The Mortlake Tapestry Factory, 1619-1703
Alan Haynes describes the Flemish weavers imported to London in the reign of James I and how, throughout the seventeenth century, their work continued.
James I, Queen Anne, their son, Prince Henry (while he lived) and his younger brother, Prince Charles, together with a select group of connoisseurs including George Villiers, the Earl of Arundel, Endymion Porter, Lord Denbigh, William Murray and Balthasar Gerbier, had a deep and lasting effect on the development of taste in Britain. The elegant taste of the ‘Whitehall’ group was not limited to painting and sculpture, but included the elaborate masques of Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson, and fundamental changes in architecture and the applied arts.
As insatiable collectors, they sought to vie with the great Renaissance collectors of the past, as well as their contemporary rivals, not merely in quantity - Prince Charles’s acquisitions alone are remarkable - but also in quality. Thus, the establishment of the tapestry factory at Mortlake was not an isolated act of patronage by the early Stuarts, nor a modish whim. Palaces and country houses required lighter, more genial decorations than the wood panelling that Elizabethans had enjoyed.
Naturally, the tapestries that were made had also to surpass in technical brilliance anything made before in England or Europe. Tapestry-weaving was not unknown in this country in 1619. An early workshop had been established in the mid-sixteenth century at Barcheston in Warwickshire by William Sheldon, who employed the Dutch-trained Richard Hick to produce primarily cushion covers, but also a remarkable series of tapestry maps of the English counties. The factory went into liquidation only in 1614.