In this monthly blog series, our collections team write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. In this article, our curator Naomi focuses on this 17th century ‘coconut cup’ with Stuart imagery.
Silver mounted ‘coconut cup’
This ‘coconut cup’ is part of the Stuart and Jacobite collection of Denys Eyre Bower. Denys was born in Derbyshire, and was fascinated by the uprising against the throne lead by Charles Edward Stuart, which culminated there in 1746. Denys was a member of the Stuart Society and he collected a huge range of Stuart and Jacobite objects and papers. His work colleagues recalled that as a Buddhist, he believed himself to be a reincarnation of Charles Edward Stuart, or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.
The body of the cup is formed from a carved coconut shell. Portraits of four members of the royal Stuart family are incised into the coconut. It was created during the reign of Charles II (1630 - 1685), who is depicted on the cup wearing a crown. The portraits of his father Charles I and his son Henry, Duke of Gloucester include skulls, as they died in 1649 and 1660 respectively. The last portrait is of James, Duke of York, which is a title he held before becoming King James II.
Portrait miniature of Charles II by famous portrait artist Samuel Cooper, Chiddingstone Castle Collection.
James II was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandfather. He was the last Catholic monarch of England, Ireland, and Scotland from the Stuart line, until he was deposed in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary II in 1688. He was deposed and exiled because he was suspected of being pro-Catholic, and of planning to become an ‘absolute monarch’, with authority and power that was not restricted by government laws. James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, was raised in Europe and tried to reclaim the throne of England when his father died in 1701. He claimed himself to be the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and he attempted to gain the throne in an uprising in 1715. Although his attempt to reclaim the throne was unsuccessful, he gained many followers who called themselves ‘Jacobites’, after the latin translation of James - Jacobus.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, who also grew up in Europe, continued to support his and his father’s claim to the throne. In 1745 he followed his father’s footsteps and landed in Scotland intending to attempt another uprising. He arrived in the country with only a few supporters, but due to his charisma was able to gain huge support amongst the Scottish highland clans. He also had support throughout England and Europe from the Jacobites. He attempted to march to London in 1746, but was defeated at the Battle of Culloden.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart by Louis Gabriel Blanchet, 1739, Royal Collection Trust.
Images and objects were extremely important in gathering support for Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobites, and their cause. Portraits of members of the Stuart family were often concealed in objects so that people could learn about the Jacobites and support them without it being discovered that they were committing treason. This cup would have been ideal for promoting and supporting the cause, as it was made during a period when the Stuart family still ruled, and depicts key Stuart monarchs including King Charles II wearing his crown. Denys Eyre Bower’s interest in the Stuart family clearly inspired him to collect this cup.
Glass with portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Chiddingstone Castle Collection.
Coconut cups were very popular amongst the wealthy and royalty of the 17th century. They were very sought-after as collectable vessels. Coconuts were considered to be rare and precious, and they were believed to have magical and healing properties. They were also known as ‘Indian nuts’ or ‘nuts of the sea’. Drinking vessels made from coconuts were believed to protect the drinker against poison.
A collection of court coconut cups mounted in gilded silver from the Kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosities) of George Laue, German and Swiss, 16th - 17th centuries. Kunstkammer.
This particular cup has had a very interesting life and has been part of important collections. It belonged to the collection at Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire, Scotland. It was sold for eighteen pounds in the famous Hamilton Palace sale of 1882, before the building was demolished. It was previously owned by the politician and famous collector Ralph Bernal, who was the president of the British Archaeological Society, and whose collection was sold in 1855 after his death. Denys bought this cup in a Sotheby’s auction in 1954, and the catalogue information annotated with his notes can be seen on display with the cup in the Print Room here at the Castle.
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.