In 1688 James II, the Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was ousted by parliament in the Glorious Revolution and fled to exile in France. James did not, however, quietly relinquish his claim to the throne, and immediately began plotting his return. So began a political and military struggle that would last for almost sixty years as the Stuart dynasty sought to reclaim its lost kingdoms.
Throughout the years of struggle in exile, the Stuarts continued to have many supporters in England and Scotland. Because their support was treasonous, the Stuart sympathisers – the Jacobites – instituted, among other things, the practice of drinking toasts to their king ‘over the water’ in glasses engraved with coded symbols that reflected their loyalties. Often a glass of wine would be held above a bowl or glass of water as a toast to the health of the king was offered; thus literally toasting the king over the water.
The National Gallery of Victoria possesses an extensive and important collection of these rare glasses, many of them generous gifts from the Morgan family of Melbourne. Kings Over the Water explores the fascinating hidden symbolism of these beautiful objects created as part of a doomed political adventure, the tragic history of which continues to cast a romantic spell to this day.
The NGV’s outstanding collection of Jacobite glass derives largely from a single collection, that of Mr G. Gordon Russell of Sydney. The Gordon Russell Collection numbers some 372 pieces consisting mainly of British drinking glasses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also including some noteworthy Dutch and Venetian glass. Mr Russell began his glass collection in the early 1950s. Acquired with great discrimination and care, it includes many glasses from well-known and old collections acquired mainly through Mr Howard Phillips of London. Mr Phillips, a specialist in English glass, was of great assistance to Mr Russell in seeking out pieces for the superb collection of Jacobite glass. This material forms the most complete and specialised part of the collection, incorporating many objects of great rarity.
The acquisition of the Gordon Russell Collection by the NGV was made possible by an extremely generous gift: the William and Margaret Morgan Endowment. This endowment was formed specifically to acquire Gordon Russell’s collection of glass in its entirety. The collection came into the Gallery’s holdings in two parts – the first arrived in 1968, the second in 1973. The endowment has also acquired glass which complements the Gordon Russell Collection. The Morgan family continues to generously support this area of the collection and in 2011 gifted a rare Jacobite punchbowl to the Gallery.
The circumstances surrounding the manufacture of Jacobite glass remains somewhat obscure. The majority of authentic glasses that survive appear to be the work of around only five engravers active in the mid 1740s.
It was long assumed in the literature on Jacobite glasses that the majority were produced between around 1750 and 1760, in the years following the failed attempt in 1745 by James III’s eldest son, Crown Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), to seize the thrones of England and Scotland by military force. This implied that most Jacobite glasses were nostalgic in nature, produced at a time when any real hope of a Stuart restoration had faded. This dating was based on assumptions regarding the increased currency of certain glass forms in the wake of the 1745 Excise Act, as well as on the assumption that specific Jacobite mottos and emblems were derived from Jacobite medals struck in the 1750s. These assumptions, however, have been shown to be unfounded. Mottos and slogans in support of a cause, such as those engraved on Jacobite glassware, usually appear when the success or failure of that cause is in the balance: logically we would expect the majority of Jacobite glasses to be produced in the years just either side of the 1745 uprising. A late dating contradicts the expectations for objects with such a clearly political, propagandistic function.
It is also interesting to note that almost no Jacobite glasses by the five major engravers are known to possess enamel twist stems. Such stems were not introduced in England until 1747–48. This suggests that Jacobite engraving of glass ceased around the time that enamel twist glasses were introduced, in the years immediately following 1745.
The vast majority of Jacobite glasses are wheel-engraved, a relatively new decorative technique to England in the 1740s using small copper wheels attached to spindles to engrave the surface of the glass, as well as linseed oil and fine emery powder mixture as an abrasive. Because skilled wheel-engravers could only be found in London in the mid 1740s, it is assumed that the Jacobite glasses were produced there. These were presumably made to order in leading London glass workshops for clients with Jacobite sympathies.
That glasses bearing treasonous emblems were produced in London, seat of the Hanoverian dynasty in England, might at first seem surprising. The government of the day, however, appears to have initially regarded the Stuarts and their Jacobite supporters as being of little threat. When the glasses were first produced, the authorities were probably happy to overlook them as symbols of a harmless political movement largely restricted to drinking clubs. The government’s ignorance of the sympathisers’ intentions is suggested by the savagery with which they were treated in the wake of the 1745 armed insurrection.
Jacobite glasses were decorated with engraved cryptic symbols and mottos which, to those who understood their coded messages, spoke of the drinker’s loyalty to the Stuart dynasty. By far the most common symbol was the six-petalled white heraldic rose, an ancient emblem of the Stuarts. The white rose also had connotations of strict legitimacy. Its adoption by James III as his personal badge was particularly appropriate as rumours of his illegitimacy had been circulated by political enemies since his birth.
On its own, the white rose is believed to have stood for the exiled king. A rose bud to the right of the rose represented his heir apparent, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. A second rosebud, to the left of the rose, represented Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, Princes Charles’s younger brother. When there are two rosebuds, that representing Prince Charles is often larger and on the verge of opening. Other emblems employed include:
A further important group of Jacobite glasses are those decorated with portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. These portraits, either engraved or, more rarely, executed in enamels, abandon the principle of coded meaning found in other Jacobite symbols and instead openly declare the political loyalties of their original owners.
Many Jacobite glasses feature cryptic mottos which make veiled reference to the exiled Stuarts’ cause and the hope for their rapid return to power. Some of these mottos, and their meaning, are as follows:
Perhaps the most famous, and among the earliest, Jacobite glasses are the so-called ‘Amen glasses’. These are engraved with a crown, representing the Stuart kingship, and one or more verses of the Jacobite Royal Anthem – sung to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’ – all of which conclude with the word Amen (Let it be thus). The anthem probably dates back to the time of James II, its reference to the ‘true-born Prince of Wales’ being a refutation of the rumours surrounding the legitimacy of James III’s birth.
Some thirty-seven Amen glasses are known, two of which belong to the NGV. The majority of Amen glasses are engraved with the first two verses of the Jacobite anthem, and a smaller number with the first three or four verses. Analysis of the handwriting on genuine extant Amen glasses suggests that they are all the work of a single hand, and were all executed between 1743 and 1749. The artist concerned has been identified as Scottish line-engraver Sir Robert Strange. Strange trained as an engraver in Edinburgh, joined the Jacobite army in 1745, married ardent Jacobite Isabella Lumisden in 1747 and moved to France in 1748. He returned to England in 1750 and pursued a highly successful career as an artist.