The relationship between Beverley Minster and British royalty goes back into the Saxon period. Tradition has it that around 934AD King Athelstan, then just the ruler of Mercia and Wessex, called in at Beverley to pray at the tomb of Bishop John for victory in a forthcoming battle against amassed northern forces that would decide the royal destiny of all England.
The monks were so impressed with his piety that they gave him the flag of Bishop John to take into battle and he won an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Brunanburh “uniting all England under one Saxon throne for the first time”. In gratitude he bestowed huge wealth and privileges on to the institution, helping it become the second-richest non-cathedral institution in the entire north of England.
It is believed that the Saxon charter formally establishing the institution of Beverley Minster itself dates from this same raft of privileges granted in the wake of his victory in 938AD.
After Bishop John became St John of Beverley, patron saint of the deaf and dumb, in 1037, his shrine became even more important and after the Conquest in 1066 the Normans regarded his tomb as a jewel in their new English crown, second only in status in the north of England to the tomb of Cuthbert of Durham. They continued to believe that the flag of St John guaranteed success in battle and elevated John to one of the patron saints of the Royal Family alongside St George. Men of Beverley were exempted from answering any call to arms issued by the King provided the flag of St John was sent in their place.
24 royal visits to Beverley Minster are recorded.
The tradition of royal visits died out after Henry VIII’s reforms.
The Minster was closed and due to be sold for salvage by the King’s agent, but was saved when it was bought to become Beverley’s civic church.