The Luck of Edenhall: History & Myths

Gilt and enamelled clear glass known as 'The Luck of Edenhall', Syria, 14th century. Museum no. C.1-1959

Gilt and enamelled clear glass known as 'The Luck of Edenhall', Syria, 14th century. Museum no. C.1-1959

This famous glass, known as the Luck of Edenhall for at least 230 years, is a beaker with flaring rim decorated in gold and coloured enamels.

The Luck of Edenhall is actually a luxury drinking glass decorated with painted enamels and gilding, made in Syria in the middle of  the 14th century. Its early history is untraced, but it may have been brought home by a crusader returning from the Holy Land back to Europe where such a rarity would have been considered the highest form of exotic luxury.

The brilliance of the Luck's colours and its immaculate condition are due to its leather case. Decorated by stamped and cut work, this is thought to have been made specially to contain the Luck in France in the 15th century.

The glass eventually descended into the possession of the Musgrave family, of Edenhall in Cumberland, England, but its real origin was forgotten. It gained a reputation as a fairy cup, left behind by fairies who, it was said, had been disturbed while drinking at St Cuthbert's Well in the Garden of Edenhall.

A printed account of the Luck appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine for August 1791. Rev. William Mounsey of Bottesford wrote:

'The late agent of the family had such a reverential regard for this glass that he would not suffer any person to touch it, and few to see it. When the family, or other curious people, had a desire to drink out of it, a napkin was held underneath, lest any accident should befall it; and it is still carefully preserved, in a case made on purpose... Tradition our only guide here, says, that a party of Fairies were drinking and making merry round a well near the Hall, called St. Cuthbert's well; but being interrupted by the intrusion of some curious people, they were frightened, and made a hasty retreat, and left the cup in question: one of the last screaming out, If this cup should break or fall, Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.'
The Luck of Edenhall and leather case, gilt and enamelled clear glass, Syria, 14th and 15th Century, (museum no. C.1-1959)

The Luck of Edenhall and leather case, gilt and enamelled clear glass, Syria, 14th and 15th Century, (museum no. C.1-1959)

This account appears to provide the inspiration for other romanticised versions. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated Johan Ludwig Uhland's ballad of 1834 in which the Luck is imagined as being broken at the feast, with the consequent capture of Edenhall and death of its Lord:
As the goblet ringing flies apart,
Suddenly cracks the vaulted hall;
And through the rift the wild flames start;
The guests in dust are scattered all,
With the breaking Luck of Edenhall!
In storms the foe with fire and sword;
He in the night has scaled the wall,
Slain by the sword lies the youthful Lord,
But holds in his hand the crystal tall,
The shattered Luck of Edenhall.

An account from the 1844 journal of nine and a half year old Georgiana Rosetta Smyth, god-daughter of Sir George Musgrave, records

'At our dinner Sir George brought the enchanted Cup, he told us that Duke Wharton used to throw it up in the air, and have a manservant to catch it again. We all drank out of it, the little Musgraves were not allowed to come into the room for fear of breaking it. Sir George showed us where the cup was kept, there was an Iron door and stone wall, in case of fire, the Cup was then put into a tin box.'

The glass remained intact in the possession of the Musgrave family. In 1926 the glass was loaned to the Museum, and in 1958 it was finally acquired for the nation. It remains on permanent view in the Glass gallery.

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