Boars’ Heads tapestry fragments
This is one of three surviving fragments that are among some of the earliest English tapestries in the National Trust’s collections. They date from the late 15th or early 16th century and were probably originally designed as part of a larger hanging, or possibly as cushion covers. The fearsome wild-boar heads with their sharp pointed tusks and a wreath of leaves were designed as part of family heraldry and can be associated with Sir Piers Edgcumbe (1468/9– 1539), who inherited the beautiful estate of Cotehele in Cornwall in 1489. He may have commissioned the tapestries from an English workshop, and they are very rare examples of English heraldic textiles. The tapestries were adapted, or perhaps rescued, in the 18th century, and three fragments were sewn into later Dutch or Flemish tapestries depicting fruit and flowers. This reuse indicates their importance in telling the history of the family dynasty and ensured the survival of these textiles.
Two border fragments with Boars’ Heads, tapestry, wool and silk, 5½ - 7 warps per cm, Flemish and possibly English, c. 1489-1700. A narrow strip of tapestry composed of sections from at least three different tapestries sewn together. The largest sections are part of a tapestry border with small dogs and monkeys playing amongst leaves and flowers on a brown ground. There is a brown galloon along the top edge which probably belongs to this border. Inserted into the brown border at each end are two squares of coarser tapestry with boars’ heads, their necks encircled by leaves, on a red ground with bands of white and pale blue round the edges. Along the bottom edge of the tapestry a narrow strip of border of a third type is sewn on, composed of a central pole bound with crossed ribbons woven in imitation of a carved wooden frame.
Sewn into two unrelated sections of tapestry border at Cotehele House are three small fragments of tapestry, each between 30 and 38 cm square, each one representing a boar’s head. In each case the boar’s mouth is open revealing sharp teeth; long tusks grow from the lower jaw, and bristles stand up along the back of the neck. The heads are cut off at the neck by a wreath formed of two leafy branches entwined, one white and green, the other in two shades of beige. The heads themselves are pale brown and are set on a plain red ground surrounded by a narrow frame in cream and pale blue. Two of the fragments are attached to the same piece of late seventeenth-century border (349249.1), and the third is attached to two sections of narrow red tapestry border that may originally have been associated with the boars' heads (348249.2). The Edgcumbe coat of arms (Gules on a bend Ermine cotised Or, three Boars’ Heads couped Argent) includes three boars’ heads, but they are simply ‘couped’, without any wreath of leaves. Similarly the Edgcumbe crest, as it appeared on the tomb of Sir Richard Edgcumbe (d. 1489), consisted of a boar’s head couped proper, argent on a wreath of gules and or – again there is no wreath of leaves (Jarry and le Lidec 1960). In the early seventeenth century a new crest (still in use today) was adopted by the Edgcumbe family of a whole boar, and this time its neck was wreathed in leaves (Drake and Vivian 1874, pp. 63-65). The boar’s head that appears on the tapestries, with its wreath of leaves, is neither the Edgcumbe crest nor part of the coat of arms, but in fact a badge used by members of the family from at least the late fifteenth century. Whereas it would have been very unusual for a crest to be represented isolated in a frame, as the three heads are on the tapestries, this usage is quite consistent with the display of a badge. The two primary uses of badges in the medieval period were firstly military, appearing on standards and livery, as a rallying point; and secondly decorative, on furniture, plate, architecture and textiles (Powell Siddons 1999, vol. 1, p. 2). The Edgcumbe badge of boar’s head wreathed with leaves is recorded in a number of manuscripts dating from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, some simple collections of badges and some records of standards used in processions of Knights, where the badge appears alongside a crest of a demi-reindeer with three golden antlers (Powell-Siddons 2009, vol. II, pp. 81-4; and see for example de Walden and Ellis 1904, p. 166). At Cotehele a 19th-century replica standard survives which reproduces the form of these manuscript