The Royal Arms of King James the Second in St Andrew's Church, Orwell

A rare artifact for St Andrews Church

By Derek Skipper

Photo:The Royal Arms of King James II in Orwell Church

The Royal Arms of King James II in Orwell Church

The Royal Arms of James II, painted on a framed canvas and supported by an exceptionally well-endowed lion and a unicorn, are displayed above the south porch door in Orwell Parish Church. The coat of arms is the one in use between 1660 and 1688, shown below.
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Royal Arms of King James the Second in St Andrew's Church, Orwell' page
It is not unusual to see the monarch's 'badge' displayed in English churches, (it became customary to do so after the 16th century Reformation to show loyalty to the king or queen as head of the Church of England), but the survival of a Royal Arms of James II is very rare and this is thought to be one of only six in the whole country. A brief review of James' short and unhappy reign may explain why.

James II - an unpopular king

The painting is dated 1686, the second year of James' reign. He came to the throne in 1685 and spent the next three years preparing the way for the reconversion of England to Roman Catholicism by appointing Catholics to positions in the Army, the legal profession, the Privy Council and even the Church of England, much to the consternation of most of his subjects. Protestant Huguenots were being persecuted, tortured and killed in France at the time and Englishmen were afraid that they were about to suffer the same fate.  Parliament therefore encouraged William of Orange, Protestant husband of James' daughter Mary, to come to England and depose James. William, backed by a large army, landed at Torbay in November 1688 and James fled to France with his wife and baby son.  The 'Glorious Revolution' that followed established William and Mary as joint rulers, subject to the sovereignty of Parliament.

The Royal Arms re-discovered and restored

St Andrew's churchwardens' accounts for 1732 include the purchase of 'wedges and 4 holdfasts for ye King's Arms' but by the 20th century the parish seems to have forgotten it had this painting.  During renovation work in 1959 it was re-discovered, hanging high up in the church tower and hidden under layers of dirt.  The Arms were cleaned by picture restorer Isobel Brett and rehung in their present position. 

An ongoing mystery

We are left with the question "why were the Arms of James II not replaced by those of a later king or queen?"  Surely Queen Victoria merited such respect?  Perhaps Orwellians hadn't much time for the Church of England, or maybe the rectors appointed byTrinity College had Catholic sympathies.

To learn more about the history of the Royal Arms of England go to




This page was added by Derek Skipper on 11/01/2015.

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