Friend or Foe

For centuries, understanding enemies and forging alliances has been an essential component of statecraft. The Monarchy’s role in this complex process is explored through objects spanning almost 650 years.

The Queen in the ATS

The Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS) was formed by order of King George VI in September 1938. At her own insistence, the King’s elder daughter Princess Elizabeth (HM The Queen) joined the ATS in March 1945, aged 18, as a Subaltern. By the end of the war later the same year she had reached the rank of Junior Commander, having completed her course at No. 1 Mechanical Training Centre of the ATS, and passed out as a fully qualified driver.

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87)

The Scottish Ambassador, Sir James Melville, recorded in 1564 a visit to Queen Elizabeth’s court, when the Queen: ‘took me to her bed-chamber, and opened a little cabinet, wherein were divers little pictures wrapped within paper, and their names written with her own hand upon the papers.’ One of the treasures revealed to Melville was a miniature of Mary, Queen of Scots, possibly the present item.

Melville’s account reveals the way in which such small-scale images were sequestered in cabinets for private enjoyment, if not worn on the body in lockets or ‘portrait-boxes’.  They were intended to celebrate a unique relationship between the sitter and the recipient, and were quite different from the full-scale formal portraits intended for public display.  The close family ties that bound Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, would be sufficient to account for Elizabeth’s desire to possess a portrait of her younger cousin. Elizabeth’s interest in Mary’s appearance seems to have taken a keener form, however, and her repeated questions to the Scottish Ambassador over which queen had the finest hair and was the fairest suggests a degree of rivalry which points to the complexity of their relations.

Painted by the French court painter, François Clouet, in watercolour on vellum, the miniature perhaps dates to 1558, when Mary, Queen of Scots married the French Dauphin, the future Francis II.  This is suggested by her action of placing her wedding ring on the fourth finger of her right hand.  Mary had been betrothed to the Dauphin since the age of five and had been raised at the French court in anticipation of her future role as a French royal consort.  The marriage was shortlived, and on Francis’s death in 1560, Mary returned to Scotland to take up her throne. The miniature is one of the few images in the canon of surviving portraits of Mary to convey her famous natural beauty; her later portraits tended towards the stylised, particularly after her execution in 1587.

The Exeter Salt

For many years this salt was thought to be a model of the White Tower (part of the Tower of London). It is, in fact, the only surviving work of the Hamburg goldsmith Johann Hass. The salt was presented to Charles II on his Restoration by the Parliamentarian stronghold of Exeter, as a gift of propitiation. It was probably supplied by Richard Bradshaw, Resident in Hamburg, who undertook a failed embassy to Moscow on behalf of the Commonwealth in 1658, and acquired a number of gifts for the embassy. When the mission failed, he returned the items to London, where they were purchased by the royal goldsmith, Thomas Vyner. The jewelled mounts were added by Vyner in time for Charles II’s coronation banquet in 1661. The salt has become known as the Salt of State and has been used at all coronations since that date. The windows of the salt were enamelled in 1821 for the coronation banquet of George IV.

Edward III's Sword

This giant two handed sword is most likely to be a bearing sword used as a symbol of Edward III's power and authority, as well as a reminder to all of his defence of the Church. It would be carried before the King or his representative as a sword of state, being held in processions point upwards towards heaven.

Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 1348 to unite the most powerful 25 knights in the country and create a strong alliance based on Arthurian ideals of chivalry. This sword is one expression of those ideals and helped Edward III project his might.

The sword may have hung with the King's helm above his garter stall in St George’s Chapel, and, after his death, would have been offered to the altar and hung above his tomb. This is probably why this sword has survived to the present day; incredibly its history at St George’s Chapel can be traced back through documents to 1384.

This sword with its connections to St George’s Chapel and the Order of the Garter is a powerful reminder to us, as well as to Edward III’s allies and enemies, of his might, rule, devotion to God and Church and to chivalric ideals.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

This painting celebrates the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais (7-24 June, 1520). The painting contains three portraits of the English king: riding on horseback in the left foreground; watching the jousting in a tournament field in the right-hand distance and, most importantly, meeting Francis I in the gold tent in the centre background.

The painting is not recorded in the 1542 inventory of Henry VIII but this might be because it was set into the walls of Whitehall Palace. It was probably commissioned by Henry VIII to commemorate the lavish event and to emphasise the richness of the English camp in comparison with the smaller-seeming French camp in the distance.

The canvas around Henry VIII’s head has been cut out and replaced with an ‘updated’ portrait, probably following Holbein’s 1537 portrait-type (from the Whitehall Mural).
The painting has historical and physical inaccuracies (for example the procession riding through a gateway has no realistic point of exit) but gives an idea of the magnificently lavish English camp, with a temporary palace and fountains spurting wine and beer, as well as a jousting field and a firework in the shape of a salamander.

Queen Victoria and descendants

This photograph was acquired by Queen Victoria for her series of albums titled ‘Portraits of Royal Children’. It shows her surrounded by descendants from across Europe, assembled for the wedding of Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (the daughter of Queen Victoria’s son, Alfred) and the Grand Duke of Hesse (the son of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Alice). Sitting with the Queen is her eldest daughter Victoria, now Dowager German Empress, with her eldest son, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia are also in the group. The photograph represents Queen Victoria’s position as the ‘grandmother’ of Europe, at the moment before family alliances began to collapse and Europe eventually erupted in war in 1914.

Learning resources to accompany the series have been developed in partnership with BBC Schools. These can be accessed on the BBC's Famous people website.

To listen to The Art of Monarchy series, please visit the BBC Radio 4 site.


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