'The noblest pyle among us': Raynham in its Local Context
Essay by Jonny Yarker
Sir Thomas Browne, writing in Hydriotaphia, published in 1658, called Raynham ‘the noblest pyle among us.’1 Browne, a Norfolk-based physician and polymath, knew the precociously classical building, which had been constructed between 1622 and 1637 by Sir Roger Townshend, to be the superlative house in the county. This was not simply a question of its size, or the advanced nature of its architecture, but the position the house and its owners assumed in the complex social hierarchy of seventeenth-century Norfolk. A century later Raynham and the Townshends were eclipsed by a succession of grander houses, most conspicuously Houghton Hall, the seat of Sir Robert Walpole. The purpose of this study is to consider Raynham and its collections in the immediate context of its Norfolk neighbours and to assess Raynham’s shifting status. This requires the careful reconstruction of family networks, party alignments and business relationships and to examine the active role that the ‘power house’ played in Norfolk politics in the period between 1660 and 1730.
The present study looks at the changing position of the house under just two of its owners, Sir Horatio Townshend (c.1630–1687; fig. 1), who was created successively Baron Townshend of Lynn Regis in 1661 and Viscount Townshend in 1682, and his son, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738; RN1, RN7). The first two viscounts formed the subject of James Rosenheim’s 1989 book The Townshends of Raynham: Nobility in Transition in Restoration and Early Hanoverian England, a work which contrasted the two men and the role local politics played in their national ambitions. Rosenheim’s book offered a careful portrait of the mutable role that county politics played between 1660 and 1730, a period of political transformation in Britain. As a practical portrait of the ‘power house’ at work, the book offers a rare case study of how a house was used by its occupants, although little mention is made of its contents or their display.2 However, the issues are worthy of consideration, particularly as regards the second viscount and his relationship with his brother-in-law and near neighbour, Sir Robert Walpole. And, while Walpole’s collections of old master paintings and antique sculpture formed for Houghton Hall have been the subject of several recent in-depth scholarly studies, his awareness of Townshend is a topic that has not been addressed directly.3 The present study therefore offers a timely opportunity to consider the complex role that their proximity, and the proximity of other neighbours, played on each of their strategies of display.
Raynham: ‘metropolis of Norfolk’4
Sir Thomas Browne’s identification of Raynham as the ‘noblest pyle’ in Norfolk offers contemporary evidence for its status within the region: the use of the superlative underlines that the house and its owner, Sir Horatio Townshend, were considered at the top of the county hierarchy. Power in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain was largely derived from land ownership: land provided an income and formed the basis of the political franchise. At a local level, larger landowners could dominate parliamentary seats, provide officers for the local militia and control a network of justices of the peace. This, in turn, formed the basis for power in parliament and at court; administrations appreciated the support of a regional magnate, rewarding loyalty with a roster of local appointments and sinecures. This complex interdependence between county and capital was expressed most potently in the creation of peerages: only a peer qualified for the most coveted local position, the lord lieutenancy.
The Townshend family had been armigerous since the fourteenth century. The founder of the family fortune was Sir Roger Townshend, an eminent lawyer, who sat as MP for Bramber in 1467 and greatly enlarged his Norfolk estates.5 Horatio’s father, Roger (c.1596–1637), sat successively as MP for Orford and the county of Norfolk, being made a baronet in 1617. He was also responsible for building the house at Raynham. Careful husbandry of his land meant that in 1648 Horatio Townshend inherited a substantial estate, including his father’s new mansion, thirty manors and three lordships in Norfolk, besides valuable property in Essex.6
At first sight, Horatio Townshend’s biography suggests someone who successfully negotiated the complex political world of late seventeenth-century Britain. Too young to have fought in the Civil War, Townshend played a careful hand during the Commonwealth. Sitting in the protectorate parliaments of 1656 and 1659 Townshend witnessed the shifting political mood and began working in favour of a restoration of the monarchy: Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon noted later that Townshend ‘had been under age till long after the end of [the] war . . . [he was] liable to no reproach or jealousy’ from others, adding that he was ‘a gentleman of the greatest interest and credit’ in Norfolk.7
Townshend was elected to the Convention Parliament for Norfolk in April 1660 and was one of the twelve representatives from the Commons sent to escort Charles II from Breda. The wealth and strategic importance of Norfolk, and particularly Norfolk’s major ports – King’s Lynn in the west and Great Yarmouth in the east – made it an important county to secure. This, in turn, made Townshend, well connected and able to recruit followers, a key ally for the new monarchy. As a result in April 1661 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Townshend of Lynn Regis. Townshend was therefore the first resident peer of note in the county since the eclipse of the Howard dukedom in 1572.8 Having been a militia colonel since October 1660, he was made lord lieutenant of Norfolk in August 1661. Other local offices soon followed, including the vice-admiralty of Norfolk and the high stewardship of King’s Lynn. Another reward for his services was the farming of the coal duties, which he was granted by the crown in 1664.
