- Museum number
- Object: The Bacon Cup
Standing cup of silver-gilt; bowl almost hemispherical with baluster stem and expanding foot; inscribed around lip. Below the inscription is a band from which, in three places, are suspended shields of arms engraved on the bowl: (1) Bacon as bachelor, quarterly 1,4, 'gules, on a chief argent, two mullets sable', for Bacon of Suffolk and 2,3, 'barry of six or and azure a bend gules; in fess point a crescent for difference', for Quaplade; (2) his arms as a married man, Bacon quartering Quaplade, with a crescent for difference in fess point, impaling: 'or, on a bend vert, three bucks' heads caboshed argent, attired gold', for Fernley; (3) arms of Nicholas, eldest son of Sir Nicholas Bacon: Bacon quartering Quaplade, with a crescent for difference in fess point and a label of three points impaling: quarterly of six, I, 'azure on a chevron between three estoiles or, as many lozenges gules', for Butts; 2, 'gules, a boar passant, or', for Bacon of Cambridgeshire; 3, 'ermine on a chief dancettée sable, two lions rampant or', for Buers; 4, 'azure, three oak-leaves; 5 ermine, a chevron sable, between three roses gules', for Farmor; 6, 'checky argent and gules, a cross azure', for Roydon. Upper and lower parts of foot divided by reeded band; on flat surface of cover, pedestal with incurved sides supports, on mound, three-handled urn surmounted by a boar ungilt, ermine, with a crescent for cadency on its left side, feet resting on torse; band at top engraved with motto with engraved scrolls between words. Outside of bowl with ribbed surface; one of three made from the Great Seal of Philip and Mary; maker's mark, hallmarks and date-letter.
- Production date
Height: 29.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Gallery Label: Gallery 46, Case 6, August 2005
The ‘Bacon’ Cup
Silver gilt, London, 1573-4
From the Great Seal of Queen Mary Tudor (reigned 1552-8).
Bequeathed by Mrs Edmund Wodehouse
When a Great Seal became obsolete, it was given as a ‘perk’ (perquisite) to the Lord Chancellor or Keeper of the Great Seal. They were usually melted down and made into commemorative items.
Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-79), was appointed as the first Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth I. The bowl is engraved with his arms and motto; the finial is in the form of the family crest, a boar.
Text from Read and Tonnochy 1928, 'Catalogue of Silver Plate' (Franks Bequest):
This cup is one of three which were bequeathed to each of his three houses, and which, as is stated in the inscription on the bowl, were made from the Great Seal of Philip and Mary. Mary died in 1558, and Sir Nicholas Bacon was appointed, by Queen Elizabeth, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, the old seal passing to him, perhaps as a perquisite in virtue of his office. It will be recalled that it was customary for the Great Seal of the previous reign to be broken on the accession of a new sovereign, and the details of the breaking of the seal in question are given in the Close Roll I Elizabeth, where we read: “idem Nicholaus . . . sigillum praedictum eidem Reginae obtulit et deliberavit Ipsaque sigillum praedictum aquo animo a praefato Nicholao adtunc et ibidem recipiens illud dirumpi frangi et quassari mandavit ac superinde dictus Nicholaus sigillum praedictum . . . ad mandatum Regium dirumpi frangi et quassari causavit” (‘Norfolk Archaeology’, VIII. 159). The weight of the Great Seal was probably about 120 ounces; the sum of the weights of the three existing cups is about 121 ounces. There is evidence that the same thing happened to the first Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth. In the account of the widow of John Astley, Master of the Jewel House (Pipe Office Declared Account 1954, in the Public Record Office), there is the entry: “one greate Seale of Siluer to be made into two Jugges.” This seal can be proved to have weighed 108 oz., and is therefore identical with “one greatt Sealle of Sylver poiz cviij oz.”, which occurs in an inventory of Queen Elizabeth's jewels and plate, now numbered Stowe MS. 555, fol. 151.
The other Bacon cups are those of the house of Stewkey (Stiffkey) and Gorhambury respectively. The Stiffkey cup, which is similar to the present number, but with the word STEWKEY (the alternative form of Stiffkey) went to Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, Norfolk, the second son of Sir Nicholas, by whose eldest daughter and heiress it passed to the Townshend family, by whom it was sold at Christie's in 1904. It was lent by the Lady Louis Mountbatten to the Burlington Fine Arts Club for an exhibition there of late Elizabethan art in 1926 (Catalogue of that exhibition, p. 60, Case H, no. 1. London, 1926). The third or Gorhambury cup probably fell to the eldest son of the Lord Keeper by his eldest son, Anthony (d. unmarried); Gorhambury passed to Francis Bacon, brother of Sir Nicholas; it is now owned by the Earl of Verulam, who does not appear to claim descent from Sir Nicholas. The history of these cups is set forth in an article and letter, ‘Country Life’, Dec. 8, 1923 (p. 844), and January 12, 1924 (p. 67) respectively. The cup in the British Museum is remarkable in that it remained in the possession of Sir Nicholas Bacon's descendants until lent to the Trustees by the Rt. Hon. Edmond Wodehouse, M.P. It was subsequently bequeathed to the nation by his widow.
The hemispherical bowl and baluster stem is characteristic of English cups of this period. A cup without a cover with the London mark for 1578-9, part of the Stoke Prior Treasure, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (‘Cat. of English Silversmiths' Work, Civil etc’, no. 20. London, 1920); a more recent acquisition, with deep bowl, with mark for 1590-1, is in the same Museum (‘Burlington Magazine’, LI, p. 279). A wine-cup without cover, and with engraved scroll-work and hall-mark for 1587, is in the possession of the Goldsmiths' Company (‘Catalogue of Exhibition of Works of Art belonging to the Livery Companies’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, no. 87. London, 1927), and another, 1587, was in the Swaythling Heirlooms (Sale-cat., Christie's, May 6, 1924, lot 110). Two French covered cups of this form, with the Paris mark for 1581-2 and engraved with the arms of Henri III, formerly belonging to the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, are in the Louvre (A. Darcel, ‘Notice des Émaux et de I'Orfèvrerie’, nos.
- On display (G46/dc6/s3/sh2)
- Exhibition history
1988-1989 12 Oct 8 Jan, Belfast, Ulster Museum, Armada, 1588-1988
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number