184
184

PROPERTY OF THE HARCOURT FAMILY

18th Century Follower of Sir Anthony van Dyck
ICARUS AND DAEDALUS
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 332,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
184

PROPERTY OF THE HARCOURT FAMILY

18th Century Follower of Sir Anthony van Dyck
ICARUS AND DAEDALUS
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 332,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master & British Paintings Day Sale

|
London

18th Century Follower of Sir Anthony van Dyck
ICARUS AND DAEDALUS
oil on canvas, in an English carved and gilt wood frame
112.3 by 93 cm.; 44 1/4  by 36 5/8  in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

John Knight, Portland Place, London;
His sale, London, Philips, 23 March 1819, lot 146, for 315 guineas;
Edward.W. Lake;
His sale, London, Christie's, 11 July 1845, lot 121, for 238 guineas;
Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar (1797-1864); 
His Estate sale, London, Christie's, 1 June 1878, lot 133, for 400 guineas to Donaldson;
The Dowager Viscountess Harcourt, GBE, her sale et al, London, Christie's, 24 November 1961, lot 58, bought back and thence by descent.

Exhibited

London, British Institution, 1815, no. 125 (as Van Dyck).

Literature

J. Smith, A Catalogue raisonnée...,vol. III, London 1831, p. 103, cat. no. 365.

Engraved:
In mezzotint by John Watts.

Catalogue Note

Over the months of November and December 2014, a number of select pieces will be offered by Sotheby’s from the Harcourt family collection: A fine yellow gold, diamond-set and enamel hunting cased Breguet montre à tact watch, offered in Geneva (contact Joanne.Lewis@sothebys.com); an 18th century Italian marble urn from the circle of Foggini (Christopher.Mason@sothebys.com); a number of historical travel books including Mendoza’s ‘The Historie of the Great and Mightie Kingdome of China. 1588’;  a selection of English literature including William Shakespeare’s  ‘Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies’, 1685 and Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’, 1859 (David.Goldthorpe@sothebys.com);  important manuscripts including George I’s Order for his Proclamation, signed by the Accession Council, 1 August 1714, a letter written a couple of days after the event and after the first interrogations from Robert, Earl of Salisbury to Ralph Winwood, about the Gunpowder Plot and also the brass coffin-plate of Oliver Cromwell (Gabriel.Heaton@sothebys.com); being offered in the Old Master Paintings department are a painting of Icarus and Daedalus by an 18thcentury follower of Anthony van Dyck in addition to a moonlit landscape by a follower of Sir Peter Paul Rubens in a superb frame (Andrew.Fletcher@sothebys.com). 

The following is adapted from the foreword to Sotheby’s London auction ‘The Harcourt Collection’, 10th June 1993

 

The Harcourts of Stanton Harcourt and Nuneham Park, Oxfordshire

 ‘… I thought my holidays were over for this summer, but Nuneham is so pleasant both indoors and outdoors that it is irresistible…’

 Sir Joshua Reynolds to George, 2nd Earl Harcourt London, 18 September 1778

Sir Joshua wrote these words exactly a year and two days after the shocking death of the 1st Earl Harcourt at Nuneham. Even before the event, his son and heir George Simon, Viscount Nuneham, had begun the first of a series of changes to the grounds which became the inspiration for ‘natural’ gardens to many mansion owners. The new Lord Harcourt, then forty-one, was a man of wide interests and learning who had travelled extensively. Surviving letters and contemporary memoirs give the impression of a scholastic, retiring, rather shy man who was well liked by the poets and other artists and friends with whom he and his countess spent their leisure hours. The long history of the Harcourts, which now stretches back a thousand years to the time when the De Harcourts first prospered in Normandy, would have been well known to him. His immediate lineage was hardly less ancient, the English branch of the family having been established long before Sir Robert De Harcourt’s appointment as a Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire at the beginning of the twelfth century. It was he who acquired the Manor of Stanton through his marriage to Millicent de Camville. In spite of many vicissitudes, including several episodes of decay and regeneration, Sir Robert’s descendants are still in residence.

Stanton Harcourt, the ‘very curious old place’ mentioned in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Our Old Home (1864), and Nuneham Park are neighbouring estates a few miles from the City of Oxford. Nuneham (then Newnham) was purchased from the Earl of Wemyss in 1710 by Simon Harcourt (1684-1720), a barrister, the son of Queen Anne’s Lord Chancellor, Simon, 1st Viscount Harcourt (1661-1727). Another, earlier Simon Harcourt (1603?-1642), respectively the great grandfather and grandfather of these men, was himself a great-great-great grandson of Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s unhappy queen.