Townshend’s rise demands that we consider the role fulfilled by Raynham as seat of a local magnate. We know that at the death of his father, the great new house was unoccupied and largely unfurnished.9 Thanks to plans prepared in the 1670s preserved at the RIBA in London we know the arrangement of rooms (figs 2 and 3).10 It was a somewhat old-fashioned format: it had double entrances (rather than a central one) on the west front, with doorways that led into screen passages on either side of the Great Hall, a plan that John Harris has pointed out was ‘a duplication of the traditional medieval layout’.11 For a powerful local politician, having an imposing public space in which to entertain and conduct business was essential. Townshend’s near neighbour at Rougham, Roger North, recorded his verdict, noting that this formal hall had ‘great prerogative of room, to the damage of the rest of the house.’12
North dismissed the poorly lit staircases and the ‘lumpish’ apartments on the east front. Trace evidence for the interior decoration survives in the names of rooms mentioned in estate accounts preserved at Raynham. There was, for example, a ‘damask’ room and we know that Horatio Townshend had celebrated his elevation to the peerage by commissioning a splendid full-length portrait of himself in peer’s robes from Peter Lely (see fig. 1). The painting, now in the collection of the National Museum Wales in Cardiff, was almost certainly one of the ‘picturs’ by ‘Mr Lilly’ that are recorded in Townshend’s accounts.13 A full-length portrait of Mary Ashe (1653–1685), Townshend’s second wife, also by Lely was in the 1904 Heirlooms sale.14 The sale included an additional thirteen paintings attributed to Lely, many of which can be identified in early inventories of the house.15 Townshend’s accounts also reveal his spending on luxury objects: £200 on plate in 1662 all engraved with his arms ‘supporter and coronet’, a dozen spoons ‘of the Italian fashion’ and a pair of ‘screw turne . . . Damaske pistolls.’13
Despite Browne’s assertion, there were other houses that vied for primacy and other families who felt themselves the noblest in Norfolk. For one, there was Sir William Paston, whose magnificent house, Oxnead Hall, had been constructed in the 1560s.17 Paston’s spectacular collections, in part celebrated in the enigmatic still-life painting known as the Paston Treasure, point to the sumptuousness of seventeenth-century Oxnead. Reading the inventory of ‘the best closett’ reveals a dizzying list of vessels in mother of pearl, amber, ivory, shell, silver-gilt, rock crystal, porcelain and enamel, along with mounted precious stones and gilt-bronze sculptures.18 Among it all we find hanging ‘My Ld Townsend’s picture, done by Mr. Burrell’.
The exchange of portraits among neighbours was not unusual but it is perhaps surprising to find Horatio Townshend hanging amid the spectacular Paston inheritance. In 1675 Townshend found himself opposing the election of the son-in-law of Charles II’s chief minister, Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, to the parliamentary seat of Lynn. This opposition, combined with his gradual shift towards the nascent Whig party, resulted in Townshend’s removal from the lord lieutenancy and the elevation of his rival, Paston, who had recently been created Viscount Yarmouth, in his place.
What role did the ‘power house’ play in all this politicking? We know Townshend made good use of Raynham: he dined his militia troop and even held formal lieutenancy meetings there; in 1679 the leading Whig gentry came to confer for several days about parliamentary choices. To put it plainly, Horatio Townshend’s Raynham was an extension of his power and authority. There was a steady and varied flow of guests in and out of Raynham to which his image was presented. The most frequent visitors were relatives, Norfolk Whigs and a group of local men of slight status, but some were of national stature, including the Earl of Arlington, Sir Robert Carr and Sir Edward Turner, speaker of the House of Commons and in 1671 Charles II himself. Significantly, when at Raynham, Townshend retained old forms of entertainment, keeping occasional open house as lord lieutenant and reaffirming his personal and paternalist bonds with his tenants by feasting them at Christmas and on his son Charles’s birthday. The sheer size and magnificence of Raynham was used to impress tenants on these occasions and also when they came to pay rent or when manor courts were held there. In all these ways the hall served a function in conformity with a way of life, predicated on persistent interaction between land owners and their tenants, a way of life that was in fact in rapid decline.
The Second Viscount and his Neighbours
In contrast to the Pastons at Oxnead, whose expenditure and precarious finances ended in the bankruptcy of the second earl and sale of Oxnead and its collections, Horatio, the 1st Viscount, realised the importance of preserving the Townshend patrimony and passing on Raynham in good order to his young son.19 His will specifically states that all ‘jewells, plate, household stuffs . . . armes and other my goods. . . . as heyre loomes’ not to be sold or severed from Raynham Hall ‘upon any occasion or pretence whatsoever.’20
Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (RN1, RN7) had a long minority, in which his trustees were careful to preserve and augment the estate with the result that when he came of age he was wealthy and financially secure. It also meant that he was assured a prominent role in local politics. In 1701, at the age of twenty-seven, Townshend was appointed high steward of King’s Lynn, high steward of Norwich Cathedral, custos rotulorum and lord lieutenant, a position he held with only a brief interruption until his retirement in 1730. But, unlike his father, Charles was more interested in the national arena and his career was largely focused on London. In 1709 Queen Anne appointed Townshend to an important diplomatic post at the Hague, the main artery of British diplomacy. It was the height of the War of the Spanish Succession and it was feared that the Dutch might conclude a separate peace with France. Townshend negotiated a series of agreements allowing the Dutch to occupy forts in the Spanish Netherlands, known as the Barrier Treaty.
The fall of the Whig administration in 1710 resulted in Townshend’s recall from Holland and a period in opposition. In 1712 he was officially censured and condemned as a public enemy and stripped of the lord lieutenancy. In the middle of this period of misfortune, following the death of his first wife, he married Dorothy (1686–1726), the sister of his boyhood friend and political colleague Robert Walpole (1676–1745). Townshend’s marriage to Dorothy Walpole in 1713 formally united the two families for the first time. Townshend strengthened his ties with Hanoverian agents, ensuring that on the death of Queen Anne, he would return to government as secretary of state for the Northern Department. Walpole, in turn, was appointed first lord of the Treasury and chancellor of the Exchequer, a position he occupied until 1742.
