This exceptionally fine box was presented to Francis, Baron North, (1704-90) on his appointment as governor to Frederick’s son, the 11-year old Prince George of Wales, in 1749. The box incorporates North’s crest on the thumbpiece, as well as a portrait miniature of the Prince of Wales by Zincke inside the lid.
The iconography represented on the box seems to relate to North’s role as preceptor to the young prince. The lid and base show scenes of ploughing and harvest – perhaps a reference to North’s work in tilling the ground in preparation for the future harvest when his pupil becomes king. A pelican, the symbol of piety, and a peacock, symbolic of vanity, are incorporated into the design together with the motto Non sibi sed suis (‘not for one’s self but for one’s own’). The chaser of this high quality work has not been identified, although it is possibly the work of an immigrant German or French workman. This item belongs to a small group of finely chased English gold boxes supplied to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in the 1740s.
Francis North was one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber to Frederick, Prince of Wales. As governor to the future king he was expected to ‘go about with Prince George and appear with him in public’ for which he received £1000 a year. Walpole wryly commented to Horace Mann in a letter of November 1790 that ‘Lord North is made governor to Prince George with 1000l. a year, and an Earl’s patent in his pocket, but as the passing of the patent is in the pocket of time it would not sell for much’. However, although on Frederick’s death, North was removed from office as governor to the Prince, he did retain the patent, becoming Earl Guilford in 1752.
Text adapted from The First Georgians; Art and Monarchy 1714 - 1760, London, 2014.