The tapestries at Knole are some of the finest in the National Trust’s collection. Many were acquired by the 6th Earl of Dorset from Whitehall Palace in 1695.
The age of chivalry
Three of the finest tapestries in our collection are displayed in the Venetian Bedroom. Made in Delft by Francois Spiering in the late 16th or early 17th century, these tapestries are believed to have been owned by King James I and come from Whitehall Palace. Spiering’s signature – FRANCISCVS SPIRINGIVS FECIT – is woven into the design.
Two of the tapestries depict scenes from the life of Diana, and the other shows the story of Amadis de Gaule. This medieval legend follows the chivalric adventures of Amadis, a knight seeking to establish his true parentage to prove himself worthy of the love of the beautiful Princess Oriane. The legend fell out of fashion as the age of courtly love came to a close, and the tapestry at Knole was mis-identified for nearly 300 years.
These tapestries have recently been conserved and rehung. They have been at Knole since at least 1706, when they were recorded in an inventory of the house.
A taste of 17th century decor
The King's Room is the splendid setting for a set of five tapestries representing scenes from the life of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. They were made in London in the late 17th century by Thomas Poyntz and are signed with his initials ‘TP’. The tapestries are listed in the 1682 inventory of Knole and were probably installed in the King’s Room in 1723-4 when the room was remodelled by the 1st Duke of Dorset.
Greenery takes centre stage
In Lady Betty’s Bedroom are two panels of Flemish verdure tapestry, made in the mid 17th century. This type of tapestry features designs based on plants and trees, often including country scenes with birds, rivers and castles.
A precious survival
The late 17th-century Brussels tapestries in the Spangle Bedroom have recently taken a trip home to Belgium to be cleaned at the De Wit royal tapestry studios. Their colours now gleaming, the tapestries tell the story of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The initials of their maker, Hendrik Reydams, are woven into the border.
The tapestries were acquired from Whitehall Palace in 1695 and may have come from the queen’s apartments. As the palace no longer exists, the survival of these tapestries, together other royal furnishings are Knole, is all the more precious.
Make do and mend
While the tapestries at Knole have been cared for and admired for centuries, over time some were recycled and made into cushions and seat covers. Although it’s disappointing to lose the complete tapestries, this gives us a fascinating glimpse into the make-do-and-mend approach taken by the occupants of Knole.