The Walpoles, like the Townshends at Raynham, had been established at Houghton since the thirteenth century. Colonel Robert Walpole, father of Sir Robert Walpole, had been a close friend and political ally of Horatio Townshend, serving as one of his deputy lieutenants, an executor of his will and mentor to the young Charles Townshend. As Andrew Moore has recently observed, the links between the two families and the networks of political patronage that Townshend and Walpole established across Norfolk provided them with an influential committee of taste whom they could consult during their various campaigns of building and decorating.21
It is perhaps not surprising to find congruencies in the design, personnel and contents of the two houses. The architect and designer William Kent was central to the appearance of the interiors of both. Less clear is who first employed Kent. Julius Bryant has suggested that Kent ‘may have installed himself first as a painter before moving on to the wider interior decoration . . . [he] must have spent a long time on site, unusually, because the decoration is painted directly onto the wall, rather than on canvas’, implying that his work began at Raynham (fig. 4).22
Kent reordered the seventeenth-century house, creating a splendid new Great Hall with black and white marble floor and Townshend’s coat of arms richly carved on the ceiling; he transformed the 1st Viscount’s kitchen into a bedroom and closets, his Chapel into the Saloon and added a theatrical screen to the principal Dining Room. A surviving memorandum listing design questions for ‘Mr Kent’ makes clear that, as at Houghton, he was involved in every aspect of the interior from ‘what sort of Chaises are proper for the Great Room’ to the arrangement of furniture, the design of consoles and curtains, lighting for the stairs and the picture hang in the Parlour.23 This memorandum also makes clear that Kent’s role was creative and that the day-to-day work was supervised by Thomas Ripley, who was also employed at Houghton. Similarly, receipts at Raynham prove that his team included James Richards, whom George I had appointed master carver in wood in 1722.24
Given the proximity and connections between the two families it is not surprising to find that Walpole portraits hung at Raynham while Townshends also hung at Houghton. A portrait of the 1st Viscount is recorded by 1736 hanging ‘in the Little Breakfast Room’ at Houghton where it was displayed as a pendant to a portrait of his friend, Colonel Robert Walpole (fig. 5).25 By 1736 the Supping Parlour at Houghton contained a concentration of portraits including those of Sir Robert Walpole and his first wife by Charles Jervas; Walpole’s brother Horatio, Lord Walpole, by Jonathan Richardson; his sister, Dorothy Townshend, by Jervas; his brothers-in-law, Charles, Viscount Townshend by Kneller and Sir Charles Turner by Richardson. This intimate assembly is repeated at Raynham, where Sir Robert Walpole’s portrait is recorded hanging with other family portraits in ‘the small dining room’.26
The exchange of portraits, as Kate Retford has suggested, ‘formed a visual map of aristocratic connections across the country.’ More prosaically they were an established means of expressing dynastic and political ties.27 Townshend and Walpole both relied on members of their extended families and close Norfolk neighbours to support them politically. They and their circle obsessively exchanged and displayed each other’s portraits, forging a ‘map’ of connections that was explicitly political in its meaning. It is underlined by Charles Jervas’s 1733 statement of work he had undertaken for Townshend, a document discussed in detail by Amy Lim in the present project.28 Essentially, the statement is revealing precisely because it underlines the strategic use of portraits and the diverse recipients of Townshend’s own portrait. There were full-lengths in coronation robes for his political ally Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, who served as southern secretary in Walpole’s cabinet and was the brother of Townshend’s first wife. There was also a copy for Newcastle’s brother, the future prime minister, Henry Pelham (1694–1754). In addition, a pair of full-lengths of Townshend and his second wife, Dorothy, had been commissioned for the senior diplomat and Dorothy’s brother, Horatio, 1st Lord Walpole, for his new house, Wolterton, Norfolk. Jervas even lists a ‘copy’ that had been sent to Stephen Poyntz ‘for the Congress’, Poyntz having served as Townshend’s confidential secretary before being sent as commissioner to the Congress of Soissons, where Townshend’s portrait was dispatched as a piece of diplomatic equipage.
Jervas’s Raynham memorandum and accompanying receipt can be compared with another preserved among the Cholmondeley ‘vouchers’ at Cambridge University Library. The bill from Jervas, directly relating to his patronage of art, is a rare survival; as such it is worth citing in full:
Oct. 20 1725
For the rt Honble Sir Robert Walpole
Your half length for Mrs Hamond 21. 00. 00
The Gold frame 03. 10. 00
Your Ladys (a copy) 10. 10. 00
The Gold frame 03. 10. 00
2 primed lineings 00. 06. 00
The case for both & packing 00. 15. 00
Copy of yr Lady to Mr D’Aitignave 10. 10. 00
The gold frame 02. 02. 00
£52. 03. 00
October 20th 1725
Recid the sum of fifty two pounds 3 shill in full of Sr Robert Walpole
The receipt is among those relating to the expenses surrounding the (re)formation of the Order of the Bath in 1725. It records payment of £21 for a half-length portrait of Walpole, where he is shown wearing the new order, and a copy of Jervas’s 1710 portrait of Walpole’s wife, Catherine Shorter, made for only £10 10s, to be presented to Walpole’s sister Susan Hamond.29 Jervas’s 1725 portrait of Walpole for his sister appeared on the market in 2018 (fig. 6) accompanied by a full-length portrait by Jervas of Dorothy Townshend in coronation robes (fig. 7), a version of her portrait not itemised on the Raynham list, which confirms that it does not represent a comprehensive account of Jervas’s work for the family.30 The receipt also corroborates Jervas’s pricing scale: he had charged Townshend £42 for the full-length portrait of himself in Garter robes presented to Horatio Walpole and £21 for copies of full-length portraits. It specifically states that in the case of an existing portrait being copied and given a new full-length body, he worked ‘according to the practise of all painters at . . . 5 Guineas for the head Copy, & 30 Guineas, the figure.’31 There is a considerable body of evidence to substantiate this formula in the work of other painters.32 Both Townshend and Walpole, it seems, were particularly generous patrons.
