The Castlereagh inkstand
The origins of this magnificent commission are set out in aninscription on the platform of the stand:
‘This inkstand is composed of the gold taken from the portrait snuff boxes which were presented by the sovereigns whose arms are engraven hereon to Viscount Castlereagh upon the signature of the several treaties concluded in the Years 1813, 1814, and 1815’.
France, Austria, Prussia, Russia
On the sides of the stand are engraved, within chased wreaths, 12 further coats of arms, each identified.
On the front, the inscriptions read:
Roman States, Bavaria, Portugal, Saxony, Sardinia, Hanover
On the back:
Sweden, Wurtemberg [sic], Naples, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, was born in 1769, succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Londonderry in 1821 and died 1822. He became Foreign Secretary in 1812, when the power of the French empire under Napoleon extended through its allied states from Madrid to Warsaw. During the next three years Castlereagh strove to build and maintain alliances that would defeat Napoleon. It was a labour that demanded a clear vision, enormous energy and direct personal negotiation on mainland Europe. Even as the military tide turned heavily against Napoleon in the autumn of 1813, the diplomatic war still to be won. Castlereagh sought an alliance that was not 'to terminate with the war', but to remain as a deterrent to 'an attack by France on the European dominions of any one of the contracting parties'.
He has been given the major credit for the Treaty of Chaumont in March 1814, which bound Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom to overthrow Napoleon and remain in alliance for 20 years. He represented Britain in the negotiations for the Treaties of Paris of May 1814 and November 1815, the Treaty of Vienna of June 1815, and the Quadruple Alliance of November 1815. In the Alliance the four allied powers agreed to meet periodically 'for the purpose of consulting upon their common interest and for the consideration of the measures most salutary for the maintenance of the peace of Europe'. Lord Ripon, who accompanied Castlereagh to the Continent in 1813, described the gifts of the great diplomat: ‘the suavity and dignity of his manners, his habitual patience and self-command, his considerate tolerance of difference of opinion in others, all fitted him for such a task; whilst his firmness, when he knew he was right, in no degree detracted from the influence of his conciliatory demeanour’. In the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle, dedicated in the 1830s to those who had defeated Napoleon, the portraits of Castlereagh and Lord Liverpool (Prime Minister from 1812) flank those of George III, George IV and William IV.
As a monument to the tumultuous days that culminated in the defeat of Napoleon and the subsequent rebuilding of Europe, the inkstand ranks with the great silver presentations made to Wellington and his commanders. It is also a testimony to the arts of diplomacy and an appropriate memorial to an indefatigable Foreign Secretary who wrote the majority of his memos in his own hand.
Yet, while the inkstand is magnificent, the grand commission of a statesman who as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons was entertaining foreign ambassadors and the London political world in considerable style, it is also splendidly accessible, offering a guide to the contemporary map of Europe. The countries named on the stand at once raise questions about the fate of individual nations, both those named and those omitted. To explore the Castlereagh Inkstand fully is to examine the roots of some of the central issues of European history in the last 200 years from the story of Poland, to the relative decline of France, and the unification and rise of Germany.
It was thanks to Castlereagh, and to the pressure exerted on him at home by William Wilberforce, that the Congress of Vienna achieved a small, but significant, step towards the ending of the slave trade. After 150 years of profitable slave trading, Britain at last outlawed it in 1807. At the First Peace of Paris in 1814 Castlereagh was unsuccessful in his attempts to secure international agreement. Pressed further by Wilberforce, Castlereagh was determined to do better in Vienna later that year, but he encountered considerable opposition from France, Portugal and Spain. In February 1815 in Vienna he secured a declaration that the trade 'was repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality'. The assembled nations agreed in the 'wish of putting an end to a scourge which had so long desolated Africa, degraded Europe, and afflicted humanity'.
The negotiations in Paris and Vienna were also significant for all who lived in the colonies that were confirmed by treaty as being under British rule. These included St Lucia and Tobago in the West Indies, Mauritius and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and Cape Colony (the former Dutch colony in Southern Africa).
