Secret Symbolism

The Art of Jacobite Glassware

Many movements, both national and political, have turned to the world of applied arts to promote their causes and ideals. The power of portraiture and symbolism has been recognised for millennia  - from ancient Egypt to modern political campaigning.   Here we look back just a few centuries to the 1700's and the turmoil of the Jacobite movement's attempts to bring the throne back to the Stuart dynasty.

From early on in the movement effigies in portraits and miniatures showed "The Old Pretender", James Francis Edward Stuart, as a strong military man with a divine right to the throne - features that would continue in depictions of his son, the "Bonnie Prince", Charles Edward Stuart. However, after the defeat at the battle of Culloden in 1746 showing one’s Jacobite support was not only dangerous but a treasonous offence, the Act of Proscription in 1747 had banned tartan, bagpipes and controlled the Jacobite and Scottish identity. Therefore, the ownership of any Jacobite items was a high risk affair and the subtlety of symbolism became key to those continuing to uphold their support.


Iconic Glassware

One of the most iconic, and perhaps unique uses, of this form of expression was the injection of political symbolism into glassware - a collection of which will be offered in the upcoming Scottish Silver & Applied Arts auction on 16 August (lots 406-423). Beautifully crafted objects that would have shown both overtly and invertly the bearer’s support for the cause. The iconography on the glass is on rare occasions obvious, for example with a Royal portrait (lot 409), pieces which no doubt were only owned by the most ardent Jacobites secure in their position not to be caught with such items. However, perhaps most interesting is the plethora of hidden messages within more ‘innocent’ decoration.



Bonnie Prince Charlie glass



The Jacobite Rose

The finely engraved roses around the bowl of a glass may, at first, just seem decorative are actually one of the clearest displays of affiliation with the cause. The Jacobite rose was a commonly used symbol used shown in a variety of forms. In lots 415 & 416 we see the powerful combination of a large open displayed rose head flanked by two buds (one open, the other closed) representing King James VIII (III of England) (the open rose), Prince Charles (the open bud representing his claim and right to the throne) and Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York (the closed bud showing the fact he had renounced his rights and his claim to the throne was now ‘closed’).



jacobite rose


This hidden emblem would have been known and obvious to supporters of the cause but remained hidden from Hanoverian forces and supporters, a fact that perhaps saved the life of the owners. It is believed that if raided whilst meeting and toasting the Stuart King, supporters would ceremoniously throw their glassware into the fire leaving no trace of their ‘treasonous’ support.


The Boscobel Oak

The collection also contains a number of examples showing rarer forms of decoration - from the very simple Jacobite toast of ‘Down with the Rump’ engraved in diamond point to another wise plan glass (lot 411) to glasses which speak of the origins of the Stuart claim. This is best seen in the very rare Boscobel Oak engraved glass, lot 412.

The presence of an oak tree or leaf in Jacobite symbolism is itself not rare - whether the oak leaf (a symbol of the Stuart Clan), the acorn (showing mighty things start from small beginnings) or even the stricken oak with its green shoots emanating (showing that things can be re-born from considered lost causes) - it is the presence of the famed Boscobel Oak on this glass that takes the viewer deeper into Stuart history and legend.



Boscobel oak glass



The story of the Boscobel Oak goes back to the Stuart monarch King Charles II who, during the Commonwealth uprising and after the battle of Worchester in 1651, had to flee for his life. With Cromwellian forces in pursuit, he and Colonel William Careless tried to make their escape only to have to hide in the boughs of an ancient oak tree. Safe in this hiding place, they made their escape afterwards.


Boscobel oak glass



The iconography of this glass not only shows the tree, a symbol of the Stuart monarch but, importantly, the three crowns to which he laid claim: England, Scotland and Ireland. The potent symbolism demonstrates the original owner's strong allegiance to the Jacobite cause and the rightful monarchy. Boscobel Oak glasses are an extremely rare type and this example is, undoubtedly, one of the finest to survive.


The Bruce of Cowden Glass

It is not the decoration on this plain and simple early 18th century style glass that makes it exemplary but the addition of a silver foot. The foot, added by the Stirling goldsmith Patrick Murray, tells a story which not only connects to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, but that of an ordinary supporter who would in the end pay the ultimate price for their support of the Jacobite Cause (see lot 410)

The family legend within the Bruce of Cowden’s is that the glass was preserved after it had been drunk from by Prince Charles. It was common place to break the foot of a glass used by the Prince so that no lesser toast could be given - the engraved foot tells us the Prince toasted his father King James - and in this case, no lesser man could drink from it.


bruce of cowden glass


The foot was created by Patrick Murray who was working in Stirling as early as 1732. Murray, whilst an obvious choice to repair the glass due to his geographical proximity to the family, was also chosen on a more important level as he too was a Jacobite. Indeed, giving this work to a goldsmith and not knowing his leanings could have resulted in the owner's imprisonment for treason.


bruce of cowden glass



Murray is among a small handful of true Jacobite craftsmen not only working for Jacobite sympathisers but taking to the cause himself. Prince Charles' rally in Stirling must have inspired Murray as he signed and served in Lord George Murray's Brigade. Murray's career as a solider was short lived, and less successful than that as a goldsmith, as he was taken prisoner as a Jacobite in November 1745 (possibly under the Surrender Act invoked by Field Marshal George Wade which offered clemency to those who surrendered and became loyal to the Government.)

Whether or not they in fact surrendered under this Act is unknown but Murray would be imprisoned from November 1745 until November 1746, in Airdrie, Perth, Edinburgh Castle and Carlisle, where on 14th November 1746 Patrick Murray was executed for his part in the rebellion. For a fuller discussion on this glass see lot 410.




Dates for the Diary


Viewing - Sunday 13 August 12noon to 4pm | 14 & 15 August 10am to 5pm | Day of Sale from 9am
Auction - Wednesday 16 August | 11am
Meet the Specialist
Colin Fraser | | 0131 557 8844


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