At the same time that Townshend was remodelling Raynham, Horatio, 1st Lord Walpole, was employing Ripley to construct a new house on his estate at Wolterton. Purchased by him soon after his marriage to the heiress of a wealthy city merchant, Mary Lombard, Wolterton lies some twelve miles north of Norwich and thirty miles east of Houghton. Here, Ripley designed a compact Palladian house of red brick, built on a plain rectangular plan of three storeys. The comparatively low ground and second floors contain living rooms and bedrooms, while the grander first-floor piano nobile contains a suite of robustly decorated interiors. Walpole himself left a brief account of the house in his memoirs: ‘[m]y house, of my own building, is not extremely large, nor little; it is neither to be envied, nor despised. The disposition of the rooms is neither magnificent nor contemptible, but convenient.’33
Ripley’s surviving correspondence gives a rare insight into the deliberations involved in arranging a picture collection in the period.34 The letters are particularly revealing because the paintings at Wolterton were assembled by Walpole, a younger son, during his diplomatic and political career, rather than being either a great inherited collection or group of purchased old masters. In July 1739 Ripley reported to Walpole progress on the decoration of the North West Room, destined to be the house’s principal dining room:
I took all the pictures and frames out of the cases and see the frames put all together and the picktures safe put in them. They are hung up in their proper places. Now your family piece is up in a right hight, it looks extreamly well. The Queen’s pickture does mighty well over the Chimney in the Dineing Room, amongst her Children. The French King did not do well at the East End between the late & present King. I have therefore put the late King in the middle, King Charles the first on one side and the present King on the other side of him. The frames being all of a size and make the End of the Room look mighty well.35
The ‘family piece’ was a large-scale work by Jacopo Amigoni of Walpole, his wife and their eight surviving children and remains at Wolterton (fig. 8). The Walpoles were politically loyal to Queen Caroline whose coronation portrait by Jervas was prominently installed over the mantelpiece. Walpole’s initial idea had been to place a full-length portrait of Louis XV in armour by Jean-Baptiste van Loo in between George I and George II, but Ripley took the decision to replace him with Charles I, indicating that aesthetics trumped iconography (fig. 9).
I have put Sr. Robert Walpole up over the Venetian Room Chimney and Lord Townshend over the Chimney piece in the best bed chamber, the French King over the Sallone Chimney, Lewis the fourteenth over the best Drawing Room Chimney, and Oliver Cromwell over the Chimney in the Bedchamber, the four last picktures want Frames. I have shewed them how to secure each pickture when the painters are finished each Room.36
Van Loo’s portrait of Louis XV therefore found a home above the chimney in the Saloon. Walpole had been ambassador extraordinary and subsequently ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary in Paris for almost a decade and had received a series of diplomatic gifts, including the king’s portrait, a portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud of Cardinal Fleury and a series of Gobelins tapestries.37 Jervas’s portrait of Lord Townshend was mentioned in the 1733 statement as being ‘still in my hands to be ready at his call when his house in the country is furnish’d’: its placement over the mantelpiece in the ‘best’ bedroom points to the regard with which Walpole held his former mentor and brother-in-law.
At Raynham, the 2nd Viscount seems also to have grouped his royal portraits in the Dining Room along with more intimate, family pictures. The room was known by the early nineteenth century as Queen Anne’s Parlour thanks to the presence of Kneller’s full-length portrait of the queen (fig. 10; now Drapers’ Hall, London), which had formed part of Townshend’s embassy to the Hague.38 In the same room hung versions of Jervas’s coronation portraits of George II and Queen Caroline, identical to those at Wolterton; George I by Kneller and, set into the overmantel, the portrait of his young son, Thomas Townshend attributed to Kneller, a painting still at Raynham (RN47).
As was the case at Wolterton, Townshend reserved the grandest room in the house for showing a prized diplomatic gift. On the first floor, Kent created a monumental saloon, known since the eighteenth century as the Belisarius Room, in honour of Salvator Rosa’s spectacular full-length depiction of the Roman general (fig. 11). The painting had been a gift from King Friedrich William I of Prussia, almost certainly in gratitude for Townshend’s role in concluding the alliance of Hanover, which was approved by Parliament in February 1726. It was certainly in situ at Raynham by 1728 when it was recorded by Sir Matthew Decker, who also noted ‘its most costly gilded frame.’39 It joined a grand display of full-length family portraits including Lely’s portrait of his father and mother (extended by Jervas, according to the 1733 statement) and Townshend’s own portrait in peer’s robes by Kneller (fig. 12) flanked by portraits of his two wives.40 Kent adapted the seventeenth-century interior, reverently retaining the heavy Baroque ceiling but inserting painted panels depicting the Townshend heraldic supporters (a stag and a greyhound) and a central panel incorporating a bust of George I in front of a rostral column (fig. 13).
Rosa’s Belisarius was the only significant old-master painting at Raynham. While hugely celebrated during the century for both its artistic quality and the pathos with which Rosa captures the subject, it seems likely that Townshend viewed it principally as evidence of his success as a statesman. By the time Matthew Decker saw it in 1728 the painting had acquired a spectacular carved and gilt frame, probably designed by Kent, surmounted by a Baroque helmet and incorporating the Prussian arms.
Prominent among the portraits in the Belisarius Room were historicist, full-length portraits of Townshend’s grandmother, Mary Vere, wife of Sir Roger Townshend and her father Horace, Lord Vere of Tilbury.41 The full-length portrait of Mary Vere, which survives at Raynham (RN67) was almost certainly commissioned by the 2nd Viscount. Her prominent position, over the chimneypiece, points to an important aspect of his self-presentation: his dynastic pride in being descended from the Vere family. This pride was also given visible form in Townshend’s decision to incorporate nineteen full-length portraits of men who had served under Horace Vere during his Dutch campaigns into the new interiors at Raynham. Kent’s transformation of the 1st Viscount’s chapel into a saloon gave room for twelve of the portraits, surmounted with Baroque helmets and palms carved by James Richards. The precise status of the portraits, the circumstances of their commission and subsequent dispersal is the subject of Edward Town’s study in the present project.42 One question that can be asked here is why Townshend chose to instal this group of early seventeenth-century portraits at the heart of his new interior.
