The Jacobite Drinking Glass.
These are wine glasses that form a body of distinctive Eighteenth Century artwork.
We have these through a confluence of lucky chances.
First off, by 1700, English glassmaking was particularly advanced.
A century before, the champion glassmakers were Venetian. The best glass in England was made by imported Italian glass artists, working by Italian methods.
This changed when the English developed flint glass. 'Flint glass' contains a high proportion of lead oxide, an ingredient that makes for tough, workable, clear-as-water product. Excellent stuff, in short. And it was an English specialty.
I'd always wondered why this kind of glass was called 'flint glass'. In researching for this blog, I found my answer. In the spirit of 'I have done my research and now you are going to suffer for it', let me tell you about flint glass.
When you go walking along around the South Downs, the ground underfoot is white, which is remarkable. You're walking over exactly the kind of chalk you use on a blackboard. In that chalk you find nodules of a brown, hard, glassy rock.
The chalk is calcium carbonate from the skeletons of billions of microscopic algae and sea creatures. (You can thank these tiny sea critters next time you use chalk.) The calcium carbonate settled to the bottom of the ancient seas to become what geologists like to call 'a white ooze'. So expressive.
Flint was laid down at the same time. Flint comes from the remains of sponges and other bottom-dwelling denizens of the early sea that used silica as their support structure. The silica gelled and flowed through the soft white calcium carbonite muck till it found a void left by the carapace of some crab or sea urchin or the tunnel of some burrower. There, it settled in. And, voilà, we have flint, sitting there in the chalk happy as a raisin in a plum pudding.
Flint is a heavy and smooth mineral. Very glasslike. Some of these flints fit three in your hand. Some are big as cantaloupes. They are just amazing stuff to pick up in the chalk matrix.
Our pretechnological ancestors found flint nifty stuff to chip into arrowheads and knives. In the Seventeenth Century folks came up with a new use for it. They ground it to produce pure, high-quality silica sand. And silica sand is used for glassmaking.
Turns out, flint is just heavily endowed with lead oxide. Glassmakers blowing this new sort of glass were doubtless delighted to discover their flint silica produced a heavy, strong, crystal-clear glass exactly suited for engraving.
Edward Dillion, in his book, Glass, talks of the this quintessentially English flint glass.
"The Venetians in the preparation of their cristallo laid great stress on the hard white pebbles, the cogoli, from the bed of the Po or of the Ticino; these they regarded as an essential constituent of a good glass. We in England, during the reign of Charles II, succeeded in replacing these pebbles by our native flints; and this English flint-glass, properly so-called, early acquired a good reputation on the Continent."
Georgian artistic sensibilities and this perfect medium for their expression led to some of the most beautiful glassware ever created. The slender stem of the glass in the Georgian years holds the bowl upward like a flower. Just lovely. The flint glass was absolutely transparent and brilliant. The refractive index, which is close to that of natural crystal, fills cut surfaces with fire.
A characteristic elaboration arises at this time. There was an older custom of putting a single 'tear drop' shape of air in the stem . . . see it in the example of an 'amen' glass from the Met there on the left. (More about amen glasses later.)
In the Georgian era, artisans elaborated that single tear drop into twisting lines of light that run the length of the glass stem. The example at the right is from the Victoria & Albert.
These bright lines are tiny specks of air, made by pricking a line of bubbles into a rod of heat-softened glass, covering the bubbles with a film of molten glass, and then drawing the glass out thin. The spiral is produced by twisting and stretching the rod of molten glass. The twist descends from right to left.
A swirl of white ribbons, like in this example on the right, from the Met, would be made by bundling thin, opaque white rods of glass with rods of clear glass, heating, twisting, and drawing out the bundle. This was very much a Venetian manner of handling glass and doubtless learned from those imported Venetian artisans.
After 1746, the fancification of drinking glasses was helped along by a whopping large excise tax on glass production.
This is one of those unforeseen outcomes politicians delight us with from time to time. The glass tax was charged on weight, so producers found it advantageous to 'add value' and sell the final product for a higher price. The tax was the same for a plain glass sold cheaply or an engraved one sold for much more. Taxation in support of the fine arts, as it were.
Summing it up . . . the Eighteenth Century aesthetic gave us English drinking vessels of exceptional quality — light, airy, and elegant. Flint glass provided strength and clarity. And the English were part of a centuries-old European tradition of engraving on metal that could now be applied to glass.
