11 October 2012

Duchess of Norfolk's toilet set: 1708

The Shireburnes were an extremely successful and well connected fam­ily in Lancashire. Richard Shireburne, who fought the Scots and was knighted, married at 15 and was friendly with Henry Vlll, Edward Vl, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Despite remaining a Catholic after the conversion of the nation to Anglicanism, Shireburne was a Member of Parliament and rebuilt Stonyhurst in Lancashire on a Grand Scale, holding it for an impressive 57 years. He was succeeded by another Richard Shireburne who, amongst his other roles, governed the Isle of Man. 

But later generations of Shireburnes were less fortunate. Re­cusancy was the state of those who refused to attend Anglican ser­vic­es, so although the family was rich, they still faced the possibility of fines and property confiscation. Or worse. The Last of the Shireburnes: the art of death and life in Recusant Lancashire, 1660-1754 tells that, somehow, successive Shireburne lords of Stonyhurst grew in self-confidence and created substantial networks of kinship, power and patronage from their Northern stronghold.

The family dominated the land­scape and local politics of N.E Lanc­ash­ire for more than a century, through their lavish building projects and increasing adher­ence to Catholicism. Defying notions of Catholic reticence and poverty, by the early 1680s the family already achieved an impressive local accumulation of estates in Lancashire, Northum­berland, Yorkshire, Isle of Man, Bloomsbury and Preston. Sir Nicholas Shireburne (1658-1717) imported paintings, furniture and carvings from South and East Asia, and amassed a large personal library.

Tragedy didn’t strike until 1702 when the last male child in the family died and the direct male blood line of the Shireburne family ended. How important was it therefore that Sir Nicholas Shireburne of Stonyhurst succeeded in propelling his family into the top rung of the English aristocracy with the marriage of his now-ONLY child and daughter Maria Shireburne, to the Duke of Norfolk. A dynastic coup!

Duchess of Norfolk’s Toilet Service, by Benjamin Pyne (1648 -1732), London, 1708 
The set comprises a table mirror, bowl, pitcher, caskets, boxes and brushes. 

A full silver toilet service was the perquisite of the lady of every noble household and was as much a reflection of her status as the household’s silver dining service was of her husband's. So a toilet service was commissioned by Sir Nicholas and given to the Duke of Norfolk as part of his 16 year old daughter Maria’s dowry in 1708. Sir Nicholas recorded in his Acc­ounts with Goldsmiths Ledger in Jan 1709: “bill payable to Mr Benjamin Pyne of £702 for his daughters double set of gilt dressing plate”. So expensive was his double set of gilt dressing plate that he had to pay it off in instalments. 

Two of the 34 pieces in detail - pitcher and bowl

But look what he got for his £702: “A toilet of gilt plate consisting of two large comb boxes, one looking glass with a plate frame, one square box with a pincushion on the top, two glass bottles with muzells and bottoms of plate, two oval porringers with covers, two round powder boxes, two round patch boxes, two oval brushes, two comb brushes, two pomatum potts, two little cupps with covers and salvers, pair of large candlesticks, pair of hand candlesticks, pair of snuffers with snuff pan and extinguisher, a bason and ewer, a plummet, a bell.” 34 pieces of Queen Anne silver in stunning, understated English taste!

With the separation of the Duke and Duchess in 1729, it was agreed that the Duchess was to have the use of the said jewels and toilet set for her natural life, and that the set be returned to the Nor­folks on her death. This stipulation was complied with, in 1754. The set remained with the Dukes of Norfolk until sold to Rundell Bridge and Rundell in 1818 who sold the service to Lord Lonsdale. The service was sold by the Lon­sdale family in 1947 at Christie’s in London, and resold in 1982 to another family. 

In 2012 Hawkins and Hawkins of Tasmania and Scotland sold the 32-piece toilet service by Benjamin Pyne for £1.5 million. The service went to a private overseas buyer, and although I think the price was totally insane, I still wish it was me.


Andrew said...

I'm sure there is a connection to Alnwick Castle, but it won't quite come to me.

Deb said...

Why on earth did the Duke and Duchess separate? You would think that their mutual love of high status and high income would keep them together. Who got Stonyhurst?

columnist said...

Now that is a worthy toilet set! Both prices you quote, the C18th and the C20th are staggering, but they do not entirely surprise me. Like you, I could find a small space to accommodate the pieces here!

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I don't think that price is really too high for a set of this apparent rarity, completeness, condition and provenance. It also has a great deal of eye-appeal, as you suggest.

The small Queen Anne silver pieces remind me of the miniature Queen Anne porringer that was used to such comic effect in the E.F. Benson Lucia stories.
--Road to Parnassus

lostpastremembered said...

Oh my, that picture of the set just took my breath away. It is such a beauty and that it is so complete... wow.

Thanks for sharing.

Hels said...


The Dukes of Norfolk owned Framlingham Castle, Bungay Castle, Clun Castle, Arundel Castle, Worksop Manor, Carlton Towers, Norfolk House in London. They were rich, well connected and Catholic.

The Dukes of Northumberland owned Alnwick Castle, Syon House in Brentford, the old Northumberland House in the Strand etc etc. They were rich, well connected and Protestant.

Hels said...


I suspect Mary, the Duchess, was way too Catholic and pro-Jacobite for her husband, Thomas Howard 8th Duke of Norfolk. They died childless, so the title and estates went to Thomas' brother Edward.

Stonyhurst was inherited by Mary's cousin, Thomas Weld in 1754 and thence to the Jesuits.

Hels said...


Mary brought £30,000 in her dowry when she married, so housekeeping money was not an issue. But she was only 16; the decision to spend a fortune on the toilet set was solely her father's. Staggering!

Hels said...


I am glad you raised the issue of Queen Anne silver art objects. Olympia Art Antiques noted that this is the most important surviving complete suite of fully documented English Queen Anne silver made by an English silversmith, as distinct from a Huguenot, in the best tradition of British understated taste.

However Huguenot silver in my opinion was heavier, better made and more elegant than English silver in the Queen Anne era, not less understated.

Hels said...


I thought the 30 piece Art Deco sterling silver and cut glass vanity set, hallmarked by Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co Ltd, 1930 was stunning. Especially since each piece was finely enamelled with a Royal portrait medallion (see http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/princely-art-deco-furniture-in-india.html)

But the elegant craftsmanship of Benjamin Pyne's set brings tears to my eyes.

peter said...

The Dukes of Norfolk were, and still are, the leading Catholic noble family in England. Their London home was situated between the River Thames and where the Australian High Commission is today, next to what is now King's College London. The streets in this area are named after the family and its associated titles - eg, Arundel, Sussex, Maltravers.

Hels said...


that is absolutely so. So it is not surprising that the very Catholic Shireburnes would want to marry their only child into a high status, Catholic, ennobled family.

What IS surprising is that they separated because Mary Shireburne was/became way too Catholic and pro-Jacobite for her husband, Thomas Howard.

Perhaps I am wrong about the reason for their permanent separation. I hope so.