The answer lies partly in their visual appeal: a splendid group of Baroque martial portraits, however retardataire in style, must have appealed to Kent and Townshend. Their primary appeal, however, lay in their historical significance. As we have seen, the Townshends were principally a Norfolk-based family: Sir Roger Townshend’s marriage to Mary Vere connected them with one of the great aristocratic dynasties of Britain. Horace Vere, 1st Lord Tilbury, was the grandson of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, and was himself a military leader of distinction. Vere had spent his career fighting for the Dutch in a succession of wars against the Spanish, assembling the remarkable group of portraits of the British officers who had served under him – a practice that reflected Dutch custom in the period. Once installed at Raynham, the portraits were clearly designed to suggest Townshend’s descent from the heroic Vere and imply his family’s – more specifically, his own – consistent role in defending British interests abroad. It has not been suggested before but it could be that the contemporary viewer was being asked to draw a parallel between Townshend’s great-grandfather, who spent his career protecting cities of the United Provinces against the aggression of Spanish forces, largely unsuccessfully, and Townshend himself, who had succeeded in finally securing the Dutch sovereignty of the same cities with the Barrier Treaty. What we can affirm is that Kent’s interior reorganisation of Raynham and the associated picture display put Townshend’s diplomatic and political successes and his family pride at its heart, factors that place it in subtle opposition to the neighbouring ‘pyles’ then under construction.
As a result of Walpole’s rise and Townshend’s retirement in 1730, Houghton overtook Raynham as a centre of politics and patronage in Norfolk (figs 14 and 15). As the courtier and politician John, 2nd Lord Hervey observed in the 1730s: ‘All application was made to him [Walpole]; his house was crowded like a fair with all sorts of petitioners, whilst Lord Townshend’s was only frequented by the narrow set of a few relations and particular flatterers.’ In Hervey’s mind this shift was notable precisely because Raynham had long been the ‘noblest pyle’ in Norfolk, home to three lord lieutenants of the county, dynastically immensely well connected men, who could have assumed that they would dominate local affairs. Hervey continues:
Before Sir Robert Walpole built this house (which was one of the best, though not of the largest, in England) Lord Townshend looked upon his own seat at Raynham as the metropolis of Norfolk, was proud of the superiority, and considered every stone that augmented the splendour of Houghton as a diminution of the grandeur of Raynham. Had Sir Robert Walpole raised this fabric of fraternal discord in any other county in England, it might have escaped the envy of this wise rival; but Sir Robert’s partiality to the solum natale, the scene of his youth and the abode of his ancestors, made that neighbourhood, to which the accidental commencement of his friendship with Lord Townshend was first owing, the cause of its dissolution.43
Hervey explicitly sets up a contrast between Townshend and Walpole, Raynham and Houghton, a contrast that demands a degree of investigation.
By 1730 Houghton’s interiors were all but completed. Kent had created through textiles, ornament, furniture, sculpture and, most importantly, old-master paintings a Roman palazzo in north Norfolk. As Julius Bryant has pointed out, Houghton is singular in several respects: ‘the extensive use of modern sculpture (by Rysbrack) as part of the interior decoration; the creation by a single “eye” of a sequence of textiles (as hangings and upholstery) reinforcing the symbolic hierarchy of the state rooms and the quality of the furniture designed by Kent, ranging from the hall benches to the state bed.’44 For contemporaries, Houghton’s magnificence was manifest: in a carefully organised sequence of rooms, Kent deployed successive walls of stone, cut velvet, tapestry and finally marble. This public parade was complemented by private spaces where even more costly materials were used: Decker noted that mahogany ‘is so general used, that even the water closet is made of the same.’45 At Houghton, family and even royal portraits were relegated to subsidiary positions: old masters predominated. Kent’s interiors were designed to amplify and complement Walpole’s princely collection.
This display model was in marked contrast to the house of the lord lieutenant at Raynham. John Cornforth was the first to suggest that the difference was not solely one of expense and that Townshend and Walpole were actively engaged in different forms of expression. As he has observed: ‘their owners’ intentions seem to have been quite different. It is as if Lord Townshend, who, having split with Sir Robert, decided not to challenge him and quite consciously chose to stress his family’s deep roots in Norfolk and Raynham’s continuity from the age of Charles I and Inigo Jones.’46 There is some evidence to support Cornforth’s hypothesis.
In September 1732 Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, the great antiquarian, bibliophile and son of Queen Anne’s lord high treasurer, embarked on a tour of Norfolk. Harley travelled from Wimpole Hall, his seat near Cambridge, evidently curious to see the rash of rebuilding and decorating that was taking place across the county and particularly the newly completed Houghton, the seat of his father’s political rival. Harley’s brand of tourism was inflected by the tribal nature of early eighteenth-century politics; he was curious to observe the Whig oligarchs ‘at home’ and his account was tempered by party prejudice but it offers a remarkable first-hand account of both houses.47
Townshend’s civility immediately won Harley over: he records being received ‘very kindly’ at the Hall door by Townshend himself and ‘drank some chocolate’ before inspecting the estate. Here it is important to get into the mindset of the eighteenth-century patrician: the quality and productivity of land was paramount. Harley’s account foregrounds Townshend’s ‘improvement’ of his land: his recently constructed ‘two new farms’, ‘nobly wooded’ park, his ‘command of a river’ and his enclosure of ‘one hundred and eighteen acres’ for his deer. Harley noted, with palpable envy: ‘My Lord also told me that he had improved his paternal estate above nine hundred pounds a year, which is very great.’ For an encumbered and extravagant landowner such as Harley, whose debts eventually forced him to sell Wimpole in 1739, he was most admiring of Townshend’s stewardship of his estate. Harley’s comments on the house are minimal, noting that ‘My Lord has altered the whole inside, and has made it extremely convenient, and it is well furnished.’ He confines his praise to Kneller’s full-length portrait of Queen Anne, Rosa’s Belisarius and ‘Vere’s officers’, all which, he affirms, were ‘painted by Cornelius Johnson.’48 He adds, critically, that ‘all the rooms are fitted up by Mr. Kent, and consequently there is a great deal of gilding; very clumsy and over-charged chimney pieces to the great waste of fine marble.’
