The story of the verdure tapestries at Nunnington Hall

Two painted coat of arms

The tapestries are used every day to tell the story of the 1st Viscount Preston, Sir Richard Graham, who was the most culturally significant and historically important person to own the hall.

The Viscount purchased the three verdure tapestries that now hang at Nunnington Hall whilst he was employed as Charles II’s ambassador to Louis XIV’s Court of Versailles.

In 1685, the same year as inheriting Nunnington Hall, Graham was summoned to return from Paris by the newly crowned King James II, Charles II’s brother, to the important job of managing the House of Commons, as one of his closest and most loyal supporters. 

We know from his French export tax return that he returned from Paris with all manner of fabulous furnishings and possessions including the three tapestries. Verdure tapestries are also known as garden tapestries because of the lush and resplendent green plants and trees that they depict. They were becoming fashionable and popular at this time and were used by Graham, like many wealthy courtiers, to demonstrate wealth and add vibrancy and colour to a room.

Natural tones of plants and foliage decorate the tapestry
Close up of a tapestry showing the leaf detail
Natural tones of plants and foliage decorate the tapestry

The tapestries were hand woven on a loom, in centres such as Aubusson or Lille in France or in Holland, making each one unique.

Graham even used the same fashionable artists on the house as the court of Louis XIV for example employing Jacob Rambour who painted the ceiling in one of the rooms on the ground floor of the house with his coat of arms.

The Viscount’s interest in the latest Parisian fashions was extensive and well known and upon his return he was made Master of Royal Wardrobe, a lucrative and influential position, which saw him organise an exhibition of the latest Parisian fashions for Queen Mary in Whitehall.

He also brought architectural fashions back to Nunnington from Paris. The result was the house’s most overt architectural theme, his remodelling of its south front and south-west corner, which once looked out on to a matching formal garden. Not surprisingly, given the brevity of James II’s reign and the often bellicose relations between Britain and France, English secular architecture borrowing from the French is a rarity prior to the mid-nineteenth century, especially in a provincial rural context, which makes his story and how it influenced the development of Nunnington Hall even more important.

In 1691 the Viscount was imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London and sentenced to death after being found guilty of helping James II with a plot to return to the throne of England. Later on he struck a deal with the courts who allowed him retire to his estate at Nunnington where he lived out the rest of his life in peace. 

" Over time, the tapestries have succumbed to natural wear and tear, including light and insect damage. Since the house came into our care in 1953 we have done all we can to protect them, but they are now in urgent need of repair."
- Iain Kelly, House and Collections Manager

The tapestries represent a time when its owners were at their most fashionable and culturally significant but all are at risk of being taken from view and put into storage if we are not able to raise the money in order to have them repaired.