Castlereagh's contribution to the defeat of Napoleon and to the negotiations in Paris and Vienna has been viewed as his greatest triumph, and it this phase of his career which the inkstand specifically commemorates. However, his long career was one of the most controversial in British history. He made his name, and earned the opprobrium of his opponents, by his leading role in carrying the Act of Union through the Irish Parliament by which it was abolished in 1801. He was a highly efficient war secretary, and nurtured the career of the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsula War, but he took the blame for the failure of the Walcheren invasion in 1809. Believing himself to the victim of intrigue he fought a duel with George Canning, the Foreign Secretary, which shocked contemporaries and halted his career until he returned as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons in Lord Liverpool's ministry in 1812.
With both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, in the House of Lords, it fell to Castlereagh to take through the Commons the highly controversial legislation which the Government introduced to combat what it perceived as the threat of revolution. These measures included the suspension of the right of Habeas Corpus (a defence for the citizen against detention without trial) in 1817 and the Six Acts which were passed in response to the reform meeting in Manchester which ended in the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. This earned Castlereagh the hatred of the reformers and their supporters, including the political pamphleteer William Hone. In a page taken from The Man in the Moon (published in December 1819), Hone's text, which is a parody of a royal address to Parliament (the Speech from the Throne), pretends to attack seditious and blasphemous books while George Cruikshank's illustration shows Castlereagh (left), Canning (centre) and Sidmouth (right) threatening a figure of Liberty who is struggling to protect a printing press.
As powerful in maintaining this view of Castlereagh has been the satire of the poets Shelley and Byron. In The Masque of Anarchy, Shelley attacked the butcher whom
he believed lay behind Castlereagh's calm exterior:
'I met Murder on the way-
He had a mask like Castlereagh-
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven bloodhounds followed him:
All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.'
Castlereagh's heavy burden of work as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons (where he continued to sit after he inherited an Irish peerage as Marquess of Londonderry in 1821) appears to have deranged his mind in the summer of 1822. On 12 August at his country house, Cray Farm, in Kent, despite the attentions of those around him, who had removed his razors, he cut his carotid artery with a penknife while standing in his dressing room. The mystery around his final illness is explored by H. Montgomery Hyde in The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh (London, 1959).
In the last hundred years biographers of Castlereagh have included A. Hassall (Viscount Castlereagh, London,1908), H. Montgomery Hyde (The Rise of Castlereagh, London,1933), J. A. R. Marriott (Castlereagh, London, 1936), I. Leigh (Castlereagh, London, 1951) C. J. Bartlett (Castlereagh, London, 1966), J. W. Derry (Castlereagh, London,1976), W. Hinde (Castlereagh, London, 1981) and, in French, A. d'Arjuzon (Castlereagh (Paris,1995). Among Sir Charles Webster's fundamental books on diplomacy in the period are The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1812-15 (London, 1931) and The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh 1815-22 (London, 1925) and British Diplomacy 1813-15 (London, 1921). In 1976 Professor Derry summed up the thrust of much of the 20th century's research and made a powerful case for continuing the work of rehabilitating Castlereagh's reputation:
'Despite the vindication of Castlereagh, both as man and as minister, which has been the cumulative effect of historical research over the past fifty years, his reputation still suffers from the false image projected by radical journalists, romantic poets and defunct popular historians'.