By 1732 Townshend’s relations with Walpole had cooled and he had largely retired from public life, even giving up the lord lieutenancy in favour of his son, Charles, Lord Lynne.49 As Harley noted: ‘He is resolved never to see London again. It is happy for him that he can live contentedly here and free from the storms and shipwrecks of state. I think he has been a very fortunate man to get himself so well out from among the politicians and courtiers and ministers.’50 Harley then travelled ‘4 very short miles’ on to Houghton where he observes crisply that ‘this house at Houghton has made a great deal of noise, but I think it is not deserving of it.’ Harley offers a stinging assessment of Kent’s grandly decorated interiors: ‘I think it is neither magnificent nor beautiful, there is a very great expense without either judgment or taste.’ He adds, ‘I dare say had the money which has been laid out here, nay and much less, been put into the hands of a man of taste and understanding, there would have been a much finer house, and better rooms, and greater’. Harley allows Walpole’s collection of old-master paintings to be ‘fine’ but criticises the hang of four market pieces by Frans Snyders in the Saloon, observing:
I think they are very oddly put up, one is above the other and joined in the middle with a thin piece of wood gilt. It is certainly wrong because as these pictures of the markets were painted to one point of view, and to be even with the eye, they certainly ought not to be put one above another, besides that narrow gold ledge that is between the two pictures takes the eye and has a very ill effect.
Harley’s audit of defects continues in the Hall: the lantern ‘is very ugly’, the wrong size and ‘cost Sir Robert Walpole at auction one hundred and seventy pounds’, and the cast of the Borghese Gladiator on the stairs is on ‘a most clumsy pedestal’. Harley notes disapprovingly, ‘No apartments in the whole house. There are twenty bedchambers but small’. He managed to praise the kitchens but his final assessment was unremittingly negative: ‘It is certainly a very great disadvantage to see this place after Rainham; for here is neither wood, water, nor prospect that any place has that is worthy to be called a seat, how much short must it be of Rainham which has all those in high perfection.’51
In Harley’s estimation Raynham remained the ‘noblest pyle’ in Norfolk precisely because it eschewed the conspicuous expense of Houghton. Kent’s minimal intervention to the exterior of a house commonly believed in the period to have been designed by Inigo Jones preserved a prized example of ‘England’s Palladio’. In contrast to the profusion of textile, marble and tapestry at Houghton, Raynham’s interiors were consciously kept simple. Even the furniture designed by Kent and carved by Richards is noticeably plainer than at Houghton, as opposed to the gilt effusions commissioned by Walpole.
Townshend was well travelled, well connected on the Continent and had access to the London art world and yet at Raynham he almost ostentatiously avoided acquiring or displaying objects associated with Grand Tour taste. Obversely, the hang at Houghton was designed to demonstrate both Walpole’s taste and buying power: the public rooms were hung almost entirely with old masters to the exclusion of family portraits; nor is there any evidence that Walpole displayed anything of note which he had inherited.52 By contrast, the hang at Raynham featured solely family portraits and works that had passed into the family by inheritance, most prominently the Vere captains.
As an exceptional suite of Jacobean portraits, painted at roughly the date that Raynham was built, we can perhaps see the pictures as representing a concerted statement about the 2nd Viscount’s ancestry and his concomitant legitimacy to govern. The Vere portraits also served to subliminally remind the Walpoles of their social inferiority. Horace Walpole expressed the position in a letter he wrote to George Montagu:
I am arrived at great knowledge in the annals of the house of Vere, but though I have twisted and twined their genealogy and my own a thousand ways, I cannot discover, as I wished to do, that I am descended from them anyhow but from one of their Christian names; the name of Horace having travelled into Norfolk by the marriage of a daughter of Horace Vere of Tilbury with a Sir Roger Townshend, whose family baptised some of us with it.53
Therefore in their own Christian names, the 1st Lord Walpole and 4th Earl of Orford were reminded of their fealty to the neighbouring Townshends.
In recent literature Houghton has emerged as Augustan Britain’s ‘noblest pyle’ but to contemporaries the situation was not so clear-cut. For a visitor such as Harley, nobility implied more than status and true nobility involved high moral principles. On his death Walpole left Houghton in debt, the estate heavily mortgaged and the income diminished. The result was that Kent’s spectacular interiors lasted only forty years and Walpole’s art collection was sold in 1778 by his grandson, George, 3rd Earl of Orford to Catherine the Great of Russia. In contrast, Townshend’s financial continence, his good stewardship of his land and his husbanding of the family patrimony placed him as a model aristocrat. Acres of marl, innovative crop rotation – including the famous use of turnips – enclosure and increased revenue were, for a landowning class, the marks of success. In the face of Walpole’s excesses and impecunity it is possible to regard Raynham as the nobler seat.
The death of the 2nd Viscount Townshend in 1738 resulted in an immediate decline in Raynham’s fortunes. The 3rd Viscount showed little inclination to maintain the family’s position either locally or nationally, resigning as lord lieutenant in 1739 on the eve of his scandalous separation from his wife. Raynham’s retreat coincided with the rise of the ‘Norfolk tour’ which saw Houghton and Holkham emerge as major tourist destinations. In 1744 Horace Walpole, having taken a friend to visit Raynham, commented wryly: ‘I showed the house to the housekeeper, who is a new one, and did not know one portrait; I suppose has never dared to ask my Lord.’54 Thus by degrees Raynham gradually slipped out of contention as Norfolk’s noblest house. But during the lifetime of the first two viscounts, Raynham was viewed as Norfolk’s principal seat and the Townshends as the county’s natural leaders. This position was maintained despite Walpole’s use of Houghton as an out-of-town headquarters for his administration and his growing control of Norfolk politically. While Houghton became a spectacular show-house, Raynham remained a true power-house at the heart of an admired estate. Townshend, by not entering into a battle for prestige with Walpole, carefully and subtly underlined his position as the noblest resident of the county.