Within hours of George I’s arrival in London in September 1714, Lord Chancellor Harcourt quit public life. He had had an extraordinary career. He began as a barrister in 1683 aged twenty-two, three years after marrying for the first time – secretly in Marylebone – Rebecca, daughter of the Rev Thomas Clark. He served for a time as a Member of Parliament and then as Solicitor General from 1702 to 1707, during which time he directed the impeachment of John, Baron Somers (1701), assisted in prosecuting Daniel Defoe (1703), defended Henry Sacheverell (1710), and was instrumental in obtaining Viscount Bolingbroke’s pardon and the acquittal of Robert, Earl of Oxford. In 1710 he became Lord Keeper (later Chancellor). Less than a year afterwards he was created Baron Harcourt, having only months before changed his political allegiance from Tory to Whig. ‘He is a fair, lusty man, has been handsome… He has so much learning and eloquence, and so sweet a delivery, that he may not improperly be styled a second Cicero…’.

Stanton Harcourt, the family's chief seat and the place of Viscount Harcourt’s birth, had by this time fallen into disrepair, largely because of the neglect of his stepmother Lady Elizabeth Harcourt (widow of his father Sir Philip Harcourt) who did not die until July 1713. But even then Lord Harcourt, who had already built himself a comfortable, if modest house at Cockenthorpe nearby, was disinclined to move. It was here towards the end of his life that he entertained Swift, Gay, Pope and other literary companions. There was a fine library and the dining parlour was panelled in oak, a gift from Queen Anne.

The  early death of Lord Chancellor  Harcourt’s only surviving son Simon in 1720 must have been a great disappointment, but he and his second wife, Lady Elizabeth  (née  Spencer) ,  were  devoted   to  his  little grandson,  also  Simon  (1714-77)   known affectionately  as  'Precious’.   The boy’s maternal grandfather  was   the  author  and  diarist John   Evelyn ( 1620-1706).

 

The Lord Chancellor’s grandson

Viscount Harcourt died at the family's London residence  in Cavendish Square where, it was said by a contemporary, ‘most of the Houses are very good, and inhabited by People of Quality'. Evelyn’s son, Sir John Evelyn, has left a vivid account of the end of this long and eventful life, having been called to the Viscount’s deathbed. Harcourt lingered several days and died on 29 July 1727 - he was buried at Stanton Harcourt church. Sir John Evelyn remembered accompanying the thirteen year old 'Precious', now 2nd Viscount Harcourt, to the funeral, but on  the way  back  to  Cockenthorpe   their   coach 'was overturned by ye carelessness of ye Coachman and Postillion, and  [Evelyn]  received  a  considerable blow on ye left side of [his] face, which swelled a good deal, and was very painful'.

 

The 2nd Viscount Harcourt was destined for an illustrious career. Finishing his education with four years’ sojourn abroad, during which he made a study of classical architecture, he returned home in time for his coming-of-age. The following year, 1735, he became a Lord of the Bedchamber and was with George II at the Battle of Dettingen (27 June 1743). Towards the end of the appointment in 1749 he was created Viscount Nuneham and Earl Harcourt. As Governor to the Prince of Wales in 1751-52, his already close association with the royal family developed  into a friendship  which was warmly maintained in later years by his son and daughter-in-law.

 

Writing to Lord Harcourt from Saville House about his history lessons in August 1751, the young Prince observed that Richard II was a  poor  ruler: 'They were in  hopes  that  he  would  have  made  a  good King; but they  soon lost their  hopes, for he loved flatterers, who are the greatest serpents a Court can have...'.  With  the  sudden  death  of  George  II  at Kensington  Palace   on  25  October  1760  similar hopes were  generally fastened  on  the  Prince who now succeeded to the throne as George III. A year later  he  announced  his  intention   of  marrying  the Princess  Charlotte   Sophia,   second   daughter of Charles  Lewis  Frederick,  Duke  of  Mecklenburg- Strelitz, and he sent Lord Harcourt, furnished with a portrait in miniature ‘richly and most prettily set round with  diamonds’,  to  escort  her  to  England. The  date  of  the  marriage  was  settled  for  8 September  1761, a few days after his Lordship had been appointed Her Majesty’s Master  of  the  Horse. His daughter, Lady Elizabeth   Harcourt,   attended the ceremony as one of the Queen’s bridesmaids, 'dressed in white and silver ' and wearing a diamond coronet.

