Thursday, 16 June 2011

Proto-feminist remembered

AFTER my story was butchered by the Daily Telegraph in-paper and rewritten on-line, I thought I would publish what I actually wrote.

AN historic picture commissioned to mark the inheritance of five castles by a prototype feminist has been reunited for the first time in its new home.
Lady Anne Clifford defied her father, husband and the first King of England and Scotland for decades to inherit an estate of five great castles across the North of England.
Known as The Great Picture, a remarkable triptych or three-sectioned format typically reserved for religious works, it was commissioned by Lady Anne in 1646 to mark her final succession to the inheritance that she had always felt was rightfully hers.
The redoubtable and determined Lady Anne, countess of Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery (1590-1676), spent much of her life in a long and complex legal battle to obtain the rights of her inheritance.

Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle, the daughter of George Clifford, 3rd earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret. Her father was an extravagant courtier and naval admiral who had risen to fame within Queen Elizabeth's court as a skilled jouster.

Anne's two brothers died young, leaving her as the only surviving child of the family. She was educated by her mother and by her tutor Samuel Daniel, developing a love of literature, history, the classics and religious works.

When Anne was 15, her father died. She was upset to find that she did not inherit her father's vast estates - the Clifford family lands were extensive and included the great castles of Skipton, Brougham, Brough, Pendragon and Appleby.

George had left these lands and titles to his brother Francis Clifford, leaving Anne £15,000 in compensation, in direct breach of an entail which stated that the Clifford estates should descend lineally to the eldest heir, whether male or female, dating back to the time of King Edward II.

The earl of Cumberland had not recognised the strength and determination of his daughter. From that moment, Anne's mission in life was to regain what she viewed as her rightful inheritance.

Her mother Margaret, as her guardian, initiated claims on Anne's behalf to both the Clifford's baronial titles and the estates, but the earl marshal's court refused the claims in 1606. Margaret's archival researches demolished Earl Francis's case for all the estates in the court of wards in 1607, the judges deciding that the Skipton properties were rightfully Anne's. Her uncle, however, refused to yield up the estates.

In 1609 Anne married Richard Sackville, third earl of Dorset (1589-1624). Her husband took charge of her lawsuits and in 1615 the court of common pleas decided that he and Anne could chose between two different halves of the estates, but could not have all of them. Anne refused to comply - she wanted all of the estates.

Defying the pleas of her husband, and even pleas from King James, she continued to fight and against their wishes, in 1616 she travelled north to see 'her' estates and visit her mother at Brougham Castle, the only person left who supported Anne's claims.

Margaret died a month later. With her death, Anne lost the only person who was prepared to help her fight for her inheritance. She later erected a monument at Brougham, today known as the Countess Pillar, in memory of her mother.
After her mother's death in May 1616 Anne was isolated, but she refused to yield her claim on the estates despite unpleasantness from her husband and incessant pressure from James I's courtiers.

Despite ill health, she refused to accept a settlement of the dispute in February 1617 whereby all the estates were given to Earl Francis and his male heirs, and £17,000 was given in compensation to Anne. Her husband quickly pocketed the money and Anne was left with nothing.

Only in 1643, after the struggle of a lifetime, did Anne regain the Clifford family's lands after the death of her cousin.

After the Civil War, in 1649, when she was 60 years old, Anne moved back to the north. She spent the next 26 years of her life restoring the mostly ruinous family castles to their former glory (Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham Castles). She also built some almshouses for poor widows in Appleby and restored several churches in the area. Anne died in 1676 at Brougham Castle, in the room where her father had been born.
The Lakeland Arts Trust acquired The Great Picture in 1981 to keep it in the North West where Lady Anne had ruled over her estates, and the triptych hung in her castle at Appleby until the late 1990s.
When Appleby Castle closed to the public, the two side panels were installed at Abbot Hall. The central panel, however, posed difficulties for display: it was too large to fit into the Georgian-proportioned building by conventional means.
Apart from a brief period of display at the Tate Gallery in 2004, it has remained in store ever since.

The left side panel of the triptych depicts Lady Anne Clifford at the age of fifteen, when she was disinherited. Portraits of Lady Anne’s governess, Mrs. Anne Taylor, and her tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel, are placed above the shelves of books, which include titles by Ovid, Chaucer, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. These elements of the composition highlight Lady Anne’s education and refined upbringing.

The right side panel shows Lady Anne in late middle age, when she finally regained the Clifford estates. Portraits of Lady Anne’s two husbands hang behind her: Richard Sackville, third Earl of
Dorset, who died in 1624, and Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke and first Earl of Montgomery, died in 1650.

The central panel depicts Lady Anne’s parents, Margaret Russell and George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland, with her older brothers who did not survive to adulthood: Francis (1584-1589) and
Robert (1585-1591). On the walls behind the family group hang portraits of Lady Anne’s four aunts.
As Lady Anne was not born until 1590, she does not appear in the central panel, but Lady Margaret’s gesture hints that the daughter who would ultimately become the Clifford heir had already been conceived at the time of the original painting.
The triptych has been attributed to Jan van Belcamp (1610-1653), a Dutch artist active in England who was a specialist in this genre.
In order to reunite the three sections, the central panel, which measures over 2.5 metres (9ft) x 2.5 metres, was yesterday (Tuesday) carefully lifted through an exterior window and installed in the refurbished display area at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. A team of ten curators, technicians and joiners were on hand to ease it through the window with inches to spare.
New interpretation of the triptych and information on Lady Anne Clifford will set the stage for this magnificent painting to be enjoyed by the public in its complete state, as it was meant to be seen.
A spokesman for Lakeland Arts Trust said: “The triptych contains a wealth of fascinating symbols and references which provide unique insights into the culture of the seventeenth century. The Trust is delighted that this extraordinary painting will be displayed as a whole at Abbot Hall for the first time in its history.”
The costs are being met by author and historian Mary Burkett, who was director of the Trust when they acquired the picture.
She said: “Lady Anne Clifford was a woman of so many qualities with a huge historical influence on literature, art and archaeology. She set an example in how she looked after her staff and properties. She was a real star.”

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