Browne’s imaginative and erudite text briefly describes two burial urns discovered in Norfolk which he believed, erroneously, to be Roman, before offering wry commentary on the nature of memorialisation: Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia, Urne Burial, or, A Discourse of the Sepulchrall urnes lately found in Norfolk, London, 1658, n.p., epistle.1
James Rosenheim, The Townshends of Raynham: Nobility in Transition in Restoration and Early Hanoverian England, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989.2
See for example Larissa Dukelskaya and Andrew Moore, eds, A Capital Collection: Houghton Hall and the Hermitage, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002; Thierry Morel, ed., Houghton Revisited: The Walpole Masterpieces from Catherine the Great’s Hermitage, exh. cat., Houghton Hall, 2013; David Cholmondeley and Andrew Moore, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House, New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2014.3
John, 2nd Lord Hervey noted in 1728 that ‘Lord Townshend looked upon his own seat at Raynham as the metropolis of Norfolk’: John Hervey, Memoirs of the reign of George the Second, from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline, ed. John W. Croker, 2 vols, London: John Murray, 1848, vol. 1, p. 113.4
For the origins of the family and their rise to prominence see C. E. Moreton, The Townshends and their World: Gentry, Law, and Land in Norfolk, c. 1450–1551, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.5
Rosenheim, 1989, p. 16.6
Clarendon quoted in ibid., p. 19.7
The Howards retained a powerful base in Norwich, then Britain’s second city. When Charles II visited the county in 1671 he stayed with the Earl Marshal, Henry Howard, later 6th Duke of Norfolk in Norwich, Townshend at Raynham and Sir William Paston at Oxnead. In a letter from Henry Howard to Philip Howard of September 1671 he specifically stated that the Pastons were ‘the most antient of all the [county] gentry here without competition’: see Jean Agnew, ‘The Whirlpool of Misadventures: Letters of Robert Paston, First Earl of Yarmouth, 1663–1679’, Norfolk Record Society, vol. 76, 2012, p. 136.8
According to an inventory made at the death of Sir Roger Townshend the house was unfurnished. Account books suggest that the interiors were largely finished but that the family was still living mostly at Stiffkey: see Linda Campbell, ‘Documentary Evidence for the Building of Raynham Hall’, Architectural History, vol. 32, 1989, pp. 62–3.9
See Rosenheim, 1989, pp. 178–83.10
John Harris, ‘Raynham Hall, Norfolk’, The Archaeological Journal, vol. 118, April 1961, p. 157.11
Howard Colvin and John Newman, eds, Of Building: Roger North’s Writings on Architecture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 76.12
See Rosenheim, 1989, p. 78.13
The Townshend Heirlooms sale, Christie’s, London, 5 March 1904 (72). A reduced version of this portrait is at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. Mary’s elder sister was Katherine Ashe, wife of William Windham of Felbrigg. The sale included a further 13 works attributed to Lely, although the identifications of the sitters are likely to be inaccurate.14
J. Chambers, A General history of the County of Norfolk, Intended to Convey all the information of a Norfolk Tour, 2 vols, Norwich and London, 1829, vol. 1, pp. 543–6.15
See Rosenheim, 1989, p. 78.16
Maurice Howard and Edward Town, ‘The Development of Oxnead: From Tudor House to Nicholas Stone’, in Andrew Moore, Nathan Flis and Francesca Vanke, eds, The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2018, pp. 130–9.17
Ibid., pp. 532–4.18
For the decline of the Pastons and sale of Oxnead, see Jean Agnew, ‘The Bankrupt Bibliophile, William Paston, 2nd Earl of Yarmouth (1654–1732)’, in Elizabeth Danbury and Linda Clark, eds, A Verray Parfit Praktisour: Essays presented to Carole Rawcliffe, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2017, p. 153–74.19
Will of Horatio, Viscount Townshend, NA PROB 11/389, f. 196.20
Cholmondeley and Moore, 2014, pp. 49–50. A letter from William Kent to the 2nd Viscount, preserved at Raynham, jokingly mentions that he will leave decisions about the planting at Raynham to ‘my Deputy Lord Lovell’, a reference to Thomas Coke of Holkham: quoted in Susan Weber, ed., William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013, p. 523, n. 166.21
Julius Bryant, ‘From “Gusto” to “Kentissime”: Kent’s Designs for Country Houses, Villas, and Lodges’, in Weber, 2013, p. 202.22
Memorandum quoted in full in Weber, 2013, p. 523, n. 167.23
John Cornforth, Early Georgian Interiors, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005, pp. 169–72.24
Dukelskaya and Moore, 2002, p. 327.25
Chambers, 1829, vol. 1, p. 544.26
Kate Retford, The Art of Domestic Life: Family Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006, p. 152.27
Amy Lim, ‘Charles Jervas: A Memorandum of 1733 at Raynham Hall’, Object in Focus in the present project. The document consists of a receipt and a memorandum that lists both works that have been paid for as well as those for which payment was outstanding. Being prepared in 1733, it seems to represent Townshend, in retirement, clearing his account with a tradesman with whom he had a long-standing relationship, a fact confirmed by the numerous references to works commissioned by Dorothy Townshend, who had died in 1726.28
Cambridge University Library, MS Cholmondeley, Vouchers, 1725. The bill records a second copy of Jervas’s portrait of Catherine Shorter ‘to Mr D’Aitignave £10.10s’, presumably the Whig epicure and courtier Charles Dartiquenave.29
Not mentioned on Jervas’s statement were the portraits of Lady Townshend found with her sister Susan Hamond, and neighbour Thomas Coke at Holkham.30