 

Fortunately the relationship between King  and courtier did not suffer when in 1764 the latter's son George Simon, Lord  Nuneham, then MP for St Alban’s,  voted   against   the  Government  upon   the question of Wilkes’s expulsion from the House of Commons. The Earl, who had not long accepted the appointment of Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s household, was horrified by Nuneham’s apparent disrespect and wrote to the King accordingly. But he need  not have worried - George III  seems  to  have  put  it  down  to  a young man’s indiscretion.

 

Lord Harcourt's wife, Rebecca, to whom he had been married for nearly thirty years, died unexpectedly on 16 January 1765 while taking tea with a friend. Thereafter, the Earl threw himself into work, in 1768 accepting the appointment of Ambassador to Paris. He set out from Cavendish Square on 3 January 1769 and a week later was given his first audience with Louis XVI at Versailles.  As was usual for ambassadors at the time, the Earl went to France equipped with a service of silver, nearly seven thousand ounces of which had been paid for by the Crown.

 

Most of the service was supplied by his own goldsmith in London, the well-known firm of Parker & Wakelin.  Their ledgers survive in the Archive of Art and Design (Victoria  & Albert Museum), an inspection of which has been kindly granted to Sotheby's by their commercial descendants,   Garrard & Co Ltd. It is clear from these records that Earl Harcourt had been a customer   for   some time;   we find, for instance, small items such as 'To mendg a Cork Stopper [1s] '  and  'To  mending  an Epergne [5s] ’ in his account for 1766-67, and 'To boyling & doing up 2 coffee  pots [£1 2s 6d] ’ in January 1769. But it is the account of 13 March that year which deals with the plate which he took to Paris. It is long and detailed, the cost amounting to £3862 11s 2d for both new plate supplied and for repairs to old, as well as sundry expenses such as carriage paid ‘for Cartage to ye jewel Office D[itt] o back & Do to ye Inn [15s] ... To Cash pd for Matting & Cording 4 large Chests, Do 2 Smaller 20/6, 8 Padlocks 14/ [£1 14s 6d]'.

 

The survival of Parker & Wakelin’s Workman’s Ledger for the period is useful in that it identifies the firm's suppliers. The out—working firms of Ansill & Gilbert and Thomas Pitts (both general plateworkers), Thomas Squire (cutler), David Flennell & Son (silver salt cellar makers), Philip Norman (knife handle and spoon and  fork  maker) , and   the   silver   spoon   and   fork   makers   William    & Thomas Chawner and Isaac Callard are all mentioned as the actual manufacturers of Lord Harcourt’s silver. Although this is not the place for a detailed enquiry, it is interesting to find the amount of Parker & Wakelin's profits carefully recorded. Twelve ladles or ‘Olio Spoons' for instance were supplied by Philip Norman to the firm for £6 6s. In selling them to Lord Harcourt, Parker & Wakelin charged £15 18s 6d in addition to an extra £17 8s (or 15s and 14s each respectively) for making and gilding them.

Earl Harcourt’s return from Paris

Earl Harcourt’s ambassadorship to Paris came to an end in 1772 and in June that year he accepted the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland which, among other benefits, eventually yielded him seven gold boxes. According to one historian, he appears to have been sent there 'on account of his amiable character and easy disposition'. Then on 29 March 1776 he wrote to the Prime Minister Lord North:

 

‘After an absence of near three years and a half from my family and friends;  and  after  the fatigues of two of the most interesting sessions that have keen known in Ireland; and in the sixty-third year of my age, I  own myself quite unequal  to  the  constant  care   and   solicitude that attend this responsible station. I am persuaded it is no less for his Majesty's interest, than for the comfort of my life, that I should be permitted to retire’.

 

His wish was granted and he returned and to England and to Nuneham to lead the life of a country gentleman.

 

Although he  had  spent  so  long  away  from  home, Earl Harcourt had begun to  lay  out  the  grounds and mansion at Nuneham during the mid-1750s. In fact, he had to sacrifice much of the old house at Stanton  Harcourt  to  provide  enough   stone   for   the new building, the local quarry being already fully occupied supplying the raw materials for another local landowner. But this was not before the village at Nuneham (which comprised some sixty cottages in addition to a church, parsonage and an inn) had been moved to a new location a mile away on the road between Oxford and Henley.

