B elonging to a small but important group of English furniture from the Trustees of Second Baron Hesketh’s Will Trust (lots 66-69), unravelling the past of this striking table has proved to be a fascinating exercise.
A closer look reveals an exceptionally fine early Georgian games table inset with a chessboard, which at some point in its life – most likely in the second quarter of the 19th century – was remounted on mahogany legs in the ‘antiquarian’ taste.
The advent of the ‘chess queen’ in the 15th century, with unrestricted movement around the board, dramatically improved the game’s playability and popularity in the West. It is therefore fitting the table is reputed to have belonged to some of the most powerful women of their day, including Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649–1734) and mistress of Charles II, and Henrietta Louisa Fermor (1698–1761), Countess of Pomfret, who had the misfortune of being the granddaughter of both ‘hanging’ Judge Jeffreys and the murderous Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke.
A typed note accompanying the table, which also dates from the second quarter of the 19th century, indicates it was known as ‘Lady Windsor’s Table’ in Pomfret nomenclature, owing to the marriage between Lady Charlotte Herbert (1676-1733) and her second husband, Thomas Windsor, 1st Viscount Windsor of Blackcastle (1669-1738). Whilst some of the early lines of reputed provenance might be apocryphal, there is no doubt that ‘Lady Windsor’s table’ has always been regarded as treasure in the Pomfret/Hesketh collections, and justifiably so.
The craftsmanship is exceptional. The materials employed, with marble-like burr-yew wood veneers providing a striking contrast to the crisp ivory squares of the chess board, are of the finest quality. The herringbone inlay to the drawer fronts is only bettered by the inlay to the shallow candle slides.
The candle slides themselves are beautifully made, fitted with blocks to the back end which act as counterweights securing the slides when open fully. Because they would be visible to anyone using the table, the counterweights are finished with an ogee-moulded edge. A wonderfully subtle detail. All that remains to be considered is whom might have sat down at this table during its illustrious history, engaged in the ultimate game of strategy.