Hubert Walter occupied a special place in the early years of John’s reign, since he served both as the king’s first Archbishop of Canterbury (1193–1205) and first Chancellor of England. Appointed Chancellor by John in May 1199, Walter introduced the system of recording charters on long rolls of parchment; as Archbishop, he negotiated skilfully the often tense relationship between the English Church and the King in the decades following the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170.
Hubert Walter died at his manor of Teynham (Kent) on 13 July 1205 and he was buried at Canterbury Cathedral the following day. When his tomb was opened in March 1890, the vestments and artefacts found within were removed. In his will, Walter had left the monks of Canterbury a more splendid set of vestments, but these were taken by King John and presented to Peter des Roches, who was enthroned as Bishop of Winchester in 1206.
The vestments discovered in 1890 comprise Walter’s mitre, buskins (cloth boots), slippers, stole and amice (a type of liturgical vestment). They are made of silk, datable to the 12th century , which was probably imported from the Middle East or Spain, although the garments themselves were in all likelihood embroidered in England, being a fine example of Opus Anglicanum (medieval English needlework). Some of the silk is woven with decorative pseudo-Kufic inscriptions, and it has been speculated that this silk was presented to Hubert Walter by Saladin (1137-93), Sultan of Egypt and Syria, during the Third Crusade (1190–92). The artefacts, now kept in the cathedral treasury in Canterbury, include Walter’s crozier (a hooked staff), signet ring, chalice, and paten (a plate used for holding the bread during the Eucharist) The crozier, originally at least 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in.) high, is made of cedar with silver-gilt fittings, and has settings for four antique gems, one of which is lost.