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Life of St. Margaret : Charlwood, Surrey (‡Southwark) c.1320

Photo:T.Marshall Life of S. Margaret, Charlwood, detail, Margaret spinning, with Olybrius [29KB]
The painting is in vertically arranged tiers, and at the top left, Margaret is shown spinning with a distaff, while a man with a banner (a cross on a field fretty) kneels before her. This man must be the herald of the Antioch governor Olybrius, who is the man on a fast galloping horse in the centre of the scene. Like any English medieval king or magnate, Olybrius is out hunting, and his greyhound, a pale shape in front of the tree (pink seems to have been the original colour), pursuing a fleeing hare, is said in the leaflet available in the church to be the earliest depiction of the breed in Britain¹. At the far right, a huntsman Life of S.Margaret, Charlwood, detail [39KB]is blowing his horn.

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 Life of S.Margaret, Charlwood, detail [40KB]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 dragon’s belly. The creature’s 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. Charlwood’s 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.Life of S.Margaret, Charlwood, detail [22KB]
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

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Anne Marshall 2001