The private side of the public purse

Detail of the Lord Chancellor's purse of office at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I was wrong when I said earlier that we didn’t have good photographs of purses of office in National Trust collections. There are some excellent images of the Lord Chancellor’s purse, worn and tarnished but still an extraordinary example of the embroiderer’s art, that belonged the Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke (1690-1764), at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.

The Lord Chancellor's purse on display at Wimpole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 1st Earl started out as an able and ambitious lawyer and politician and he went on to contribute to successive Whig governments. He was influential in shaping of the law of equity and the legal definition of marriage in England and Wales.

Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwick, as Lord Chancellor, by the Reverend James Wills (fl. 1746– d. 1777), c. 1740, at Erddig, inv. no. 1151294. His purse of office is propped up behind him. © National Trust Collections

He ended up being one of the longest-serving Lord Chancellors. It is said King George II did not recognise him after he left office since he had never before seen him without his robes of state and full wig.

Detail of the tarnished gold and silver thread on an angel's face on the Lord Chancellor's purse at Wimpole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Hardwicke purchased Wimpole in 1740 as a country house suited to his personal and dynastic ambitions. He employed the architect Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the house, which retains its external appearance from that time.

The south front of Wimpole Hall and St Andrew's parish church, both rebuilt by Henry Flitcroft for the 1st Earl of Hardwicke. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Wimpole was also the setting for Hardwicke’s growing family, especially during convivial late summer gatherings.  But then ‘family’ was often the equivalent of ‘business’ in the eighteenth century.

Portrait by Alan Ramsay of Jemima, Marchioness Grey and Countess of Hardwicke, the 1st Earl's daughter-in-law and a social networker in her own right. Inv. no. 207812.1 ©National Trust Images/Roy Fox

Hardwicke’s eldest son Philip married Jemima, Marchioness Grey, and they lived at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. His eldest daughter Elizabeth married Admiral Anson who, when he wasn’t sailing the globe, lived at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. Their distant Yorke cousins were based at Erddig, in Wrexham. The extended family was a power network as well as a social network (as I also touched on in this earlier post).

10 Responses to “The private side of the public purse”

  1. style court Says:

    Emile, I can’t get over the sculptural quality of the purse. The details are in such high relief.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes it is amazing isn’t it?. I personally find those angel heads a bit menacing, but that is probably just my over-active imagination :)

  3. Hammond-Harwood House Says:

    We have a portrait of the 1st Earl painted by Thomas Hudson on display at the Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Maryland. In the portrait, his privy purse is sitting on the table next to him.

  4. Susan Walter Says:

    The ribcages on the beasts are a very nice touch and very skilful.

  5. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    The close-up of the purse is a real treat. I have enlarged the painting of the Earl of Hardwick to get a better look at the original, and can see that it must have been truly dazzling!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    HHH, how fascinating. Was it owned by the Harwood family? Did they have some kind of connection with the Yorkes? Or does it have some other provenance? Perhaps you could do a post about it on your interesting blog.

    As it happens, the National Trust has a Hudson portrait of the 1st Earl too, but I showed the Erddig portrait instead because the image we have of that one is better.

    The Wimpole Hudson shows Hardwicke sitting in a red-upholstered chair, a document in his left hand and the purse behind him to his left – does that sound similar to your portrait?

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan, yes the details are great – including the bulging cheeks of those totemic angels!

    Mark, indeed: an accessory that almost outshines the main costume – Coco Chanel would not have approved :)

  8. Larisa Says:

    Just read “Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques” and am surprised this work wasn’t shown. This purse is truly a mixed media sculpture!!

    Thank you for sharing.

  9. style court Says:

    Emile, it’s not your imagination. The ‘floating’ heads are rather spooky :)

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Larisa, I think this type of raised embroidery is sometimes called stumpwork, which you can also find as the decoration for boxes and sometimes framed as pictures.

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