Collection highlights at Oxburgh Estate
Oxburgh's contents reveal the collecting habits of the Bedingfeld family, from the medieval period to the 20th century. Explore some of the most significant items within the collection, from early Tudor portraits and rare manuscripts to colourful and lively 19th-century wallpapers.
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. Sir Henry – who Mary I appointed as gaoler to Princess Elizabeth between 1554 and 1555 – 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).
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 16th-century Antwerp altarpiece purchased by the family in the 1860s for their new chapel, built in 1835 after the relaxation of laws against Catholicism.
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.
Oxburgh's historic wallpaper inspires new collection
Head behind the scenes in this short film and discover more about the historic wallpaper collection at Oxburgh that inspired a new contemporary collection by Little Greene, that you can enjoy in your own home.
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 cabinetmaker 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).
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 Oxburgh 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 Victoria & Albert Museum).
Although the Marian Hangings were not created at Oxburgh, they were worked on by Mary at the same point in history as Sir Henry Bedingfeld was himself subject to considerable penalties and placed in jeopardy by Elizabeth I. Instead, their arrival came in 1761, after they had been mounted onto three green velvet hangings to make two bed curtains and a valance.
Passed down through descendants, it was the marriage of Mary Browne, of Cowdray Park, to Sir Richard Bedingfeld that would result in these historical treasures making their way to Norfolk. This probably saved the hangings, as shortly after Cowdray Park was largely destroyed by fire.
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.
During the project to repair the roof at Oxburgh which began 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.
Oxburgh Estate was built as a family home, and the Bedingfelds have now lived here since 1482, surviving Civil War, periods of near dereliction, and the threat of demolition.
Oxburgh has been home to the Bedingfelds for more than 500 years, and they still live within private apartments at Oxburgh today. Discover what you might see on your visit.
Find out more about the £6 million project at Oxburgh Estate, which included repairs to the roof, windows, chimneys and medieval gatehouse façade, securing Oxburgh’s future and the collection within.
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