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.