The account was published in Edward Bottoms, ‘Charles Jervas, Robert Walpole and the Norfolk Whigs’, Apollo, vol. 135, no. 120, February 1997, pp. 46–7. For the pictures at Wolterton Hall see Andrew Moore and Charlotte Crawley, Family and Friends: A Regional Survey of British Portraiture, Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service; London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1992, pp. 34–8.31
This can be illustrated by the work of Enoch Seeman. A bill preserved at Goodwood, entitled ‘His Grace the Duke of Richmonds Bill for pictures Don by Enoch Seeman’ dated 1724, shows that as a successful portraitist he charged £10 10s for ‘His Graces pictures’ and ‘a copi ditto’ at £6 6s, although ‘King George a Copi’ was only £4. By April 1738 Seeman had increased his prices, as John, 1st Earl of Bristol recorded paying: ‘for copies of mine & my wife her pictures, being both whole lengths, (at 10 guineas each), £21.’ This was as opposed to the 20 guineas he had charged for Hervey’s full-length portrait: for both see The Diary of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol with Extracts from his Book of Expenses 1688–1742, Wells: Ernest Jackson, 1894, p. 164.32
Horatio Walpole to a ‘Friend in Holland’, 29 May 1745, in Elegant Epistles: or, a copious collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters, London: Charles Dilly, 1790, p. 612. Walpole’s nephew, Horace Walpole, was less charitable, writing to Horace Mann after a visit to Wolterton in 1742: ‘My uncle and aunt may, without any expense, do, what they have all their lives avoided, wash themselves and make fires. Their house is more than a good one; if they had not saved eighteen pence in every room, it would have been a fine one’: Horace Walpole to Horace Mann, Saturday, 11 September 1742, in W. S. Lewis, ed., The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, vol. 18, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1954, p. 47.33
Ripley’s letters were first published in Gordon Nares, ‘Wolterton Hall, Norfolk II’, Country Life, vol. 122, no. 3158, 25 July 1957, pp. 166–9. They were further published by Moore and Crawley, 1992, pp. 35–8.34
Moore and Crawley, 1992, p. 35.35
Ibid., p. 37.36
Nares, 1957, p. 169.37
A letter from Christopher Tilson to Townshend of 24 May 1709 reports: ‘touching your Lords money at the Excheqr I have now nothing to repeat to your Lordp but that I have actually received the same; and have obtained also from my Ld Chamberlain warrants for the necessarys following Vizt, for 5893 oz White Plate & 1066 oz. guilt Plate, For a State Coach with the other necessarys, For the Queen’s Picture at Length and Frame & Case’; Historic Royal Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of the Marquess Townshend, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1887, p. 50.38
Cornforth, 2005, pp. 169–72.39
Lewis Walpole Library, New Haven, Connecticut, LWL MSS File 28, ‘Catalog of pictures at Raynham Hall’. For the Belisarius Room an undated 18th-century inventory lists: ‘Secretary C. Td. & his 2 Wives by Sr Godfrey K’: Raynham Hall Archives.40
As no other full-length portrait of Horatio Vere, Lord Tilbury is recorded, it seems likely that this was the full-length copy recorded by Jervas in his 1733 receipt, ‘Transcription of Charles Jarvis bill in Raynham Hall Archives, no. 353’, Object in Focus in the present project. The portrait was probably lot 37 in the Townshend Heirlooms sale, Christie’s, London, March 1904.41
See Moore, 1992, p. 34. A further six portraits were housed in the Stone Parlour: see Edward Town, ‘The Vere Captains at Raynham Hall’, in the present project.42
Hervey, 1848, p. 113.43
Bryant in Weber, 2013, pp. 200–1.44
Matthew Decker quoted in ibid., p. 20245
Cornforth, 2005, p. 169.46
Harley’s father, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford had been impeached and imprisoned in part thanks to the efforts of Robert Walpole, although Townshend had been publicly critical of Harley’s censuring.47
Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, ‘An Account of a Journey made through part of the Counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire in the Month of September, 1732’, in Historic Royal Manuscripts Commission, Report of the Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, preserved at Welbeck Abbey, vol. 6, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1901, p. 159.48
For the debate around Townshend’s retirement see Jeremy Black, ‘Additional Light on the Fall of Townshend’, The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 63, no. 3/4, April 1989, pp. 132–6.49
Harley, 1901, vol. 6, p. 160.50
Ibid., p. 161.51
Although it was thought that Robert Walpole had inherited the series of tapestries of Stuart kings and queens that now hang in the Tapestry Dressing Room at Houghton, this suggestion has since been discounted: see Cholmondeley and Moore, 2014, pp. 34–8.52
Horace Walpole to George Montagu, 11 August 1748, in Lewis, vol. 9, 1941, pp. 67–8.53
Horace Walpole, 1744, in ibid., vol. 30, 1961, p. 81. This is reflected in the 1795 edition of The Norfolk Tour which describes Rosa’s Belisarius and notes: ‘many other paintings by Sir Peter Lely, Jervase and Richardson, but being chiefly portraits of Lord Townshend’s family, it is not necessary to insert a catalogue of them here’: The Norfolk Tour: or Traveller’s Pocket Companion . . ., Norwich, 1795, p. 227.54
- by Jonny Yarker
- 20 November 2020
- House Essay
- CC BY-NC International 4.0
- Cite as
- Jonny Yarker, "'The noblest pyle among us': Raynham in its Local Context", Art and the Country House, https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/RNE573