Bacton Altar Cloth

Project: Historic Royal Palaces
Location: St Faith's Church, Bacton

Historical Background

The story behind the altar cloth is fascinating. At some stage in the past a skirt, believed to be from Queen Elizabeth 1, was cut up and used as a small altar cloth. In 1909 money was raised to mount the cloth and hang on a wall in the small, rural church of St Faith’s in Bacton, for all to see.

The Project

The Bacton Altar Cloth was always believed to be from Queen Elizabeth I through her servant Blanche Parry, who was born in the Parish. Blanche Parry first joined the Princess in charge of the cradle rockers and stayed in Elizbeth’s employ right through her time in the Tower of London and Blanche eventually became a very powerful lady in the Royal Court. Blanche died aged 82 and was buried in St Margret’s Westminster where then is a monument to her. There is also a monument to Blanche in Bacton Church as Blanche had wanted to be buried in Bacton.

In Tudor times textiles and clothing were expensive and Elizabeth was well known to gift items from her wardrobe. The fabric that now makes up the altar cloth has been speculated to have been from a gift she made to Parry.

However it wasn't until Eleri Lynn, Collections Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, came across the Bacton altar cloth whilst researching Welsh connections to the Tudor Court online that it’s rumoured provenance became more likely. She decided to pay a visit to the church and knew immediately that she had discovered something of significance.

When St Faith’s realised the importance of the find, it loaned the altar cloth to Historic Royal Palaces giving their curators the opportunity to examine the altar cloth. Dress historians have suggested that shaped seams at the back of the altar cloth point towards its history as a skirt panel. There is the cloth of silver, which under Tudor law, could only be worn by members of the royal family and also the embroidered design featuring roses, daffodils and other flowers, details typical of the late 16th century. The resulting pattern bears a strong resemblance to that in the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I known as the Rainbow Portrait. Thus, all the evidence strengthens the theory that the Bacton altar cloth could once have been a skirt worn by the Tudor Queen, making it the only known survivor of her famously lavish wardrobe.

Early in 2017 Zardi & Zardi Eleri Lynn approached Zardi & Zardi to print and make up copies of the Bacton Altar Cloth. One to be mounted onto a board, set into a copy of the display case and delivered to St Faith’s Church, and two to be supplied to Hampton Court Palace, for use in their education and conservation departments.

Historic Royal Palaces have undertaken an 18 month conservation of the altar cloth before it is displayed at Hampton Court Palace. Meanwhile a Zardi & Zardi facsimile is on display in the place of the original altar cloth on the wall of St Faith’s Church.