The making of the inkstand
Documents from the Londonderry archives in Durham Record Office (kindly researched by the archivist) provide a detailed insight into the commissioning of the inkstand. A statement of account sent to Viscount Castlereagh in 1819 bears the letterhead of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, of 32 Ludgate Hill, the royal goldsmiths, whose shop was said 'to exceed all others in the British Empire, if not in the whole world, for the value of its contents'. The inkstand was ordered on 21 July 1817:
'A large elegant richly chas'd old standard Gold Inkstand, chas'd handles at the ends, chas'd feet, 2 Vases chas'd, with Coronet on top of the Centres; a richly chas'd Gold Palm Tree for lights with 16 elegant chas'd olive Wreaths for the Arms of the different Sovereigns & 4 d[itt]o on the top: His Majesty's Arms chas'd out in full relief one end & His Lordships the reverse 148 oz 8 dt 12 grs at 86/Pr oz fashion 50/ pr oz & Duty 17/ pr oz'
The cost (the total of the weight of gold multiplied by the cost of making per ounce and the duty per ounce) was £1135 9s 0d. To which was added:
- 'Engraving Arms, Crowns etc. of the Sovereigns in the 16 Compartments & Names below. & Inscription on top very fine: £15 12s -d
- A Mahogany Case Lined with Velvet: £5 15s -d
- A black Plinth silver Gilt rim & inlaid with Buhl Ornaments £41 12s -d'
Major commissions are rarely straightforward, and the inkstand appears to have been no exception. A separate memo from Rundell's explains the history and the reason why the original estimate was exceeded:
'Gold Inkstand The Gold of 21 Boxes was credited in His Lordship's former Account balanced, - in which was brought forward a credit to pay for …the gold Inkstand [£]678. 3s - the idea then was that the Inkstand would weigh 100 oz. - but - by suppressing the 2 small Tripods at the ends, & making a chased Vase to match the then centre, and adding a Palm Tree modeled & chased to the Drawing - the Inkstand completed weighed when finished nearly one half more in gold viz 148 oz & the workmanship increased in proportion so that it came to £1135
- Estimate reserved: £ 678; £457
- The Plinth £41.12s'
In short, the cost substantially exceeded the estimate because the design was changed and the inkstand became heavier and needed additional work. Being a richly worked object, the inkstand commanded the very high fashioning figure of 50s an ounce. It appears that, as originally conceived, it had a central vase between two tripods: it was altered to have the two vases and the palm taper stick now seen. The quality of the chasing and finishing of the inkstand is of the very highest order and can be appreciated to the full since the gold, which does not tarnish, has needed so little cleaning over the years. It has retained the original finishing in a way that would have been impossible with work in silver, on which cleaning would have removed the fine tool marks.
The commission was being handled at the same time as that for the magnificent Garter sword which Rundell's was making for Castlereagh. It appears that the diamonds from the 21 boxes probably went in part into the sword, which in 1854 itself contributed diamonds to the incomparable Londonderry stomacher (both the sword, now partially set with pastes, and stomacher are displayed on loan with the Londonderry Jewels in the Jewellery gallery of the V&A). A box mounted with the portrait of Tsar Alexander I is noted in the accounts as yielding diamonds worth £450 in 1813, and a further group of boxes, which probably included the 21 boxes used for the inkstand, yielded diamonds worth £2020 on 18 July 1817 three days before the inkstand was ordered. Castlereagh's diamond-set Garter insignia, hatband and sword were a striking part of his dashing appearance at the coronation of George IV in 1821. According to Mrs Arbuthnot's Journal, 'the people echoed his name from one to the other the whole length of the platform and received him with repeated cheers. It was unanimously voted that he was the handsomest man in the procession'.
The inkstand bears the marks of Paul Storr, a partner until 1819 in the firm of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, and of Philip Rundell, who first registered his mark on 4 March 1819. The presence of two different date letters (for the hallmark years of 1818-19 and 1819-20) shows that the inkstand commissioned in July 1817 cannot have been completed earlier than 29 May 1819 when the new hallmark year began. All the full sets of marks include the sun in splendour for 22 carat gold (described as 'old standard' in the bill because a second standard for gold, 18 carat, had been introduced in 1798).
