In choosing a design for the Crescent stall plates project, I wanted to get as close in design to Garter stall plates as possible. Fortunately, I’d done a substantial amount of research on the Garter stall plates already, and have assembled some of my research here.
According to William St. John Hope, one of the foremost English authorities on heraldry outside of the College of Arms, stall plates in the Garter chapel were uniformly made of copper or brass, gilded or silvered, and then richly enameled and/or painted. They were typically 6″-8″ long. The 46 Garter stall plates that remain from the original set, made c. 1421 for all existing members (1348-1421), fall into six categories, differentiated by design and most certainly created by different contractors at the same time:
The first of the groups comprises twenty-seven plates. They are at once distinguished from the other groups by being cut out to the shape of the design, and by the beauty and boldness of their execution.
The second group is now represented by a single plate only. Like those of the first group, it is cut out to the shape of the design, but is of smaller proportions.
The third group includes three plates. They are rectangular in form, but have the edges dagged or cut into pointed leaves.
The fourth group comprises eight small and narrow rectangular plates, clearly the work of one hand, but of two sizes; the four larger being on one stall, and the four smaller being in another stall. They may therefore be convienently described as Group IVa and group IVb, respectively.
The fifth group contains three small plates, somewhat wider than those of group IV, apparently the work of one man, who was not the maker of the last-mentioned group.
The sixth group consists of two examples only. These are small rectangular plates, evidently intended to represent banners, as they bear simply the arms of the knights whom they commemorate. (The Stall Plates of the Order of the Knights of the Order of the Garter, 1348-1485, p.12-13.)
Plates made after the initial run were more individualized, but many throughout the 1400s followed a pattern of decorating three edges with fringe and the fourth as a pole, displaying the whole as a banner with the full achievement of arms.
In looking at the various groups called out by St. John Hope, there are three distinct styles that I want to follow in my three plates for competition; group one, group three, and group five.
Group six’s plates, namely the arms of Sir Peter Courtenay and Henry Lord Fitzhugh, (Plates XLVI and XLVII, respectively) are incredibly disappointing. Not only are they plain rectangular representations of the respective arms in banner format, there is no stylization or artistic detailing, such as fringe or diapering. Furthermore, the edges of the plates are not parallel, nor are the angles square. I might recreate one of these plates as a test run for enameling, but artistically they’re uninspired when compared to the other groups.
Group four’s plates are a bit more interesting, but still feel (in my eyes) unfinished. Again, the plates are not properly squared, and the scrolls bearing the inscription frequently abut the edges of the plates themselves; one example, the plate of Sir Hertong von Clux (Plate XXXVIII), has an extra bit of scroll attached to the right edge of the plate. I can see including an example of this group in my display as a practice piece for engraving.
Group five’s plates are notable for their enameled backgrounds (one solid black, the others split into two and three tinctures, respectively). They’re another step up from group four, and at least one (Thomas Duke of Exeter, Plate XLV) bears the full achievement without an attached name. Given the heavy background coloration, this is a definite possibility for my enameled piece.
Group three’s dynamic leaved edge (Seen, as an example, in Plate XXXIII, the arms of Sir John Sully) has a lot going for it, and makes it a lot more interesting than the plain-edged counterparts in group four. This has a lot of potential for the hand-engraved piece.
Group one, exemplified by the arms of Sir William FitzWarryn in Plate VII (and its smaller companion, group two e.g. the arms of Sir Hugh Courtenay in Plate XXXI) is by far the most impressive, and also the most complex; rather than sticking to my comfort zone by etching a standard rectangular plate, I’d have to use a jeweler’s saw to cut out the shape of the achievement; depending on the complexity of the mantling, this could be a difficult job, but one that would have a very satisfying result.
On the other hand, I could also explore some of the later plate styles for later Crescents (like myself), such as the Duke of Somerset’s stall c. 1440 (Plate LVIII), with full achievement including supporters, multi-colored field, and fancy leaved border. It would allow me to exhibit my etching skills without being distracted by poor sawing technique.
And since I’ve already made some notes about plate styles I’d want to emulate for demonstration purposes, St. John Hope provides a couple examples of a plate that was almost finished, then abandoned and the reverse used to make the achievement, such as back of Sir John le Scrope’s stall plate, seen on Plate LXXI). It’s comforting to know that, if I screw up on a particular design, I can flip the metal over, complete the design, and have documentation for the unfinished reverse.