, Berkshire||St. Nicholas of Myra & the Boys in the barrel, Bishopsbourne, Kent NEW||St.Paul : Black Bourton, Oxon||St. Paul : Beckley, Oxon||St. Paul : Selling, Kent||St. Peter : Beckley, Oxon|
|St.Peter : Black Bourton, Oxon||St. Peter, Martyrdom of : Chacombe, Northants||St. Peter : Selling, Kent||SS. Peter & Paul, Old Idsworth, Hampshire NEW||St. Roch : Pinvin, Worcs||St. Sexburga? : Willingham, Cambs||S. Stephen, Martyrdom of, North Stoke, Oxon||St. Stephen, Stoning of: Black Bourton, Oxon|
|St. Stephen, Stoning of: Catfield, Norfolk||St.Swithun (?) enthroned : Old Weston, Northants||Scenes from the life of St. Swithun : Corhampton, Hampshire||St. Thomas Becket, blessing, Hauxton, Cambs.||Archbishop, possibly Thomas Becket, blessing, Shorthampton, Oxfordshire NEW||St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, Marston Magna, Somerset||St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, North Stoke, Oxfordshire||St.Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Burlingham, Norfolk|
|St. Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Newington, Oxfordshire||St. Walstan of Bawburgh? or St. Edmund : Gisleham, Norfolk||St. Zita : Horley, Oxon||St. Zita : Shorthampton, Oxon||Unidentified female saint : Heydon|
© Anne Marshall 2001