A gold brooch in Gothic style mounted with an enamelled armorial shield surmounted by a pearl set coronet within a circlet of cushion-shaped rubies and diamonds, the reverse mounted with a locket, supplied by Mackay, Cunningham & Co., Edinburgh as a gift for a bridesmaid at the marriage of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute to Gwendolin Fitzalan-Howard on 16 April 1872.
Dimensions approx: 29mm x 32mm
This rare brooch was made to the order of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900) one of the richest men in England who used his vast wealth to create, renovate or decorate a series of family properties across Scotland and Wales in flamboyant Gothic Revival style. Guided by architect William Burges (1827-1881), Bute transformed Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch – both situated near the Welsh coal fields which fueled the family wealth – into medieval fantasies furnished and decorated in brightly coloured Gothic style. With ceaseless energy, Bute also rebuilt Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute in Florentine style and restored Dumfries House, Rothesay and Falkland castles, St Andrew’s Priory, and Caerphilly Castle. The properties reflected Bute’s wide-ranging intellectual, cultural and antiquarian interests. Most of all, despite being paid for by 19th century industrial wealth, the houses displayed Bute’s enthusiasm for the past and for British history.
As a young man, Bute had scandalised Society by converting to Catholicism, a spiritual journey which led in 1872 to his marriage to Gwendolin Fitzalan-Howard (1854–1932), the Catholic granddaughter of the duke of Norfolk. Ahead of the wedding the marquess arranged for gold, enamel and gem set lockets to be created for the eight bridesmaids: the bride’s four sisters Angela, Winifred, Alice and Constance Fitzalan-Howard; her cousin Lady Phillipa Fitzalan-Howard, her aunt Miss de Lisle; the marquess’ cousin Lady Flora Hastings and Miss Manners, daughter of Lord and Lady Manners.
As could be expected, Bute took a keen personal interest in designing the jewels, possibly seeking the opinion of Burges who was creating his own jewel in Gothic taste as a surprise wedding present for the new marchioness.
His final design centred on a polychrome enameled shield displaying the Stuart coat of arms newly-impaled with those of Howard which in time would be replicated throughout Bute’s many properties. The shield was capped by a marquess’s coronet set with Scottish freshwater pearls and encircled, as Bute explained to his young bride, by a girdle ‘alternately rubies and diamonds, being your colours – red and white’ [Bute to Gwendolin Howard, 28 February 1872, quoted Hannah, p.103]. Bute thought the jewels would do ‘very well’ giving the task of making them to Mackay, Cunningham & Co.in Princes Street, Edinburgh hoping it would ‘get his name up’ – even though the firm already supplied jewels to Queen Victoria in Scotland.
The wedding, at the Brompton Oratory in London on 16 April 1872, was a spectacular event and so popular that stands were erected outside the church for the crowds of onlookers. Among the many royal and aristocratic guests (many curious to attend a Catholic Mass) was Benjamin Disraeli the former and soon-to-be again prime minister who had recently fictionalised Bute’s conversion to Catholicism in his bestselling novel Lothair (1870). According to press accounts, the bride wore white satin decorated with orange blossom and swathes of diamond jewels and the bridesmaids white muslin gowns trimmed with lace and decorated with pink crepe.
‘Each youthful lady’, gushed the Glasgow Herald reporter with a degree of artistic licence after seeing the bridesmaids, ‘wore as a memento of the auspicious event a valuable gold locket, the centre being in the shape of a shield or escutcheon, on which were enamelled in colours proper the heraldic arms of the Bute and Norfolk families impaled. Round the lower part of the shield, from the top of the dexter chief to that of the sinister, was a band of beautiful rubies and small diamonds, the loop set with the same precious stones. The ornament was surmounted with a Marquis’s coronet, the leaves being formed in diamonds alternating with pearls’.
Rosemary Hannah, The Grand Designer Third Marquess of Bute (Edinburgh, 2012)
Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey Munn, Artists’ Jewellery, (Woodbridge, 1989) where another similar brooch illustrated plate 55, p.100.