descriptions, with a reindeer crest surrounded by wreathed boars’ head badges. This replica was copied from an actual standard formerly at Cotehele (Mount Edgcumbe 1877, p. 20). All the manuscript records of the boar’s head badge date from the majority of Sir Piers Edgcumbe (1468/9-1539). A boar’s head badge is also used by Sir Piers as a seal on an Entailment made on the second marriage of his son Richard (1499-1562) in 1535; on this document Richard used as a seal a ram’s head, associated with his mother’s family of Durnford (Cornwall Record Office, ME/826). No instances of the use of a boar’s head as a badge by other members of the Edgcumbe family are known, and this strongly suggests that the boars’ head tapestries were commissioned by Sir Piers Edgcumbe, probably between 1489 when he inherited the estates at Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe, and his death in 1539. It is however possible that the tapestries are earlier in date. The boar’s head had long featured in the family’s heraldry (Edgcumbe 1895, p. 20), and it is quite possible that the badge of a boar’s head wreathed in leaves was in use before it was adopted by Sir Piers Edgcumbe. It is also possible that the boar’s head badge continued to be used after the death of Sir Piers in 1539 and the tapestries could potentially date from later in the sixteenth century. The three fragments at Cotehele bear no indication of their place of manufacture. This is by no means unusual, and the origin of heraldic tapestries made for English patrons has consequently been open to debate. The three fragments are woven entirely in wool with a relatively coarse weave and a simple, bold design, and their production would not have required a high level of skill or, if they were originally woven at their present small size, a large loom. It is therefore possible that they were woven at an English workshop. Thomson has shown that there were a large number of workshops operating in England in fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, many of them manned by Flemish weavers (Thomson 1973, pp. 76-83; 137), and Campbell has concluded that these workshops specialized in the production of armorial and decorative tapestries, rather than the more sophisticated figurative hangings imported from the Southern Netherlands (Campbell 2007b, pp. 5-6, 91-2). From the middle of the fourteenth century English Royal Wardrobe accounts record the use of tapestries woven with the badges of royals and noblemen, and this was widespread throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (Powell Siddons 2009, vol. I, pp. 132-36; Campbell 2007b, pp. 5-6, 29, 50, 79-81). Recorded armorial tapestries include entire ‘chambers’ of tapestry wall hangings, and related textiles such as bed hangings, where badges were often used as a repeating decorative motif. Smaller household items such as chair cloths and cushion cloths were also decorated with badges from at least the middle of the fifteenth century. Thomas Campbell has noted in relation to English Royal patronage that the use of tapestry (rather than embroidery) for heraldic textiles was widespread in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but seems to have declined under Henry VIII (Campbell 2007b, pp. 234-5; 326-7). Fewer records survive for non-royal patronage of heraldic textiles, but there are some surviving examples, notably a fragment with the arms of the Scrope family of Masham now in York Minster, dated to c. 1400 (Campbell 2007b, p. 5), and a few more ambitious examples such as the so-called ‘Luttrell Armorial’, a large table carpet representing the various marriage alliances of the Luttrell family, and including flowers used as badges by members of the family, which was at Cotehele from the mid sixteenth century to the mid nineteenth (Wells 1968). Whilst the Luttrell armorial is generally thought to have been executed in the Netherlands, it is often suggested that less sophisticated examples such as the Scrope fragment were executed in Britain. The original appearance of the three fragments remains unclear. Although they show some signs of alteration, the two boars'heads on 348249.2 were originally woven with their narrow two-tone borders. This could indicate that they were woven as individual small squares for use as cushion covers or in some other furnishing context, but it is equally possible that the fragments have been cut out from a much larger piece or pieces, a common fate among