The locket and the coffer

Silver locket with a portrait in gold of Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester (1640-1660). ©Holloway's

Last week we managed to purchase two seventeenth-century objects with a connection to Ham House, Surrey. The locket and the strongbox were being sold in an auction at Holloway’s, Banbury, and have a provenance from the Tollemache family, who descended from Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale (1628-1698).

Strong-box dating from the 1670s, with a provenance from the Tollemache family. ©Holloway's

The locket commemorates the death of Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the short-lived youngest son of King Charles I, and may originally have contained a lock of his hair. During the Civil War Henry was captured by the Parliamentarian forces and for a while he was brought up by guardians appointed by Parliament. Partly as a result of this he became a staunch Protestant.

Walnut strong-box mounted in brass, c. 1675, on a c. 1730 stand, in the Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Henry returned to London when his eldest brother Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, but he died of smallpox shortly afterwards. It was later remarked that, had he lived, he would have been an acceptable alternative as king to his brother, the Catholic James II, who was ousted in 1688.

The Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham, showing another strongbox next to the fireplace. ©NTPL/John Hammond

William Murray, the first Earl of Dysart, who remodelled the interiors of Ham in the late 1630s, had grown up with Charles I and was an influential member of his court. His daughter Elizabeth stayed loyal to the Stuarts during the Interregnum, secretly conspiring for the return of Charles II. The locket may have belonged to her, but its precise significance is not yet clear.

The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely. ©NTPL/John Bethell

After Elizabeth married the Duke of Lauderdale in 1672 more enlargements and refurbishments were put in train at Ham. The strongbox purchased last week is very similar to one still at Ham House and recorded as being in the Duchess’s Bedchamber in the 1683 inventory.

©NTPL/John Hammond

These strongboxes fulfilled an important function in keeping money, valuables and important documents secure in seventeenth-century houses where there was very little privacy.  The locket and the coffer are rather potent objects, both for what they contained and for what they symbolised.

6 Responses to “The locket and the coffer”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Love the locket. JBC visited this weekend, & you were surely here as well.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    In spirit, indeed!

  3. style court Says:

    I’m intrigued by the metalwork on these boxes. The recently acquired one reminds of a show on view now at the Met — “Thinking Outside the Box.” European cases from 1500–1900 are highlighted.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that Courtney ({E4664998-2D45-4768-9765-676346143DA6}), that is a fascinating selection from their holdings. This particular type of box was previously considered to be French, but is now thought to be English.

  5. Aletta Welensky Says:

    Emile, I love them both, is the round blob on the locket a skull? The box in the last picture is my favourite – such incredible workmanship.


  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes I should have explained: The inscription reads “H[enry] D[uke] of Gloster” together with a skull and crossed bones, which in combination with the heart shape of the box presumably means “In memory of the late lamented Henry, Duke of Gloucester”.

    The metalwork on those boxes was originally intended to make it more difficult to break them open, but here it seems to have developed more of a decorative than a practical function.

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