Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk - St Mary: The third largest parish church in England, St Mary was rebuilt in the C15th, funded by donations from wealthy locals. The nave roof was probably the gift of John Baret, a wealthy and well-connected cloth merchant, who lived in Bury, and died in 1467, leaving a fabulously detailed will. His cadaver tomb is in the north aisle of the church. In addition to his evident wealth, Baret had been awarded the "Collar of Esses", a badge of preferment under the royal house of Lancaster. He married Elizabeth Drury, whose family had connections to Hawstead in Suffolk, the location of another angel roof church (see the entry for Hawstead, below).
St Mary's Bury is arguably the finest angel roof in England. Hammerbeams alternate with arch-braces; the hammerbeams are carved as recumbent angels, set in pairs, eleven on each side of the nave. The final pair of angels (repainted in the C19th) in the ceilure, the roof section closest to the altar, are inscribed with Baret's motto "Grace me Govern". This is the basis for believing that Baret was either the sole donor, or at least the leading sponsor of the roof, enabling him to place his motto in "pole position" in the bay immediately before the altar, for everyone to see.
The angels seem to form a procession, vested for High Mass. Starting from the East End, nearest the altar, they run as follows: 1) the painted angels of the ceilure, 2) incense bearers, carrying incense boats and spoons, 3) thurifers, carrying censers, 4) taperers, carrying spiked candlesticks, 5) sub-deacons, bearing bibles, 6) chalice bearers, 7) clergy, wearing chasubles, 8) choirmasters, their hands raised as if conducting, 9) archangels, clad in suits of feathers, 10) young women, bearing crowns, 11) and finally, at the west end, crowned kings, holding sceptres, one bearing a heart, the other a book.
Writing in the 1960s, JBL Tolhurst plausibly suggested that the king angels represent Henry VI (there is a marked similarity between the figures here and coin portraits of the king), and that the young women, bearing but not wearing crowns, are Margaret of Anjou, who was betrothed to Henry in 1444, married him in April 1445 and was then crowned queen consort in May of the same year. Tolhurst therefore believes that the angel roof was commissioned during the period between the betrothal and Margaret's coronation (1444-1445) and that this is why the female figure carries, but does not yet wear the crown. Stylistically, the angel roof is consistent with a date in the 1440s.
Henry VI's marriage to Margaret was brokered by William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk and eminence grise to the blindingly ineffectual king. William was the second son of Michael de la Pole, the likely sponsor of the angel roof at St Agnes Cawston. The world of angel roofs is also very often the world of rich local elites, and so it is full of interconnections.