Collection highlights at Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh's contents reveal the collecting habits of the Bedingfeld family, from the Medieval period to the 20th century. Here we explore some of the most significant items within the collection, from early Tudor portraits and rare manuscripts to colourful and lively 19th century wallpapers. During Raise the Roof, a £6million project to repair the roof, windows, chimneys and medieval gatehouse façade (completing in autumn 2021), much of the collection will be in storage or displayed differently.

A miniature portrait of Sir Henry Bedingfeld

Portraits  

Oxburgh has a rich collection of portraits. The earliest depicts the powerful Tudor bishop and politician Stephen Gardiner who would have known Sir Edmund Bedingfeld and his son Henry. Unlike Gardiner, the Bedingfelds kept their Catholic faith after the Reformation. Sir Henry – whom Mary I appointed as jailor to Princess Elizabeth between 1554–5 – is shown in a portrait dated 1573. There are two portraits by Jacob Huysmans, a Catholic painter favoured by the court of Charles II, and a likeness by Angelica Kauffman, one of two female founding members of the Royal Academy (1768).

The alterpiece in the chapel at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

A show of faith  

The family’s Catholicism is expressed strongly in the collection. The family’s faith in divine protection is represented in a 17th century votive picture of the Madonna della Misericordia protecting Sir Henry Bedingfeld, 1st Bt, and his family following his safe escape from the Battle of Marston Moor. There are portraits of Bedingfeld daughters who became nuns in Lierre, Belgium in the 17th century, and a spectacular 16th century Antwerp altarpiece which was purchased by the family in the 1860s for their new chapel, built in 1835 after the relaxation of laws against Catholicism.

Pink flock and gilt wallpaper by Townsend, Parker & Co

Oxburgh's historic wallpaper 

Oxburgh’s wallpapers reveal the family’s decorative tastes and the functions and hierarchies of spaces. Many rooms retain vibrant 19th century wallpapers inspired by patterns from the medieval past by leading designers Cowtan, Crace and Willement. In places 18th-century papers survive beneath these, and there are important remnants of less flamboyant papers in the attics. A significant archive of samples includes designs from the 18th to 20th centuries. The walls of the north and west staircases and the north corridor are hung with striking embossed hand-painted leather made in the Low Countries c.1710-30 in the Spanish style.

The heavily carved dining room table at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Oxburgh's furniture collection 

In the 19th century Oxburgh was remodelled in a revival style evoking its medieval origins. Much of the dark oak furniture came from Belgium, such as the richly carved pieces supplied by cabinet maker Jean Francois Malfait. Many items are composed from original medieval or Renaissance elements, including the extraordinary composite Dining Room sideboard and the flying tester bed in the North Bedroom. Few other furniture collections of this style and quality survive. Several items sold from Oxburgh in 1951 have been repatriated, including a 17th-century Breton oak and chestnut armoire (acquired in August 2020).

Letter from Elizabeth I to Sir Henry Bedingfeld

Medieval and Tudor manuscripts 

Rare and important manuscripts can be seen at Oxburgh, most of which are on loan from the Bedingfeld family. They include: a 1482 licence to crenellate, giving permission for the building of Oxburgh; a letter from Mary I to Sir Henry Bedingfeld concerning his forthcoming appointment to the Lieutenantship 'of our Tower of London'; a letter from Elizabeth I dated 1559; correspondence between Sir Henry and the Privy Council concerning matters of religion; and an inventory of Oxburgh’s contents dated 1585.

The Marian hangings at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

The Marian hangings 

Mary, Queen of Scots was considered a threat to the Tudor throne and on the orders of Elizabeth I was kept captive, under the watchful eye of Bess of Hardwick’s husband, Sir George Talbot. Mary and Bess worked on a series of embroideries – many of them highly symbolic - which are now at Oxburgh (on loan from the V&A). Although the three main hangings are carefully packed away whilst our roof project takes place, the rarely seen valance is on display alongside scissors that are thought to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots.

The Antwerp Cabinet at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

The Antwerp cabinet 

An Antwerp cabinet was the ultimate luxury item in the 17th century and was used to display curiosities and to impress guests. Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, the 6th Baronet, may have acquired this on one of many shopping expeditions to the Continent, but it is equally possible that it has been at Oxburgh since its creation as new furniture was purchased after part of the house was burnt down in the Civil War.

The Kings Psalms at Oxburgh

Attic Archaeology  

During the project to repair the roofs at Oxburgh in 2020, numerous historic artefacts were retrieved from beneath the attic floors. These included a book of psalms dated 1569, a page from a 15th-century illuminated manuscript, and hundreds of fragments of late 16th- and early 17th-century textiles.

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Explore the collection

You can now explore the full collection online and find out more about the unique and wonderful items in our care at Oxburgh Hall.