5 unmissable objects in Open Treasure’s new exhibition Tudors: The Family and Faith in Durham

The new exhibition Tudors: the Family and Faith in Durham in the Open Treasure Collections Gallery tells the story of the notorious Tudor dynasty, who ruled between 1485 and 1603. Laying the foundations for Britain’s transformation from medieval kingdom to major world power, monarchs from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I also had a remarkable impact on Durham Cathedral. The Tudor Age marked a time of social, political and religious upheaval.

Durham Cathedral was scarred by the infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Reformation, and the founding of the Church of England, by also found plentiful new opportunities for those willing to embrace change. Exploring the lives of remarkable historical figures such as Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I, the Tudors exhibition demonstrates the influence of these monarchs on Durham Cathedral, and the monumental impact upon British history that is still felt today.

Discover what the Cathedral’s historic collections reveal about the history of this turbulent time…

  1. ‘De Arte Supputandi’ – Concerning the Skill of Counting


Few students are fond of learning their times-tables, but we can all recognise this nearly 500-year-old multiplication grid! Remarkably, this multiplication table can be found in the pages of the first printed book on arithmetic, published in England in 1522. The Cathedral is lucky to possess a copy of the first edition, which dates from the reign of King Henry VIII. The book was written by the career academic Cuthbert Tunstall, who became Bishop of Durham in 1530, and who saw all five Tudor monarchs ascend to the throne. He was a key figure in the Reformation, and was both used and abused in the Tudor row over religion. Tunstall’s name remains well-known amongst today’s students at Durham’s University College; the Tunstall Chapel within the walls of Durham Castle was built in 1540 and is still in regular use by the College community today.

  1. The Book of Common Prayer

F.IV.56 Book of Common prayer Marriage Service (small cropped)

The Book of Common Prayer is known to all British church-goers throughout modern history – the famous words of the marriage vow can be clearly read in the image above from the Cathedral’s first edition of this iconic text. The Book of Common Prayer was made the official prayer book of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1549, during the reign of the young King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s long-awaited son. Edward ascended the throne at the tender age of nine years old and, under the guidance of Edward Seymour and Archbishop Cranmer, implemented a strict Protestantism that eradicated all remaining traces of Catholicism from Britain. Symbols of religious splendour were destroyed and replaced with the minimalist simplicity that this new Protestantism promoted. The Book of Common Prayer was the first service book to be written completely in English and contains the Psalms, readings and services of the Liturgical year, all of which are in accordance with the Protestant faith, rather than that of the Catholic.

  1. The Portrait of King Edward VI

CVCSC 0337.B Scrots, King Edward VI © CV, photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

Flemish artist William Scrots’ intriguing oil painting from 1547 depicts the child King, Edward VI, surrounded by an abundance of red and white roses. The roses are symbols of the traditionally warring Houses of Lancaster and York, who were united under the reign of Edward’s grandfather, King Henry VII. The painting depicts the roses turning away from the sun and toward the young monarch, drawn to his radiance. Edward wears a satin russet gown, complete with lynx fur trim and gold thread embroidery; the jewel hung around his neck is decorated with the coronet of the Prince of Wales. The painting is kindly on loan to the Cathedral exhibition from Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, Warwickshire.

  1. The Seal of Mary I

DCD 4.5.Reg.6_seal_reverse_MaryI small

Queen Mary I was the first Queen of England, ascending to the throne in July 1553, and ruling until her death in late 1558. Whenever a new monarch ascends to the throne, it was customary to create an official Royal Seal. The two sides of a King’s seal usually show the two aspects that characterise the ruler’s role: to govern, and to defend the kingdom. Given that Mary was the first governing Queen of England, her seal was unusual. The front face of the seal shows her governing, seated on a throne, in the traditional style of a monarch’s seal. However, the reverse of a King’s seal would usually portray the monarch as defender, in battle on a horse. As a woman, Mary was not expected to go into battle, and thus her seal as Queen reflected this by showing Mary dressed elaborately, without a weapon.

  1. The Royal Arms of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth arms

The Cathedral’s Galilee Chapel is currently home to the plaque displaying the Royal Arms of Elizabeth I of England, who ruled between 1558 and 1603. Since the rule of King Henry VIII, it was customary to display the royal arms of the monarch in or on Churches to emphasise the monarch’s role as the Head of the Church of England. Today, surviving plaques of Queen Elizabeth’s royal arms are rare, and Durham’s version was displayed above the north door of the Cathedral before being removed for restoration work in the 18th century. After many years in storage, it reappeared in a Cathedral exhibition in the 1970s. Badly weathered, the initials ‘E R’ are still clearly visible on the plaque. During her reign, Elizabeth I claimed the title of ‘Queen of France’, which is why the fleur-de-lis of France appears on her royal arms alongside the three lions of England.

See this temporary exhibition in Durham Cathedral’s Open Treasure spaces until Saturday 9 June 2018.

Open Treasure is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm) and Sundays from 12.30pm – 5.00pm (last entry 4.00pm).

 Tickets: £2.50 – £7.50 (under 5s free, family ticket £17.50) are available from www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/open-treasure and from the Visitor Desk in the Cathedral.

Open Treasure annual passes are also available so you’ll never miss an Open Treasure exhibition!

One thought on “5 unmissable objects in Open Treasure’s new exhibition Tudors: The Family and Faith in Durham”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s