Knole's tapestries

The Golden Idol from a set of the Story of Nebuchadnezzar tapestry at Knole

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.

The Venetian Bedroom is home to three of Knole's finest 17th century tapestries
The rich green and red drapes of the four-poster Venetian bed canopy sit against the faded tapestries in the Venetian bedroom
The Venetian Bedroom is home to three of Knole's finest 17th century tapestries

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.

The Lady Betty suite was very susceptible to the light, so extra care is taken to monitor light and temperature
A beautifully elaborate four poster bed sits in the corner of a room rich with tapestries, carpets and upholstered 17th century furniture
The Lady Betty suite was very susceptible to the light, so extra care is taken to monitor light and temperature

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.

A piece of Flemish tapestry, cut and fitted to form a cover for table
A gold and dark aquamarine tapestry has been cut up and used as a table cover, with dark wooden candytwist legs
A piece of Flemish tapestry, cut and fitted to form a cover for table