 

Countess   Harcourt’s   letters   to   their   son   Lord Nuneham,   then   travelling   in   Germany,   Italy  and Switzerland, record  the progress. In April 1756 she wrote  of  the  elevation  for the proposed  house; in June she  told  of  a  'little jaunt'   she  had  taken   to Nuneham,  ‘which place,  in my opinion, is always in beauty';  and  less  than  a month  later  in July  1756 wrote,  'As we are very fond of seeing this work go on, we generally go to Newnham  ev’ry week...'. It is particularly  ironic,  therefore,  that  Lord  Harcourt should  have  died  there  so soon  after his  retirement in 1777. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (19 September) in an ‘Extract of a letter from Oxford, Sept. 16 tells the story:

'I   am   sorry   to   acquaint   you   of   a   most melancholy accident which  happened yesterday at Newnham...  the seat of the Right Hon.    Lord     Harcourt. His Lordship (Earl Harcourt)  went  out  for  a walk  in  his  park,  as he  frequently  did  about  noon...  His Lordship in his walk near home was generally accompanied by a favourite dog only; the dog in running about, accidentally fell into this old well, which was quite overgrown with sedge, so as not to be discovered; His Lordship, with his usual humanity, hearing the cries of his favourite little animal, came to its relief, and in stooping to get out the dog, his Lordship fell into the well head foremost, where he stuck quite fast, in which manner he was found…’

 

News of the tragedy travelled fast, although was not received sympathetically in some quarters. The Rev William Mason in a letter to Horace Walpole, both friends of the new Earl Harcourt, who had not been particularly fond of his father, wrote on 23 September, ‘What an inconsistent creature is man! Poor Lord Harcourt! I fear he was so good a courtier that he would not have hesitated a moment about giving his vote for scalping his brethren in Canada, and yet he died in the humane act of saving a dog from drowning’.

In temperament the 2nd Earl Harcourt was very different from his father. Whereas the latter had been ‘painstaking, dignified, decorous’ although ‘not exempt from the prevailing habit of excessive drinking’, the son was delicate, a lover of refined society and one who ‘affected French manners and fashions’. He and his wife, his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of 1st Baron Vernon whom he had married in 1765, eventually transformed Nuneham into what the Drury Lane actress Jane Pope (1742-1818) once described as a place of ‘elegance, ease, & hospitality’. The poet William Mason was responsible for laying out the flower-garden where he and Lord Harcourt, according to Mavis Batey, ‘mingled wild and garden flowers in aggressively irregular beds, twined jasmine and woodbine round the trees, laced the winding path with… the periwinkle, and sprinkled birdseed to entice the linnets and ringdoves’ (Country Life, 12 September 1968). This arcadian scene later became familiar to a wider audience when a view of Nuneham (after an engraving by W. Cooke, 1811) was used to decorate the ‘Wild Rose’ pattern wares of a number of Staffordshire pottery manufacturers.

The King and Queen at Nuneham

In 1784 Countess Harcourt became a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. This was a significant appointment because Lord and Lady Harcourt had absented themselves in a marked manner from Court since soon after the death of the 1st Earl. This had arisen ‘owing to some slight’ which it was imagined had been passed upon him; in fact, George III had ignored his old Governor’s request (intimated as long ago as 1771) to be bestowed with the Order of the Garter. But the period of coolness over, this was the beginning of a sincere friendship between the Harcourts and the King and Queen. In September 1785 the royal couple with the Princes Ernest, Augustus and Adolphus and the princesses Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth visited Nuneham. The party had intended to return to Windsor the same day, but the weather was so good that the King, resolving to visit Oxford, decided that they should stay the night with Lord and Lady Harcourt.