Thus, drinking glasses that were works of art. And since there was this plethora of innovative and delicate artistry lying about, the British immediately put it to use making political statements. Glasses were engraved with 'No Excise,' or ' Wilkes and Liberty' or 'No 45'. And among the other political glasses, they made Jacobite glasses.
In England at this time, the term 'Jacobite' meant a follower of the house of Stuart. The word Jacobite comes from Jacobus, which is Latin for James. In this case, the James is James II of England, who was deposed from the English throne in 1688. Here he is to the left. One suspects this portrait was not painted by an admirer.
Jacobites attempted to return the Stuarts to the throne in 1689, 1690, 1708, 1715, 1719 and, finally and disastrously, 1745. For close to a century, Jacobites stubbornly schemed. Secret societies met and pledged loyalty to the Stuarts. Plots to overthrow William III, Anne, George I, or George II were brainstormed. Treasonous toasts were drunk to the King in exile; first to James II, then to his son, then to his grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Glasses were raised 'to his Majesty', and passed above a bowl of water. making this a pledge to 'the King over the water'.
Then all leap'd up, and joined their hands
With hearty clasp and greeting,
The brimming cups, outstretched by all,
Over the wide bowl meeting.
"A health," they cried, "to witching eyes
Of Kate, the landlord's daughter!
But don't forget the white, white rose
That grows best over the water."
"But never forget the white, white rose
That grows best over the water."
Then hats flew up and swords sprang out.
And lusty rang the chorus —
"Never," they cried, "while Scots are Scots,
And the broad Frith's before us."
The White Rose Over the Water, 1744
Sometimes, they lifted what we call, 'Jacobite glasses', in these dangerous toasts.
Bolder Jacobites engraved their drinking vessels with symbols or words that showed their loyalty to the Stuart cause and their hopes for its restoration. This sort of Jacobite glass didn't survive the years without a good bit of winnowing. (One imagines them hastily smashed in the night as government forces search the house.) Glasses that can be identified as bearing Jacobite designs are rare among Eighteenth century glass.
This led to a lively market in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century fakes. New engraving was done on genuine Georgian glass. Very difficult to detect. Recent scholarship finds the works of forgers in the best museums, including the Victoria & Albert and the Museum of London.
What was engraved on a Jacobite glass?
Jacobite mottos, for one thing. Probably the commonest Stuart motto was 'Fiat' — 'so be it', or 'make it so'. (Think Jean-Luc Picard.) Also used: Redeat. May he return. Redditi. Restore! Revirescit. It revives. 'Turno tempus erit.' There shall be a time.
One group of glasses — the most famous and among the earliest — are the 'amen' glasses. The one above and to the left is from the V&A. There's another from the Met further up. Amen glasses show two to four verses of the Jacobite version of 'God Save the King', a crown, and the word 'Amen'.
God Save the King I pray,
God Bless the King I pray
God Save the King
Send him Victorious,
Happy and Glorious
Soon to reign over us
God Save the King.
God save the Church I pray
And bless the Church I pray
Pure to remain
Against all Heresie
And Whigs Hypocrisie
Who strive maliciouslie
Her to defame.
God bless the Subjects all
And save both great and small
In every Station
That will bring home the King
Who hath best right to reign
It is the only thing
Can save the Nation.
There are 37 known 'Amen' glasses. Modern forensic scholarship, looking at the handwriting, suggests the work of a single hand, a Scots artist and line engraver, Sir Richard Strange, between 1743 and 1749. For more information and pictures, see here.
And Jacobite symbols?
The most frequent was an open rose and two white buds, representing James II and his son and grandson. You can't see it very well, but there's an example of this on the glass above with the opaque swir stem.
What else? Oak leaves and acorns represented Charles Stuart's escape from his pursuers by hiding in an oak tree. The thistle would stand for the Stuart's Scottish heritage. A crown for kingship.
A compass could symbolize true direction and loyalty. A sunflower or a sun, the restoration of the Stuart kings. A star, the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
(When the glass was raised to toast the Stuarts, the star, representing Bonnie Prince Charming, rose also.)
A butterfly or moth would stand for regeneration and rebirth. On one 'Amen' glass, the figure '8' hides among the scrollwork to represent the son of James II who would have been James VIII of Scotland.
This is way too many symbols. It's been pointed out the Jacobites could have used a marketing consultant.
Since we're talking about roses . . . I'll send one lucky commenter in the comment trail a signed copy of my book, Forbidden Rose. it has nothing whatsoever to do with drinking glasses or the restoration of the Stuarts, but it has a fine picture of a rose on the cover.
So tell me . . . what secret society — real or imagined — would you like a heroine or hero to belong to?