Agecroft Hall: Discover 17th Century England in Richmond
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 Three Images of King Charles I

 

Agecroft Hall is lucky to have three images of Charles I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1825 until his execution in 1649 for high treason after losing the English civil war in 1648. While we have both a painting and drawing of his wife Henrietta Maria, we have two embroidered images of Charles and an image created in metal.

The first embroidered image we have of Charles I is quite life-like. Depicted in a bust length portrait, the image is worked in silk on a painted ground.  This embroidered miniature is based upon a 1641 Wenceless Hollar engraving of the King wearing the Order of the Garter. This is one of sixteen surviving embroidered miniature portraits that, at one time, were part of book bindings. Miniature portraits show such a high degree of skill that they were undoubtedly worked by professionals. This piece has a faded backing of unknown material, furthering the theory this was probably part of a book binding that was trimmed and framed around 1660.

Many of these commemorative book bindings appear to date from the 1660s around the time of the English Restoration. The conflict with Parliamentary forces led Royalists to look upon Charles I as a cult figure who, some believed, was martyred, not executed. These embroidered miniatures visually represent the process of memorializing the Monarch and commemorating the Restoration. After his execution, embroidered depictions of Charles I were a way one could be politically subversive without drawing unnecessary attention to oneself. As extant binding miniatures are found on various texts dating from 1600-1660, they are also important fragments of the seventeenth century decoration accorded secular and sacred books as valuable objects in the display of learning and power.


Our second embroidered piece is a book cover from about 1650. Decorated with flowers and insects, the front of this silk book cover depicts a man wearing a crown and holding a sword. He is encased in a medallion outlined in a silver thread chain stitch. If this cover were in situ, that is, on a book, an embroidered image of a woman wear a crown and a blue gown is stitched onto the back cover. The binding is covered by five squares outline in silver thread. Within each square a different flower has been stitched. The crowned figures on each side of this cover probably represent King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. This hypothesis is further supported by the costumes the figures are wearing, their crowned heads and the Scottish thistle on the binding.

Embroidered book covers can be found as far back as fourteenth century England.[1]  Most of these covers were probably stitched by professionals and research suggests embroidered book covers are a particularly English custom.[2]  Book covers are a perfect example of the different types and wide array of everyday objects descended upon with needle and thread by skilled embroiderers.[3]  Decorated book bindings, which very rarely make any reference to the book inside, were a short lived fad and few were created after the execution of Charles I and the Protestant Reformation.  Perhaps the bindings were then considered too frivolous.[4]

 

Our final image of Charles I can be found on a 1645 silver gilt medallion. This Thomas Rawlins medallion depicts Charles I on one side and Henrietta Maria on the reverse.  The images are set in an oval frame of laurel leaves interspersed with flowers in reversed “C” scrolls.  Thomas Rawlins was nominated chief engraver to the mint in 1647.  His inscription, T. Rawlins, can be seen underneath the portrait of Henrietta Maria.

While none of our Charles I images are currently on display, many of our other unique and wonderful objects are on display. Please come take a tour today and see what we have to offer!


[1] Epstein, Kathleen, British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century, (Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), 40.

[2] Swain, Margaret, “Embroidered Stuart Pictures,” Shire Album #46, (UK: Shire Publications, Ltd., 1990), 16.

[3] Cora Ginsburg catalog, Winter 2010-2011, 2

[4] Synge, Lanto, Antique Needlework, (London: Blandford Press, 1989), 41; Swain, 17.