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Welcome to our blog, offering historical insights to the 17th- and 18th-century history shared at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

English Delftware Plate Connects Two Women, a Royal and a Rebel

Sarah Drummond's English delftware plate

English delftware plate from the Drummond Site, on exhibit in the Jamestown Settlement gallery. Courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Photo by Robert Hunter.

Objects can tell many stories. In honor of National Women’s History Month, this English delftware plate links the stories of two women: one royal and on the English throne (Queen Mary II), and one a royalist rebelling against the Virginia governor (Sarah Drummond). The plate was found during archaeological excavations on the Drummond plantation site near Jamestown that was occupied from the mid 17th century by Sarah and her family. It commemorates the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II who ruled jointly from 1688 to Mary’s death in 1694. William’s reign continued until his death in 1702.

‘There is something about Mary…’

By the looks on their faces depicted on this plate, neither King William III nor Queen Mary II were very pleased on their coronation day, April 11, 1689. We might think that Mary was a bit miffed that Parliament had given executive power to her husband even though she—as the eldest daughter of King James II—was the legitimate heir to the English throne. They shared the crown, but William was given seniority. The Convention Parliament’s justifications were publicized in a 1689 broadside titled, “Reasons for crowning the prince and princess of Orange king and queen jointly, and for placing the executive power in the Prince alone”:

 . . . for two persons, equal in Authority may differ in Opinion, and consequently in Command; and it is evident that no Man can serve two Masters. Secondly, it is highly necessary and prudent rather to vest the Administration in the Husband than in the Wife: (1.) Because a Man by Nature, Education and Experience is generally rendered more capable to Govern than the Woman. Therefore, (2.) the Husband ought rather to Rule the Wife, than the Wife the Husband, especially Considering the Vow in Matrimony.

Portrait of Mary Stuart

Portrait of Mary Stuart. Romeyn de Hooghe, n.d. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (49.95.746)

This is certainly a cringe-worthy opinion in our modern age, but no matter how Mary actually felt about the situation, she was duty-bound to both her husband and her country. By all accounts, she was happy to subordinate herself and comply with contemporary cultural values about women and their roles while simultaneously providing the appearance of a legitimate succession to the English throne once her father fled to France. The last thing Parliament wanted to do was set a precedent for invasion as a path to sovereignty rather than ascension through hereditary succession.

Mary’s lessons in duty started quite early. When she was just 15, she married Prince William of Orange, a Dutch Calvinist, in an alliance brokered by her Catholic father to appease English Protestants and to improve relations with the Netherlands following the Anglo-Dutch wars. Mary apparently cried for two days when she was informed of the arrangement. Not only was William 12 years older and—at 5’ 6 ½”—four inches shorter than she was, but he barely spoke English and was rather rough in his demeanor. It was recounted that he insisted on wearing his woolen underwear to bed on his wedding night because his new wife “would have to get used to his habits.”

As it turned out, William often left Mary to preside over government while he was engaged in military campaigns abroad. Given William’s frequent absences, Mary played a substantial role in the development of a modern form of constitutional monarchy, which restricted the royal prerogative and gave more powers to Parliament. Despite her acquiescence to her husband and her reluctance to rule, Mary helped bring about substantial change during her brief reign.

Cheap Loyal Goods

Queen Mary loved blue and white tin-glazed earthenware known as delftware, and was an avid collector, particularly of Dutch delftware, which she used to fill the rooms of her Dutch (Het Loo) and English (Hampton Court) palaces. It is difficult to say what she might have thought about her depictions on the mass-produced commemorative English delftware plates like the one found on the Drummond site. Potters and decorators used popular prints to produce these hand-painted political commodities for purchase by the middling classes. Whether the consumers of these objects used them at table or displayed them on a cupboard, they indicated to all visitors to the domestic sphere that the owners were loyal to the monarchy.

