Page images

£3000 by Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III.

In 1663 " two well-intended statutes " were made: one for the encouragement of the linen and tapestry manufactures of England, and discouragement of the importation of foreign tapestry:—and the other —start not, fair reader—the other "for regulating the packing of herrings." *

* "The rich tapestry and arras hangings which belonged to St. James's Palace, Hampton Court, Whitehall, and other Royal Seats, were purchased for Cromwell: these were inventoried at a sum not exceeding £30,000. One piece of eight parts at Hampton Court was appraised at £8,260 : this related to the History of Abraham. Another often parts, representing the History of Julius Caesar, was appraised at £5019."




"And storied loves of knights and courtly dames,
Pageants and triumphs, tournaments and games."

Rose's Partenopex.

It has been a favourite practice of all antiquity to work with the needle representations of those subjects in which the imagination and the feelings were most interested. The labours of Penelope, of Helen, and Andromache, are proverbial, and this mode of giving permanency to the actions of illustrious individuals was not confined to the classical nations. The ancient islanders used to work—until the progress of art enabled them to weave the histories of their giants and champions in Tapestry; and the same thing is recorded of the old Persians; and this furniture is still in high request among many Oriental nations, especially in Japan and China. The royal palace of Jeddo has profusion of the finest Tapestry; this indeed is gorgeous, being wrought with silk, and adorned with pearls, gold, and silver.

It was considered a right regal offering from one prince to another. Henry III., King of Castile, sent a present to Timour at Samarcand, of Tapestry which was considered to surpass even the works of Asiatic artists in beauty: and when the religious and military orders of some of the princes of France and Burgundy had plunged them into a kind of crusade against the Turkish Sultan Bajazet, and they became his prisoners in the battle of Nicopolis, the King of France sent presents to the Sultan, to induce him to ransom them; amongst which Tapestry representing the battles of Alexander the Great was the most conspicuous.

Tapestry was not used in the halls of princes alone, but cut a very conspicuous figure on all occasions of festivity and rejoicing. It was customary at these times to hang ornamental needlework of all sorts from the windows or balconies of the houses of those streets through which a pageant or festal procession was to pass; and as the houses were then built with the upper stories far overhanging the lower ones, these draperies frequently hung in rich folds to the ground, and must have had, when a street was thus in its whole length appareled and partly roofed by the floating streamers and banners above—somewhat the appearance of a suite of magnificent saloons.

"Then the high street gay signs of triumph wore,
Covered with shewy cloths of different dye,

Which deck the walls, while Sylvan leaves in store,
And scented herbs upon the pavement lie.

Adorned in every window, every door,
With carpeting and finest drapery;

But more with ladies fair, and richly drest

In costly jewels and in gorgeous vest."

When the Black Prince entered London with King John of France, as his prisoner, the outsides of the houses were covered with hangings, consisting of battles in tapestry-work.

And in tournaments the lists were always decorated " with the splendid richness of feudal power. Besides the gorgeous array of heraldic insignia near the Champions' tents, the galleries, which were made to contain the proud and joyous spectators, were covered with tapestry, representing chivalry both in its warlike and its amorous guise: on one side the knight with his bright faulchion smiting away hosts of foes, and on the other side kneeling at the feet of beauty."

But the subjects of the tapestry in which our ancestors so much delighted were not confined to bond fide battles, and the matter-of-fact occurrences of everyday life. Oh no! The Lives of the Saints were frequently pourtrayed with all the legendary accompaniments which credulity and blind faith could invest them with. The ''holy and solitary" St. Cuthbert would be seen taming the sea-monsters by his word of power: St. Dunstan would be in the very act of seizing the "handle " of his Infernal Majesty's face with the red-hot pincers; and St. Anthony in the " howling wilderness," would be reigning omnipotent over a whole legion of sprites. Here was food for the imagination and taste of our notable greatgrandmother! Yet let us do them justice. If some of their religious pieces were imbued even to a ridiculous result, with the superstitions of the time, there were others, numberless others, scripture pieces, as chaste and beautiful in design, as elaborate in execution. The loom and needle united indeed brought these pieces to the highest perfection, but many a meek and saintly Madonna, many a lofty and energetic St. Paul, many a subdued and touching Magdalene were produced by the unaided industry of the pious needlewoman. Nay, the whole Bible was copied in needlework; and in a poem of the fifteenth century, by Henry Bradshaw, containing the Life of St. Werburgh, a daughter of the King of the Mercians, there is an account(: rather historical than legendary,"* of many circumstances of the domestic life of the time. Amongst other descriptions is that of the tapestry displayed in the Abbey of Ely, on the occasion of St. Werburgh taking the veil there. This Tapestry belonged to king Wulfer, and was brought to Ely Monastery for the occasion. We subjoin some of the stanzas:—

"It were full tedyous, to make descrypcyon
Of the great tryumphes, and solempne royalte,
Belongynge to the feest, the honour and provysyon,
By playne declaracyon, upon every partye;
But the sothe to say, withouten ambyguyte,
All herbes and flowres, fragraunt, fayre, and swete,
Were strawed in halles, and layd under theyr fete.

"Clothes of golde and arras f were hanged in the hall
Depaynted with pyctures, and hystoryes manyfolde,
Well wroughte and craftely, with precious stones all
Glysteryng as Phebus, and the beten golde,
Lyke an erthly paradyse, pleasaunt to beholde:
As for the said moynes,J was not them amonge,
But prayenge in her cell, as done all novice yonge.

* Warton.

f Airas, a very common anachronism. After the jroduction of the arras tapestries, arras became the common name for all tapestries: even for those which were wrought before the looms of Arras were in existence.

J Moynes—nun. Lady Werburg

« PreviousContinue »