Some pistols from the Glorious Revolution

Pair of late seventeenth-century English pistols with a provenance from Dunster Castle. ©Brian Godwin

Yesterday we succesfully bid at auction on a pair of of pistols dating from the late seventeenth century and with a provenance from Dunster Castle, Somerset. They were coming up in the Bonhams arms and armour sale at their Knightsbridge auction rooms in London.

Dunster Castle. ©NTPL/Magnus Rew

The sale was well attended, with some strong prices, and we had to bid quite a bit above the top estimate in order to secure the pistols at £24,000 hammer price.

We are very grateful to the V&A Purchase Grant Fund for offering a grant towards this acquisition, and to our firearms adviser Brian Godwin for assessing the importance of the pistols.

The gatehouse at Dunster. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

The pistols had been sold from Dunster in the early 1970s (before the National Trust acquired the castle), but up till that time they had been there continuously since the 1680s.

In 1688 Francis Luttrell, a local squire and owner of Dunster, joined the Glorious Revolution when William of Orange landed at Torbay. Luttrell managed to raise a regiment in a mere three days, partly due to his local connections, but also because there was a well-stocked armoury at Dunster, which this pair of pistols was probably part of.

Francis Luttrell (1659-1690). ©NTPL/John Hammond

Apart from playing a minor role in this momentous event in British history, Francis Luttrell also repaired and refurbished Dunster Castle, which had been damaged and neglected during the Civil War.

Plasterwork on the ceiling of the Dining Room at Dunster, put up in 1681. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

His heiress wife Mary Tregonwell provided the funds for some very fine plasterwork ceilings and a beautifully carved staircase. The carving on the latter is probably by the sculptor Edward Pearce the younger. Interestingly, the staircase was originally painted grey.

Detail of the carved balustrade of the staircase at Dunster, showing acanthus leaves, a beagling hound and a cornucopia. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

We hope soon to be able to display the pistols at Dunster, to enhance the story of this ancient castle at the time of the Glorious Revolution.

10 Responses to “Some pistols from the Glorious Revolution”

  1. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    I’m always amazed by the degree of bas relief in plasterwork such as Dunster’s. When it comes to restoration, I would guess that there are only a handful of plaster artists of this caliber left. The detail of the balustrade is equally awesome.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mark, yes the boldness and vigour of this kind of decoration is wonderful. I will try to find out if we have done any plasterwork restoration projects recently.

  3. Parnassus Says:

    I checked the Bonham’s listing for the pistols, and I noticed that two muskets from the Luttrell armory were also up for sale. Were those acquired also?

    By the way, I like the intriguing shot of the sunlit stone stairwell glimpsed through the wooden door and stone archway–it makes me want to explore the castle.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, that is well spotted. We considered going for those two muskets as well, but our funds were limited, so we had to make some choices.

    The pistols were our highest priority, since we still had a few other muskets from the same period at Dunster, but no pistols. One of the muskets (lot 518) seemed to have had a bit more restoration work done to it since leaving Dunster in the 1970s, whereas the other one (517) was in a more original condition. So we decided to do a modest bid on the less restored musket and concentrate most of our firepower (!) on the pistols, especially since Brian Godwin had advised that those were quite rare and would attract more interest.

    In the end we didn’t get the musket but we did get the pistols, a reasonably good result and a good use of the available funds.

    One nice additional bit of news is that Brian was contacted by a private US collector before the sale who asked him if the National Trust was going for the pistols. When Brian said we were he very gallantly responded that in that he case he wouldn’t bid on them. So we extend out sincere thanks to this anonymous supporter.

  5. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    What decadent plasterwork and carvings on the stairs… beautiful photos…enjoyed very much dahhhling.

  6. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    The Glorious Revolution, as an expression, always intrigues me. Was it a real revolution? And how glorious was it? Not that the Immortal Seven didn’t do well… they certainly did. But the good Lords Shrewsbury, Devonshire etc were just a bit sneaky and hardly had the ringing endorsement of the entire population.

    Francis Luttrell was very wise, repairing and refurbishing Dunster Castle instead of riding off into battle. There had already been enough damage during the Civil War which was within the living memory of the older citizens.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    HRH, thanks, although I doubt that Francis Luttrell, man of action that he was, would have thought of himself as ‘decadent’ :)

    Helen, yes it does depend how you look at it, and the term Glorious Revolution was of course coined by those who benefitted from it. To them it was ‘glorious’ because an absolutist and catholic monarch (James II) was overthrown and a protestant and constitutional one (William III) was invited in.

    Of course there was a lot of self-interest, manoeuvering and jumping on bandwagons on the part of those aristocrats supporting this ‘revolution’, but equally the end result was a significant shift away from absolute monarchy towards the primacy of an elected Parliament.

    Like so many, Francis Luttrell was neither on one extreme or the other: he refurbished his house as well as going to war, and he had been a loyal subject of the Crown but then joined William of Orange when the opportunity presented itself.

  8. style court Says:

    Emile, I’m intrigued by the yellow paint (or oxidation?) on the gatehouse. Wonderful sense of pattern in that image.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, it’s the local Somerset lichen colonising the old gatehouse doors – a bit of English wabi :) Nice to know it appeals to the ‘goût Barnes’ :)

  10. style court Says:

    Ah, lichen! Definitely English wabi :)

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