A Dutch delftware charger depicting William and Mary

A Dutch delftware charger depicting William and Mary with more elaborate decoration than the plate from the Drummond Plantation. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2014.712.3)

The tradition of small plates with portraits of monarchs appears to have begun with the reign of William and Mary. Before then, kings were depicted on larger plates known as chargers that were often polychrome and were not as affordable to the average person. The William and Mary plate found at the Drummond site is one of only two located archaeologically in Virginia. Given this plate’s context, it reflects an interesting insight into the political views of owner Sarah Drummond.

‘A notorious & wicked rebel’

Sarah Drummond was the wife of William Drummond who, before settling on the Governor’s Land near Jamestown, was the first governor of the County of Albemarle in Carolina (1664-1667). William had a long-standing dispute with Governor William Berkeley and his policies so it is not surprising that he joined Nathaniel Bacon as one of his chief advisors in the 1676 rebellion against the colonial government. Berkeley considered Drummond to be “the original cause of this rebellion” and, upon Drummond’s eventual capture, was quick to sentence him to death by hanging.

Sarah also actively supported the rebellion, attending many of the planners’ meetings. She used the most powerful weapon she had—her voice—and she used it to spread news of the rebels’ grievances against the governor. Her words were considered as treasonous as her husband’s actions. Once the rebellion had been quelled, Berkeley confiscated the Drummond’s plantation on the Governor’s Land and seized crops of tobacco, corn, wheat and barley, some hogs, and household items including a grindstone, three bedsteads, two cupboards and a table.

In an attempt to regain her property, Sarah travelled to London to petition King Charles II through the Lord’s Committee for Trade and Plantations. Playing on the Committee’s sympathies, she argued that not only had her goods been embezzled, but that she was forced “with her five poor children to fly from their habitation, and wander in the Deserts and Woods, till they were ready to starve.” The Lords were outraged and shocked by Sarah’s assertions and on their recommendation the king subsequently issued instructions for restitution.

A cast iron fireback

Cast iron fireback at Chequers, Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, England. Photo by Jeremy Hodgkinson.

Upon her return to Virginia, Sarah sued the governor’s widow Lady Frances Berkeley in General Court for return of her property. During these contentious proceedings evidence was presented concerning the temperaments of Governor Berkeley and William Drummond as well as his wife who was described as a “notorious and wicked rebel.” Only short notes remain from the original manuscript, and they do not provide the full context of the proceedings, but some quotes ascribed to Sarah seemingly put her at odds not only with the colony’s government but also with that of England. Her recorded statement that she feared “the power of England no more than a broken straw” led one historian to claim that Sarah despised Charles II even as she was beseeching him for compensation.

Yet archaeology has the ability to present another story. Sarah’s delftware plate depicting King William and Queen Mary was not the only material expression of loyalty to the English crown in her household. An even earlier cast iron fireback depicting King Charles II also was excavated from the Drummond site. As a metal plate placed in the back of a fireplace to reflect heat back into a room, the fireback comprised an important everyday domestic object with a politically significant message.

A complete fireback at Chequers, the country estate of England’s prime minister, provides us with a picture of what the Drummond fireback once looked like. Charles II is depicted on horseback trampling Cromwell with the date 1674. The iconography is derived from a statue of Charles II that was erected in 1672 in the London Stocks Market. The statue has a fascinating story of its own, but that is for another day.

Bly Straube, Ph.D., FSA
Senior Curator, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation


Selected Sources for Further Reading

Jim Ducibella (2019) Queen Mary II; A short reign, a lasting legacy for us. William & Mary News & Media.

Molly McClain (2008). “Love, Friendship, and Power: Queen Mary II’s Letters to France Apsley,” Journal of British Studies 47:3, p. 505-527.

Angela McShane (2009). “Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century England,” Journal of British Studies 48:4, pp. 871- 886.

Elaine Anderson Phillips (2013). “Creating Queen Mary: Textual Representations of Queen Mary II,” Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 37:1, pp. 61-75

Wilcomb E. Washburn (1956). “The Humble Petition of Sarah Drummond,” The William and Mary Quarterly 13:3, pp. 354-375.

John West, in conversation with Matthew Winterbottom (2017), Delftware: Popularising the Monarchy, pp. 1-5.


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