The Execution of Charles Stuart

I am, like many, awed by the talent of Thomas Toft (active 1671 to  1689).  His slipware dishes trace both complicated imagery, and unique perspectives of English history…

Charles in the Oak…so I will start this story a few years earlier, at 2:00pm on Jan. 29, 1649.  Charles Stuart had just ascended the scaffold erected for him in the Banquet Hall of Whitehall, London.  Had he not previously decided that he, as Charles I the King of England, could do no wrong, he might not have angered Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan “Roundheads” to revolt.

The Puritans meant well, but their Commonwealth was a dreary place.  They frowned upon idolatry and frivolous displays of art.  Had they not been so pious, perhaps Toft would not have found a market for his work after their fall.  (Nor, perhaps, would the North American Colonies have been neglected long enough for, as some believe, seeds of independence to be sown.)

Royalists saw their chance when Cromwell died suddenly in 1658.  In 1661 they brought a surprised and grateful son of Charles I to the throne.  Earlier, Charles II had escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree.  Now, the “Merry Monarch” preferred  parties over revenge.  But his royalist followers wanted blood.  As many Commonwealth leaders as they could round up were drawn and quartered (hung and hacked to pieces).

But the arts flourished.  Decoration was in!  And so was a new drink, coffee.  Imagine the situation; wired on caffeine, no longer constrained by pious dictates, and finally able to decorate to your heart’s content.  This was Toft’s world.

A question comes to mind.  Was Toft as royalist to the bone as his imagery suggests?  What did he think about the butchery following Charles II’s restoration?  Was revenge as important as that first cup in the morning?  Perhaps these questions shouldn’t interfere with our appreciation of his work any more than acknowledging Renoir’s reactionary politics vis á vis the Paris Commune of 1881.  But it does add a curve or two.

Readings:
English Slipware Dishes 1650 – 1850. Ronald Cooper.  Transatlantic Arts/New York.  1968.

The Regicide Brief.  Geoffrey Robertson.  Pantheon Books/New York.  2005.

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4 Responses to “The Execution of Charles Stuart”

  1. Kitty Says:

    Just found your blog from Plate a Day. You are producing some very good work here. I am just reworking a Thomas Toft charger of Adam and the serpent with some unusual additions to the atmosphere!
    Photo will go up soon on my blog. How do you get that crackle on your glaze, it is very nice?
    Also that book by Ronald Cooper that you credit is selling for nearly £100 now, and thats second hand ex library copies. I wish I had one and not just the photocopies I took of it at college back in the late 70’s.

  2. Failure « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Toft, Pallisy and Bailey.  Eventually others followed their lead.  A ‘Pallisy school’ assured periodic revivals of “Pallisy ware” for the next two centuries.  The slipware techniques pioneered by Toft spread throughout England, and even held their own against the Staffordshire factory ware tidal wave.  Several shires produced both slip and machine lathed ware for many years.  And on these shores, redware contributed to the cause of 1776… […]

  3. Fringe Elements | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] with a righteous dose of siege mentality.  The scene was further powered by caffeine, an exotic new stimulant then flooding English […]

  4. The Eye is the Window to the Soul | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] (Mary certainly didn’t like her sister Anne).  And maybe other potters didn’t like Charles (the puritans didn’t), or James (not many people at all liked James), or Anne (an important patron of the arts who […]

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