The Tichborne Spoons
A set of twelve spoons: silver-gilt, bearing the maker’s mark of William Cawdell and London hallmarks for the year 1592.
William Cawdell was a specialist spoonmaker, supplying spoons wholesale and to commission. The archives of the Goldsmiths Company document an eventful career from his apprenticeship in 1575 to his death in 1625. Notably, in 1599 the Assay Office found that some of his work was of substandard silver. However, despite a succession of such offences, Cawdell had become a Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company by 1621, and his will shows that he died in possession of considerable property.
Like ‘apostle’ spoons, on which the finials represent the twelve apostles with sometimes a thirteenth representing Christ, the Tichborne spoons are topped by human figures. However, this set is unique. Christ and St Peter have precedence, but next comes Queen Elizabeth I, who in turn is followed by a traditional grouping of heroes known as the Nine Worthies.
First referred to in a French poem of around 1312 and appearing in various media until the 17th century, the Worthies consist of three Christians, three Jews and three pagans. They are a mix of real and legendary figures. Of the Christians, Guy of Warwick , King Arthur and the Emperor Charlemagne, only the last was an historic character. King David, Joshua and Judas Maccabeus, the Jews, are respectively two scriptural figures and one who is generally acknowledged to have lived. The pagans, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Hector of Troy, number two from the history books and one from epic verse.
Two of this group may be unfamiliar to us today. Guy of Warwick was a legendary warrior who is said to have saved 10th century Winchester from the Danes by defeating their champion in single combat. The other, Judas Maccabeus, was a Hebrew leader celebrated for having retaken Jerusalem from the Syrians in 165 BC.
Some other appearances of the Nine Worthies are worth noting. They feature in a play-within-a-play during the last Act of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (c1595), though Shakespeare fields a slightly different team, including Pompey the Great and Hercules. Sculptures representing them can be seen on the façade of Montacute House in Somerset (1600), and nine female Worthies appear on painted panels from Amberley Castle (1539) displayed at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.
Although the spoons are of the highest quality and unique in design, it is not known for whom they were made. It seems safe to say only that the individual must have been of very high standing - one who could realistically hope or expect that the queen would visit and be flattered by her depiction as a tenth Worthy.
The earliest surviving reference linking the spoons to the name of Tichborne dates from 1858, when the spoons were auctioned. It stated in the catalogue of that sale that they were presented to Sir Robert Tichborne when Lord Mayor of London in 1657, and that an inventory mentioning the spoons and other goods belonging to Sir Robert’s sister was to be sold with them. Unfortunately the inventory has since been lost and no other evidence for the story has come to light. After the sale of 1858, however, and until 1914, they are known to have been in the possession of the Tichborne family of Tichborne in Hampshire. Following a public appeal they were purchased by Hampshire County Council in 1975.
Accession no. HCMS1975.175.1-12
Purchased with the aid of the Victoria & Albert Museum purchase Grant Fund, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the National Art Collections Fund, the Elvetham Trust, the Dulverton Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, the Hampshire Antiques Society, David Pumfret Esq., Sir Lynton White, and numerous small donations from Hampshire companies and local people.