The nobility and clergy were early portrayed as having given buildings and works of art. Placement was a key issue. The axial window of the building, or one close to an important
altar, would be seen a place of greatest prestige. Thus Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry
II of England have themselves depicted offering the central window of Poitiers Cathedral.
The same place was claimed in the cathedral of York by an aspiring candidate for the post
of archbishop. The great east window of the creation and the end of the world was given by
Bishop Skirlow of Durham, in 1405. The window reveals the contentious situation of clerical
and royal politics over the prize of the archbishopric of York whose archbishop was also the
secular "Lord" of the county of Yorkshire, the largest possession of any ecclesiastic in the
realm. Bishop Skirlow of Durham had been elected archbishop of York in 1398, an election
immediately overruled by Richard II who installed an aristocratic friend, Richard Scrope.
Scrope, however, became embroiled in anti-government factions and supported the
abdication of Richard II the next year. He then was party to the revolt against new King,
Henry IV (linked to Scrope’s kinsmen, the Percy family, leaders of revolt) and was
condemned and executed at York on St. William’s Day. He was, nonetheless buried in
cathedral! Skirlow, still bishop of Durham, hoping for the vacant archbishop’s see gave the
great window in 1405. He had himself depicted in center of lowest register, with historic
figures of York, ancient kings, mythical kings, etc. on either side. 

In the 15th century, parish churches saw merchants begin to claim positions of prominence
by having themselves represented as donors or even having their mottoes written as
decorative banding, as in the interior of St. Mary’s in Bury St. Edmunds or on the exterior of
Long Melford. Frequently the donors were seen as diminutive figures at the foot of a saintly
patron. They were alternatively shown, as in English illuminated manuscripts, keeling before
altars or desks with open prayer books. Donors were very often accompanied by their
names, initials, mottoes, or other personalized inscription. Very few contracts between
donor and glass painter survive. From those remaining one can surmise that the subject
matter was usually defined by the patron (such as the depiction of a patron saint, St.
Dominic) a choice presumably made after consultation with the parish priest. For
discussion of donors and patrons, see Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England during
the Middle Ages (Toronto, 1993), 3-27. 

A long allegorical and satirical poem, The Vision of Piers Plowman written in Middle
English by  William Langland, is dated 1362 to 1399, during the formative years of Margery
Kempe's life.  This excerpt presents Lady Need who bargains with the clergy.  She will roof
the church (possibly meaning a reworking of the upper story), paint the walls and provide
stained glass windows that include images of the donors.  The use of the words "peynten
and portraye" would suggest images not simply inscriptions. 

             Have mercy, quod Mede, of men that it haunted 
             And I shall covere your kirk, youre cloister de maken 
             Wowes de whiten and wyndowes glazen, 
             Do peynten and portraye [who paied] for the makynge 
             That every segge shall see that I am suffer of youre house

Another excerpt from Piers Plowman speaks to the expectation that personal achievements
will be commemorated in stained glass: to write in the windows your good deeds 

             I lere yow lordes, leveth swich w[riting]es 
             To writen in wyndowes of youre well dedes 
             Or to greden after Goddes men whan ye [guve] doles

Crucifixion window, axial window of Poitiers Cathedral, France, c. 1160. Eleanor of
Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, rulers of England, offering Crucifixion window. ©

Crucifixion window, axial window of Poitiers Cathedral, France, c. 1160. Detail of Eleanor of
Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, rulers of England. © Raguin/MMK 

Dormition of the Virgin with donor couple © Raguin/MMK, stained glass, Philip and Agnes,
Cologne, 1250-60, Schnütgen Museum, Cologne, Germany 

Coronation of the Virgin with donor couple, Theoderic and Gertrude, stained glass,
Cologne, 1250-60, Schnütgen Museum, Cologne, Germany © Raguin/MMK 

Lay donor holding image of window, north aisle #4, York minister, 1305-30. © Raguin/MMK 

Bellfounders window, a member of the trade offers the window to St William, north nave
aisle, nXXIV, York Minster, 1305-1330. © Raguin/MMK 

Donor Richard Skelton, stained glass, St. Denys Walmgate, York, below St. Margaret and
Virgin and Child, c. 1350 © Raguin/MMK 

Donor Richard Skelton, detail, St. Denys Walmgate, York, c. 1350 © Raguin/MMK 

Donors below Prick of Conscience window, All Saints North Street, York, 1410. ©
Raguin/MMK. Two women and a man. 

Donor couple at the feet of John the Baptist, south transept, York Minster, c 1440. ©

Donor John Walker seen at foot of Trinity with scroll :Te Adoro et glorifico O Beata Trinitas:
Inscription around window in Latin: Have mercy on the soul of John Walker, Rector. He
caused this house and window to be made in the year 1470 in Thy honor, O King. stained
glass, Holy Trinity Goodramgate, York Throne of Mercy, east window. 

Male members of donor family, north transept,York Minster originally St. John Mickelgate,
Commissioned to honor Richard York, Lord Mayor 1469-82, + 1498. © Raguin/MMK 

Female members of donor family, north transept,York Minster originally St. John Mickelgate, Commissioned to honor Richard York, Lord Mayor 1469-82, + 1498. © Raguin/MMK 

Wife greeting her husband, she is wearing a heavy purse with keys attached hanging form a cord at her waist. stained glass, c. 1650, Switzerland, San Francisco Fine Arts Museums 

See esp. "Chantries and Colleges" in Joan Evans, English Art 1307-1461. Ocford: Oxford
University Press. 1948; reprint Hacker Books: New York. 1981.