Inside the stand, under a wooden block used to add structural strength, the stand is engraved in Latin with the name of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, goldsmiths to King George III, and his son, the Prince of Wales (the future George IV):
'Rundell bridge et Rundell aurifices regis et principis walliae londini'
A bust of Philip Rundell, acquired in 1995 to honour one of the most influential figures in the history of London goldsmithing, presides over the Lecture Room staircase which leads up from the Silver galleries. When he died in 1827, the value of his estate was estimated at about £1,500,000.
The statement of account refers, tantalisingly, to a drawing which is not known to have survived. However, the inkpots on the stand, with their fluted bodies, shell and scroll feet, and oak-leaf sprays, relate directly to a design in the V&A (E.70-1964). The design shows a tureen and comes from an album attributed by Charles Oman in 1966 to the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily, R.A. (1788-1867).
The shell and scroll feet of the stand relate to the feet in a design for a fruit stand in the V&A album and are almost identical to the feet on the stands of silver tureens supplied by Rundell's.
The inkstand is a highly accomplished and entirely characteristic development of one of the house styles in which Rundell's plate was designed. In contrast to the Neo-classical figures and ornament of Flaxman's designs for Rundell's, its roots lie in the French Rococo and in the Roman style with its heavy use of acanthus which owed much to Piranesi.
The foliage and shell feet with oak-leaf sprays go back to tureens by Roëttiers, which would have been known from the designs engraved after Roëttiers in Pierre Germain's Elements d'orfèvrerie (1748), or, less probably, from the tureens in the Berkeley Castle service by Roëttiers of 1737. Happily, the oak leaves combine with the Tudor roses around the platform of the stand and the exuberant palm to celebrate a British triumph.
The oak leaves recall a design sketch by the painter Thomas Stothard, R.A.(1755-1834), in the Tate Gallery, and the comment of his biographer that, in his 'many magnificent designs for chased plate for the sovereign and chief nobility', executed for Rundell's, 'his study of plants was apparent. The delicate bud, the tender leaf of the stems and clusters, were all employed as he had gleaned them in the field of nature' (Mrs Bray, Life of Thomas Stothard, R.A., London, 1851, p. 34).
Yet Stothard's known designs are usually heavy with figurative elements, and it is improbable that he had a hand in the design of the inkstand. The design is in Rundell's synthesis of the Roman and the Neo-rococo manner, which had evolved before Baily began work for Rundell's in 1815. The design can probably be seen most convincingly as the product of Baily working within the Rundell house style and design process.
Further light on the design process is thrown by the revelation of the memo that the highly resolved design which we now see was the direct product of a client-supplier debate which led to the suppression of two tripods, and the addition of a palm tree and a further inkpot. The contributions made by Castlereagh and the designers to this debate must remain a matter of speculation, but are a subject of considerable interest. As far as Castlereagh's original decision to commission an object is concerned, he had ample precedent for the idea of melting down gold boxes to produce grand items engraved with the arms of the donors of the gold boxes. Paul Storr made salvers from Irish freedom boxes for the Duke of Rutland in 1801 and for the Pitt family in 1803, and a plateau for the Duke of Devonshire from Irish boxes in 1813.
It seems likely that Castlereagh was further inspired by the many presentations to the military heroes of the Napoleonic wars, not least to his protégé the Duke of Wellington. In May 1817 Garrard's put on public display the spectacular silver service presented by the Portugese government to Wellington. It may be suggested this could have been the final stimulation to Castlereagh to place his commission for the inkstand in July. While the Portugese service is neo-classical, it also seems possible that its use of crowned coats of arms within laurel wreaths, and, more particularly, of an exceptionally well-fronded palm-tree candelabrum, might have made a contribution to the ideas behind the inkstand, although of course more restrained palms were in the current vocabulary. The asymmetric palm of the inkstand appears to be an early move towards the naturalism of the 1830s as well as a glance back to the Rococo.
For the tureen design attributed to E. H. Baily, see Charles Oman, 'A Problem of Artistic Responsibility: The Firm of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell', Apollo, March 1966, pp.174-183).
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Tax and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2003, with additional funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation) and V&A Membership.