Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The drighte of March hath perced to the roote,
And baythed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages)
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …
Thus Geoffrey Chaucer opens his Canterbury Tales and pilgrimages remained an important feature of English spiritual life until the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Pilgrims would undertake journeys, whether to local, national or distant holy places in order to secure spiritual benefits, such as indulgences. The churches, abbeys and monasteries that maintained the sites and relics venerated by pilgrims often relied upon the income provided by these visitors, and the selling of relics and pilgrim badges was an important element in this business model. The pilgrim badges might be regarded as very early souvenirs: they allowed the pilgrim to take home something tangible from their spiritual journey.
Pilgrim badges were mass-produced, generally from cheap metals or pewter, and the most popular shrines might sell more than 100,000 such badges annually. Commonly worn on the pilgrim’s hat or coat, these badges were not so much objects for private contemplation and reflection but, rather, intended to display the piety of the wearer.  The canons of Windsor produced a range of at least five different badge designs displaying the saintly King Henry, reflecting the popularity of their shrine, an example of which is shown below.
Chaucer’s Tales famously describe the journey from the Tabard inn in Southwark to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Perhaps surprisingly, however, just a century later, more pilgrims were journeying to Windsor Castle, to the shrine of King Henry VI (the founder of Eton College) than to Canterbury.
Henry (1421-1471) was the pious heir of the martial Henry V, famed as the victor of the battle of Agincourt (1415). He succeeded to the throne at only eight months old and, it has to be said, proved ill-equipped for medieval kingship, being apparently of a trusting, conciliatory and indecisive nature. He was twice deposed by his Yorkist rivals and finally murdered whilst a prisoner in the Tower of London on 21st May 1471, the very day that Edward IV made his triumphal procession into the city.
This begs the question why did a man who was regarded as an ineffectual failure as a monarch attract such a level of devotion? It seems that Henry’s peaceable nature , as well as his generosity and piety were widely known: his pitiable end seems to have added a further stimulus to the development of his cult. Although by no means an impartial observer, Henry’s chaplain John Blacman offers the following description:
He was a simple man, without any crook of craft or untruth, as is plain to all. With none did he deal craftily, nor even would say an untrue word to any, but framed his speech always to speak truth…Against the pest of avarice with which so many are infected and diseased, even princes of the earth, this king Henry of whom we speak was most wary and alert… to the confusion of avarice he was very bountiful with his gifts, as his former servants bore witness… The same prince when in the end he lost both the realms, England and France, which he had ruled before, along with all his wealth and goods, endured it with no broken spirit but with a calm mind, making light of all temporal things, if he might but gain Christ and things eternal… 
The practice of making a pilgrimage to his tomb at Chertsey Abbey began soon after Henry’s death in 1471. Not surprisingly, this development was not welcomed by his successor, Edward IV, who needed to re-establish himself as the legitimate ruler, and this unofficial ‘sainting’ of his murdered rival was awkward, to say the least. He was obliged to take action to prevent the veneration of his murdered predecessor and was forced to enlist the help of livery companies to stop increasing numbers from flocking to Chertsey. The cult of Henry continued, however, and was facilitated by the translation of his remains to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in 1484, where an original donations box can still be seen by his tomb.
Miracles began to be attributed to ‘Holy Henry’, such as the preservation of one Richard Beys, unjustly condemned to the gallows (1484) , and the saving of the infant Miles Freebridge who, ironically, was choking on a silver pilgrim badge bearing the image of Thomas Becket, when invocation of the late king is said to have dislodged the object.
Inevitably, perhaps, Henry’s cult was put to political as well as spiritual use. The establishment of the Tudor dynasty with its Lancastrian (Beaufort) connections made association with the saintly king desirable, and Henry VII sought to have him canonised. Henry VI became a useful political tool in creating the narrative of a ‘legitimate’ dynasty, as well as an object of veneration. According to Bertram Wolffe there is a record of Henry VIII making offerings at his shrine on June 1529.
Today, Henry VI is remembered as man perhaps better suited to the church than to the throne, but also as a champion of education as evidenced by his founding of Eton College in 1440, and King’s College, Cambridge in 1441.
By Marie Harrison, Museum Custodian
Marie has also created an activity based on the pilgrim badges in the Museum of Eton Life.
 .B. Wolffe Henry VI (London: Methuen, 1983) p.354
 Wolffe p.355
 John Blacman A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29689/29689-h/29689-h.htm#Page_23 accessed 1/5/2020
 Wolffe p.353
 R Knox and S Leslie (eds. and trans The Miracles of King Henry VI (Cambridge, 1923) pp.149-50
 Wolffe p.354