the tapestries at Cotehele. Badges were frequently included as subsidiary elements in larger armorial tapestries, for example a panel with the armorial bearings of John Dynham woven in the Southern Netherlands, c. 1488-1501, where the patron’s badge of a warship’s topcast appears sprinkled over the field around his achievement of arms (Cavallo 1993, pp. 273-7). The square two-tone frames on the boars' heads suggests that if the fragments were part of a larger piece they may have been elements in a border. The two sections of red border attached to 348249.1 support this possibility. It is not certain that these two fragments belong with the boar’s heads, but they share the same warp count and like the boars’ heads they are woven entirely in wool, and their design is consistent with the proposed date of the boars’ heads. An interesting comparison for the use of small armorial devices in borders may be made with a tapestry known as the ‘Great Yarmouth Cloth of Estate’, woven in Enghien in around 1542. This panel bears the royal arms in the main field and in the lower border the arms of the town of Great Yarmouth and those of its bailiff in 1542, Gilbert Gryce, with either side of the arms two small roundels with Gryce’s crest of a boar courant (Delmarcel 1980, pp. 22-23). In his description of Queen Anne’s Room in c. 1840 the Rev. Arundell described “Over the door, on three small pieces, is a boar’s head, couped, and the ancient crest of the Edgecumbe family” (Arundell 1840). This suggests that the present disposition of the fragments, split between the Dining Room and the Punch Room, is a relatively new arrangement, and that various sections of border may not have been associated with them for all that long. (Helen Wyld, 2010)
First recorded at Cotehele c. 1840; left at Cotehele when the property was accepted in lieu of tax from Kenelm, 6th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (1873-1965) and transferred to the National Trust in 1947; amongst the contents accepted in lieu of estate duty by H M treasury and transferred to the National Trust in 1974.
Cotehele House, The Edgcumbe Collection (The National Trust)
Makers and roles
possibly English, workshop Flemish, workshop
Campbell, 2007b: Thomas Campbell, Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty: Tapestries at the Tudor Court, New Haven & London 2007 Campbell, 2002: Thomas Campbell (ed.), Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002 Cavallo, 1993: Adolpho S Cavallo, Medieval Tapestries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1993 Hefford, 1991: Wendy Hefford, The Cotehele Tapestries, The National Trust, 1991 (n.p.) Delmarcel, 1980: Guy Delmarcel, Tapisseries Anciennes d’Engien, Mons 1980 Martin, 1976: Bina Elizabeth Martin, Edgcumbes of Edgcumbe: A supplement to ‘Parsons and Prisons’, Fish Hoek, 1976 Thomson, 1973: W G Thomson, A History of Tapestry from the Earliest Times until the Present Day, 3rd edition, Wakefield 1973 Wells, 1968: William Wells, ‘The Luttrell Table Carpet’, Scottish Art Review, vol. 11, no. 3 (1968), pp. 14-18 Jarry and le Lidac, 1960: Bernard Jarry & Paul le Lidec, ‘Le Monument Funéraire à Morlaix d’un Ambassadeur Anglais auprès de la duchesse Anne’, Bulletin de la Société Archéologique de Finistère, 1960, pp. 13-20 Adams, 1933: John Herbert Adams, ‘Landulph Church’, Notes on Churches and Abbeys, no. 56 (1933) Fox-Davies, 1907: Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, Heraldic Badges, London & New York 1907 de Walden and Ellis, 1904: Howard de Walden & Thomas Evelyn Ellis, Banners, Standards and Badges from a Tudor Manuscript in the College of Arms, [intro. Howard de Walden], The de Walden Library, 1904 Edgcumbe, 1895: Edward Robert Pearce Edgcumbe, Family Records relating to the families of Pearce of Holdsworthy, Edgcumbe of Laneast, Eliot of Lostwithiel, Livingstone of Calendar, Reynolds of Exeter, Gayer of Liskeard, and others, Exeter 1895 Jewers, 1889: Arthur J Jewers, Heraldic Church Notes from Cornwall, London 1889 Edgcumbe, 1877: William Henry, 4th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, ‘The Early History of the Family of Mount-Edgcumbe’, Journal of the British Archaeological Society, vol. 33 (1877), pp. 15-22 Drake and Vivian, 1874: Henry H Drake & J L Vivian (eds.), ‘The Visitations of Cornwall, in the year 1620’, London 1874 Arundell, 1840: The Rev. F V J Arundell (illustrated by Nicholas Condy), Cothele, on the banks of the Tamar, London c. 1840