The trip to Oxford the following morning was a great success. Their Majesties and the Princes and Princesses, accompanied by the Harcourts, visited several of the colleges and the King conferred a knighthood on John Treacher, the Mayor. In its October issue The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that during the day they visited the public schools, entering ‘at the eastern gates, and passing through the Divinity School were ushered into the Theatre, where the Heads of Houses, Doctors in the different Facilities, &c. were assembled. In the area of this magnificent room, chairs being placed for that purpose, their Majesties and the Royal Family were seated for some time; and the Vice Chancellor with the Heads of Houses, the Hon. Mr. Matthew of Corpus Christi, and the Proctors, had the honour of kissing their Majesties hands. At their entrance, and during this ceremony, Dr. Hayes, Professor of Music, entertained their Majesties with several overtures on the organ: whilst the ladies, and other company, with which the galleries were crowded, had the happiness of being spectators… Bells were incessantly ringing from the arrival of the Royal Family to their departure. At night the city was grandly illuminated, and a general joy appeared in every countenance’. Meanwhile, the King and Queen returned to Nuneham where they were treated to ‘an elegant cold collation’ to the sound of martial music played by the band of the Oxfordshire militia. As evening gathered they departed for Windsor to the strains of ‘God save the King’.

The attachment between the royal family and the Harcourts which was sealed by this visit was both genuine and long-lasting. Many letters survive in proof of this, particularly some of the more than three hundred which Lady Harcourt received from Princess Elizabeth (1770-1840). Indeed, it was the latter who, with her sister Princess Augusta, gave to Earl Harcourt in 1803 a gold snuff box in the form of a tortoise. Lady Harcourt has also left an intimate account of the King’s illness of 1788-89. As regards Lady Harcourt’s relationship with the Queen, whose reputation at large was that of a distant, remote figure, the following extract from a letter written by Charlotte on 17 December 1786 will speak for itself:

‘… I have of late seen several ladies just returned from Paris, some very much improved in looks, & others far otherwise. Mrs. Eden by wearing an Enormous Quantity of Rouge looks much more pleasing, & Mrs. Goldburn, by Hiding Her Fine Complexion, on the Contrary loses by that Ornament; the latter is quite Formidable by Three immense Feathers, which so directly run into my Eyes when she was presented, I was under the necessity of drawing myself back in order to avoid Mischief, & I rejoiced a little in lady Claremont’s distress who presented Her…’.

With the deaths of Elizabeth, Countess Harcourt in 1826 and then the 3rd Earl Harcourt in 1830, Nuneham Park and the remainder of the family estates and residuary property passed to Edward Venables-Vernon, afterwards Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York (1757-1847). He was the third son of George Vernon, 3rd Baron Vernon (1708-1780) by his third wife Martha, granddaughter of Lord Chancellor Simon Harcourt and sister of 1st Earl Harcourt.

Improvements and changes were made to both house and garden – and by the time of her visit the recently crowned Queen Victoria, like Sir Joshua Reynolds and so many other visitors to Nuneham Park, found the atmosphere of the place irresistible; she stayed there with Prince Albert on the occasion of his receiving an honorary degree at Oxford. The Harcourts continued to occupy high office – William Harcourt was caught out by the death duties tax that he had introduced as Chancellor of the Exchequer and his son Lewis worked closely with his father in parliament and cabinet in Westminster (the results of his copious note taking are held, with many other family papers, at the Bodleian Library). Harcourts continued too to collect – though not at the pace of their predecessors – and to enjoy Nuneham until it was requisitioned for the RAF in 1942 and subsequently sold to the University of Oxford. The family then moved back to their more ancient estate in Oxfordshire and continue to live there.

 

Much of the information for the foregoing account has been taken from The Harcourt Papers, vols. I-XIII, edited by Edward William Harcourt (1825-1891) and published privately in 1880 in an edition of fifty copies. See also Country Life, 5 September 1968, 10 October 1974 and 3 January 1985.

 

The survival of Parker & Wakelin’s Workman’s Ledger for the period is useful in that it identifies the firm's suppliers. The out—working firms of Ansill & Gilbert and Thomas Pitts (both general plateworkers), Thomas Squire (cutler), David Flennell & Son (silver salt cellar makers), Philip Norman (knife handle and spoon and  fork  maker) , and   the   silver   spoon   and   fork   makers   William    & Thomas Chawner and Isaac Callard are all mentioned as the actual manufacturers of Lord Harcourt’s silver. Although this is not the place for a detailed enquiry, it is interesting to find the amount of Parker & Wakelin's profits carefully recorded. Twelve ladles or ‘Olio Spoons' for instance were supplied by Philip Norman to the firm for £6 6s. In selling them to Lord Harcourt, Parker & Wakelin charged £15 18s 6d in addition to an extra £17 8s (or 15s and 14s each respectively) for making and gilding them.

