Bottle in the form of Charles I

England, date unknown (17th - 19th century)
Tanned and tooled leathers, wooden core

From an old newspaper clipping in the archive, we know that this unusual bottle used to stand on a table in the Castle’s White Rose Room. Denys filled the room with his Stuart and Jacobite collection. He arranged many portraits on the walls, and his fascination with the Stuarts inspired his choice of the white rose decoration on the ceiling. Denys was a member of the Royal Stuart Society which still preserves the history of the Stuarts and their supporters, known as the Jacobites, today. The bottle looks slightly out of place next to Denys’ chair, perched on a small table. It appears to have been a particular favourite of his as he was keen to show it off.

The caption above suggests that the bottle depicts Charles II, but its distinctive hat and pointed beard indicate that it represents his father, Charles I. The caption also states that the ‘head unscrews’ – the neck of the bottle is in fact revealed when you remove his feathered hat. Although the caption isn’t quite correct, this photograph is the only known record we have of the bottle. Denys did not keep a record of all the objects he bought – most of what we know about the history of his collections comes from old photographs, notes, and handwritten labels.

Charles I’s hat is removable, revealing the neck of the bottle

The bottle is constructed from various tanned, moulded, and tooled leathers. It is 110cm tall and stands on a flat leather base. The bottle would have required a considerable amount of time and skill to create. The different pieces of leather are finely moulded around a wooden core and carefully decorated with various specialist techniques. Charles I is wearing a feathered hat, a lace ruff, a sash, and heeled boots. His long moulded cape features a crosshatch pattern on the inside and a tie with tassels.  

Thanks to the kind support of the Association of Independent Museums and The Pilgrim Trust, the bottle was conserved and is now back on display this year. The leather had deteriorated due to a condition called ‘red rot’ which caused it to break down. One of Charles I’s arms was detached and his cloak was torn. The leather was very fragile with parts of it flaking off. The Leather Conservation Centre carefully treated the bottle and strengthened it with Japanese paper. It can now be viewed once more in the Castle’s Print Room.

Charles I bottle before (left) and after (right) conservation by The Leather Conservation Centre

Due to the size and the decorative nature of this bottle, it was most likely made as an interesting ‘conversation piece’ rather than for practical use as a bottle. We do not currently know when this bottle was made – estimates range from the 17th – 19th century. One possible explanation for this unusual bottle is that, as with the other Jacobite objects in the collection, it was made as a symbol of respect and loyalty towards the Stuart family. Jacobite dinners were an important tradition, where toasts would be made to wish for the return of the Stuart dynasty to the throne. Glasses and other tableware decorated with Stuart family portraits, slogans, and symbols would be used for these occasions. It is likely that Denys bought this bottle to add to his collection because of the possibility that it was used by the Jacobites.

Jacobite glass with portrait of Charles Edward Stuart, c.1750, Chiddingstone Castle collection, object number 01.1919

An alternative theory however is that the bottle may have been appreciated more for its comic value. Popular ‘Toby jugs’ – jugs in human form made since the 18th century – were sometimes made in leather. The jugs were traditionally made in the form of a man with a pipe and holding a mug of ale. In his 1921 work on the history of leather bottles and drinking vessels in England, Oliver Baker identified a few examples of leather bottles in the shape of people, including one in the shape of the head and shoulders of Charles II.

 Toby jug made from coloured leathers moulded around a glass core, Museum of Leather Craft, object number 538.56

Charles I’s reign ended with Oliver Cromwell’s victory in the second English Civil War of 1648, which was fought between the supporters of Charles I and parliament. The two parties were in conflict over economic policies and religion. Charles I was executed, and Oliver Cromwell ruled until his death in 1658. In the meantime however, Charles II was proclaimed King in Scotland, where it was believed that he was still the rightful heir. In 1660, after nine years in exile, he was invited to return to England and was restored to the throne. Our Charles I bottle may have been made as a comic depiction after his defeat, or to honour the Stuart dynasty after Charles II’s restoration to the throne. Further research and investigation will hopefully reveal more!

This object is just one of the many objects that form part of Denys Eyre Bower’s five impressive collections which include Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist, Stuart and Jacobite, and Books. For more information on these objects, review our Object of the Month series, visit the Historic House and Collections or contact our Curator, Naomi Collick by email or by calling 01892 870347.

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