The political, social and economic scene towards the end of the 17th century in England made for an interesting society. The English, and more importantly many of the oligarchs, were Protestant. Both Charles II and James II were Catholic and as monarchs were charged to defend the Protestant faith. Ultimately, James II’s Catholicism roused the oligarchs and William of Orange to usurp the British throne in the “Glorious” or “Bloodless” Revolution of 1688 after which William, along with his wife Mary Stuart became William III and Queen Mary II of England.

In short, religion was the deciding factor of many politicial decisions. It was thicker than both water and blood as Protestant Mary was deemed appropriate to rule with her Dutch husband while her Catholic father skedaddled to the protection of a Catholic France. That William of Orange was made king despite the fact that the English and Dutch had been to war twice in the previous thirty years is astounding. Clearly, the animosities between the countries was less viral nationalism and more based on religion, family squabbles and trade advantages.

While the political turn of events was being forced towards Protestantism in England, France outlawed Protestantism within its borders. The upshot was that many craftsmen and designers, among the most famous are Daniel Marot and Pelletier brothers, decamped from France and went to England. Furthermore, other Dutch craftsmen went to England for reasons unknown such as Gerrit Jensen and Grinling Gibbons, both famed for their craft, Jensen for superior inlay work and Gibons for his wood carving. Clearly, there were many more Dutchmen who took a similar path.

The stylistic differences between a lot of high end Dutch and English furniture between 1670 and 1720 are not easily separated one from the other. Some pieces are unidentifiable nationally despite a knowledge of style, craftsmanship or even the name of the craftsman. The permutations and combinations render such distinctions moot, at least as far as knowing where or when a piece might have been made. Anglo-Dutch as country of origin is as good as it gets for many pieces of this era.


I was talking to a wood carver the other day who told me that he had found a book delineating the rules and regulations applied to workers in the furniture trade in the late 19th century. Carvers could, apparently, take breaks when they wanted and even had flexible hours, an unheard of liberty in such a strict trade. Carvers in the trade have always been different as far as I can see. The good ones, such as Grinling Gibbons, Thomas Johnston and Luke Lightfoot were given free reign to create and they did.

This brought to mind an 18th century gilded rococo looking glass frame that I sold about fifteen years ago. The frame might have been all of one and half inches in thickness, the antithesis of what we think of as great, deep rococo carving. The carver, as incapable as he was to be sculptural, had a wonderful sense of line and the frame worked wonderfully. Given that the surface was dry stripped and really very beautiful and that the plate glass was original, it was an interesting and, in the end, a beautiful mirror.

Quirky is a word that is used to describe, at least in aesthetics, something that breaks the rules and yet which may be successful nonetheless. I enjoy some quirky things although they are often an uphill struggle to sell. English cabinetmakers were not bound in the same fashion as their continental counterparts and so quirky definitely has a place in English antique furniture. It is all the better for it.


The death of the third oldest man on record, Harry Patch aged 111, is noteworthy for several reasons. The first is that he fought in the trenches in the First World War, also known as the Great War and was the last British survivor of that conflict. The second is for his opinion that wars should not be fought but that there should be negotiation and compromise instead. I think that if you were in those trenches, that is the only way you could feel as young men, boys really, were slaughtered for no apparent reason.

Wars in the eighteenth century were certainly lethal, but doctors probably killed off more survivors than they saved. There were also surrenders where men were sworn not to take up arms again and released. Although wounds were far more deadly in that day, a surprisingly large number of people survived war time conflict. Horatio Nelson, the famed British admiral, lost an eye and an arm before dying in the Battle of Trafalgar in the arms of his first mate.

When I lived in London in the 1970’s I frequented a pub where an old man told me about how the British used to have victorious British soldiers dropped off in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament to cheering crowds. However, when the soldiers were not victorious, they were dropped off in Limehouse in East London where I met this man. He remembered the troops who returned from Khartoum after the failed relief of Gordon in the 1880’s when he was a young boy. Life is never kind to the losers. Harry Patch understood that much.


When I said that arranged marriages were largely a tribal affair, I was referring to the society of today. Of course, there are certain eurocentric societies that believe in arranged marriages as well, including the tribe of the European monarchies. Some of them are allowing greater latitude of choice by the heir apparent types, but that latitude seems based less on enlightenment and more on necessity. Their numbers are dwindling.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu led an interesting life. She variolated (an early form of inoculation used by Turkish doctors) her children against small pox and was severely criticized for so doing. She was the first western woman to enter a seraglio (to view and write about the harem) and she is also thought to have composed a number of Alexander Pope’s heroic couplets. Further, on rejecting Pope’s amorous advances, he became an arch enemy, pillorying and slandering her in his poetic works. She did, however, elope with her husband against her parents wishes. By the age of 40, however, she separated from him never to see him again.


A delightful formere assistant of mine was married this last weekend in Virginia. I attended and greatly enjoyed seeing her and her husband’s glow. She told me that the week prior had been pretty stressful but it did not show and she looked relaxed and very happy and very beautiful.  The groom also looked very happy and relaxed and the entire event was an enormous success.

The marriages I have read about from the 18th century were all matches designed by a parent for some political purpose. The saddest was that of Caroline of Brunswick who married the Prince Regent, later George IV, who was whiny, egotistical and selfish. Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire, had a tough time because it was ten years before she had her first child. She clearly did not love the Duke and she did everything she could to not spend time with him. All of them, however, had great furniture to sit on.

Arranged marriages, which are “de rigeur” in many tribal cultures, are not so much a bad thing if a person can see his or her self as a political thing. If they can’t, then it is life without love in most circumstances. Of the three weddings I have been to in the last year, the radiance of the couples has been quite special, a look I would never associate with an arranged marriage. I may be wrong about this but I think a great marriage is more important than great furniture. The two together, of course, is the “beau ideal”.