Earl Harcourt’s return from Paris

Earl Harcourt’s ambassadorship to Paris came to an end in 1772 and in June that year he accepted the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland which, among other benefits, eventually yielded him seven gold boxes. According to one historian, he appears to have been sent there 'on account of his amiable character and easy disposition'. Then on 29 March 1776 he wrote to the Prime Minister Lord North:

 

‘After an absence of near three years and a half from my family and friends;  and  after  the fatigues of two of the most interesting sessions that have keen known in Ireland; and in the sixty-third year of my age, I  own myself quite unequal  to  the  constant  care   and   solicitude that attend this responsible station. I am persuaded it is no less for his Majesty's interest, than for the comfort of my life, that I should be permitted to retire’.

 

His wish was granted and he returned and to England and to Nuneham to lead the life of a country gentleman.

 

Although he  had  spent  so  long  away  from  home, Earl Harcourt had begun to  lay  out  the  grounds and mansion at Nuneham during the mid-1750s. In fact, he had to sacrifice much of the old house at Stanton  Harcourt  to  provide  enough   stone   for   the new building, the local quarry being already fully occupied supplying the raw materials for another local landowner. But this was not before the village at Nuneham (which comprised some sixty cottages in addition to a church, parsonage and an inn) had been moved to a new location a mile away on the road between Oxford and Henley.

 

Countess   Harcourt’s   letters   to   their   son   Lord Nuneham,   then   travelling   in   Germany,   Italy  and Switzerland, record  the progress. In April 1756 she wrote  of  the  elevation  for the proposed  house; in June she  told  of  a  'little jaunt'   she  had  taken   to Nuneham,  ‘which place,  in my opinion, is always in beauty';  and  less  than  a month  later  in July  1756 wrote,  'As we are very fond of seeing this work go on, we generally go to Newnham  ev’ry week...'. It is particularly  ironic,  therefore,  that  Lord  Harcourt should  have  died  there  so soon  after his  retirement in 1777. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (19 September) in an ‘Extract of a letter from Oxford, Sept. 16 tells the story:

'I   am   sorry   to   acquaint   you   of   a   most melancholy  accident which  happened yesterday at Newnham...  the seat of the Right Hon.    Lord     Harcourt. His Lordship (Earl Harcourt)  went  out  for  a walk  in  his  park,  as he  frequently  did  about  noon...  His Lordship in his walk near home was generally accompanied by a favourite dog only; the dog in running about, accidentally fell into this old well, which was quite overgrown with sedge, so as not to be discovered; His Lordship, with his usual humanity, hearing the cries of his favourite little animal, came to its relief, and in stooping to get out the dog, his Lordship fell into the well head foremost, where he stuck quite fast, in which manner he was found…’

 

News of the tragedy travelled fast, although was not received sympathetically in some quarters. The Rev William Mason in a letter to Horace Walpole, both friends of the new Earl Harcourt, who had not been particularly fond of his father, wrote on 23 September, ‘What an inconsistent creature is man! Poor Lord Harcourt! I fear he was so good a courtier that he would not have hesitated a moment about giving his vote for scalping his brethren in Canada, and yet he died in the humane act of saving a dog from drowning’.

In temperament the 2nd Earl Harcourt was very different from his father. Whereas the latter had been ‘painstaking, dignified, decorous’ although ‘not exempt from the prevailing habit of excessive drinking’, the son was delicate, a lover of refined society and one who ‘affected French manners and fashions’. He and his wife, his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of 1st Baron Vernon whom he had married in 1765, eventually transformed Nuneham into what the Drury Lane actress Jane Pope (1742-1818) once described as a place of ‘elegance, ease, & hospitality’. The poet William Mason was responsible for laying out the flower-garden where he and Lord Harcourt, according to Mavis Batey, ‘mingled wild and garden flowers in aggressively irregular beds, twined jasmine and woodbine round the trees, laced the winding path with… the periwinkle, and sprinkled birdseed to entice the linnets and ringdoves’ (Country Life, 12 September 1968). This arcadian scene later became familiar to a wider audience when a view of Nuneham (after an engraving by W. Cooke, 1811) was used to decorate the ‘Wild Rose’ pattern wares of a number of Staffordshire pottery manufacturers.

