A couple of weeks ago the subject of my column could not have been more contemporary, dogs made from wrapping paper and cardboard. This week I step back in time to the 15th century with floor tiles that are being sold at Bonhams in London on September 8 with expectations of between £700 and £1,000.
The three Medieval encaustic tiles would each have been one quarter of a set of four tiles. Each has the same design forming a quarter of a circle, decorated in white on red with the name ‘Sir John Talbot’ above the family crest of a white hound, its tongue extended, a sprig of oak leaves in the corner.
Sir John Talbot, created first Earl of Shrewsbury in 1442, achieved fame as a commander during the Hundred Years’ War. He was present at Henry V’s triumphal entry into Paris and continued fighting until his death in battle during the siege of Castillon on July 20 1453. He was first buried in France but his remains were subsequently brought back to England and interred at Whitchurch in Shropshire. He was a great national hero of the 15th century, second only to Henry V Talbot was immortalised in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VI’ as a brave and honourable commander of men.
The tiles date from the mid 15th century and could originally have been made for an ecclesiastical building. Talbot was a great financial supporter of the church and one can romanticise that he once may have walked on them. After his death a monument was erected to Talbot which would have had similar tiles placed there.
As old buildings, homes and monuments were destroyed, the materials from which they were made were used elsewhere and in the intervening centuries these tiles could well have had a number of homes. They were discovered with a quantity of other medieval tiles some twenty years ago stacked in a 19th century farm building at Glazeley, near Bridgnorth in Shropshire.
Talbot was a great patron of the arts. In the British Library there is an illuminated manuscript known as the ‘Book of Romances’. Dating from circa 1445, this was presented by Talbot to Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. In one of the illustrations John Talbot is presenting the book, he kneels on a tiled floor and by his side is a white hound similar to the ones on the tiles.
Closely related to the old St Hubert Hound and the Bloodhound but pure white in colour, this ancient breed acquired its name from the de Talbot family who arrived in England with the Normans in the 11th century. It is recorded that ‘these white hounds were brought to England by the head of the Talbot family, and rapidly gained credit for their qualities in the chase of the stage ...’ Its name appears in English literature as an active breed from the 14th to the 18th century.
In heraldry it is the original English dog, the hound of the early days. Although always associated with the arms of the Talbot family, it figures in the heraldic crests of at least seven English families and several old princely families in Germany.
One lasting reminder of the Talbot today is in names such as The Talbot Arms, The Talbot Hotel or The Talbot Head, given to various English public houses and hotels. There are, for example, five Talbot public houses in London alone.