The King and Queen at Nuneham

In 1784 Countess Harcourt became a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. This was a significant appointment because Lord and Lady Harcourt had absented themselves in a marked manner from Court since soon after the death of the 1st Earl. This had arisen ‘owing to some slight’ which it was imagined had been passed upon him; in fact, George III had ignored his old Governor’s request (intimated as long ago as 1771) to be bestowed with the Order of the Garter. But the period of coolness over, this was the beginning of a sincere friendship between the Harcourts and the King and Queen. In September 1785 the royal couple with the Princes Ernest, Augustus and Adolphus and the princesses Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth visited Nuneham. The party had intended to return to Windsor the same day, but the weather was so good that the King, resolving to visit Oxford, decided that they should stay the night with Lord and Lady Harcourt.

The trip to Oxford the following morning was a great success. Their Majesties and the Princes and Princesses, accompanied by the Harcourts, visited several of the colleges and the King conferred a knighthood on John Treacher, the Mayor. In its October issue The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that during the day they visited the public schools, entering ‘at the eastern gates, and passing through the Divinity School were ushered into the Theatre, where the Heads of Houses, Doctors in the different Facilities, &c. were assembled. In the area of this magnificent room, chairs being placed for that purpose, their Majesties and the Royal Family were seated for some time; and the Vice Chancellor with the Heads of Houses, the Hon. Mr. Matthew of Corpus Christi, and the Proctors, had the honour of kissing their Majesties hands. At their entrance, and during this ceremony, Dr. Hayes, Professor of Music, entertained their Majesties with several overtures on the organ: whilst the ladies, and other company, with which the galleries were crowded, had the happiness of being spectators… Bells were incessantly ringing from the arrival of the Royal Family to their departure. At night the city was grandly illuminated, and a general joy appeared in every countenance’. Meanwhile, the King and Queen returned to Nuneham where they were treated to ‘an elegant cold collation’ to the sound of martial music played by the band of the Oxfordshire militia. As evening gathered they departed for Windsor to the strains of ‘God save the King’.

The attachment between the royal family and the Harcourts which was sealed by this visit was both genuine and long-lasting. Many letters survive in proof of this, particularly some of the more than three hundred which Lady Harcourt received from Princess Elizabeth (1770-1840). Indeed, it was the latter who, with her sister Princess Augusta, gave to Earl Harcourt in 1803 a gold snuff box in the form of a tortoise. Lady Harcourt has also left an intimate account of the King’s illness of 1788-89. As regards Lady Harcourt’s relationship with the Queen, whose reputation at large was that of a distant, remote figure, the following extract from a letter written by Charlotte on 17 December 1786 will speak for itself:

‘… I have of late seen several ladies just returned from Paris, some very much improved in looks, & others far otherwise. Mrs. Eden by wearing an Enormous Quantity of Rouge looks much more pleasing, & Mrs. Goldburn, by Hiding Her Fine Complexion, on the Contrary loses by that Ornament; the latter is quite Formidable by Three immense Feathers, which so directly run into my Eyes when she was presented, I was under the necessity of drawing myself back in order to avoid Mischief, & I rejoiced a little in lady Claremont’s distress who presented Her…’.

With the deaths of Elizabeth, Countess Harcourt in 1826 and then the 3rd Earl Harcourt in 1830, Nuneham Park and the remainder of the family estates and residuary property passed to Edward Venables-Vernon, afterwards Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York (1757-1847). He was the third son of George Vernon, 3rd Baron Vernon (1708-1780) by his third wife Martha, granddaughter of Lord Chancellor Simon Harcourt and sister of 1st Earl Harcourt.

Improvements and changes were made to both house and garden – and by the time of her visit the recently crowned Queen Victoria, like Sir Joshua Reynolds and so many other visitors to Nuneham Park, found the atmosphere of the place irresistible; she stayed there with Prince Albert on the occasion of his receiving an honorary degree at Oxford. The Harcourts continued to occupy high office – William Harcourt was caught out by the death duties tax that he had introduced as Chancellor of the Exchequer and his son Lewis worked closely with his father in parliament and cabinet in Westminster (the results of his copious note taking are held, with many other family papers, at the Bodleian Library). Harcourts continued too to collect – though not at the pace of their predecessors – and to enjoy Nuneham until it was requisitioned for the RAF in 1942 and subsequently sold to the University of Oxford. The family then moved back to their more ancient estate in Oxfordshire and continue to live there.

 

Much of the information for the foregoing account has been taken from The Harcourt Papers, vols. I-XIII, edited by Edward William Harcourt (1825-1891) and published privately in 1880 in an edition of fifty copies. See also Country Life, 5 September 1968, 10 October 1974 and 3 January 1985.

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