The man who would con­quer Eng­land

Re­search at Chevening re­veals that a set of armour, there for 300 years, be­longed to the com­man­der of the Span­ish Ar­mada, as Julius Bryant dis­cov­ered

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A suit of armour that be­longed to the com­man­der of the Span­ish Ar­mada has been dis­cov­ered at Chevening, re­ports Julius Bryant

Chevening, the coun­try home near Sevenoaks in Kent of the For­eign Sec­re­tary, made the head­lines last year, even in the tabloid press, when ‘the Bat­tle of Brexit Tow­ers’ seemed to rage over who would get to live there next. it all proved a press mis­un­der­stand­ing and Boris John­son moved in, just in time for Christ­mas.

To­day, high above the For­eign Sec­re­tary’s pink run­ning train­ers in the hall, as part of the ar­range­ment of weapons be­hind the spec­tac­u­lar main stairs, is a fine armour. Long ad­mired by vis­i­tors, but over­looked by schol­ars, it turns out to have been made for a Span­ish no­ble­man who has a par­tic­u­lar claim on Bri­tish in­ter­est.

half a cen­tury has passed since the death in 1967 of James, 7th earl Stan­hope, which brought into ef­fect the Chevening es­tate Act 1959. This en­acted his wish that the fam­ily’s home and es­tate be man­aged by in­de­pen­dent trus­tees for the ben­e­fit of the na­tion.

An­other an­niver­sary falls in 2017, for it is 300 years since Chevening was pur­chased by James, 1st earl Stan­hope, chief min­is­ter to ge­orge i. To help mark the oc­ca­sion, the trus­tees com­mis­sioned the present writer to pro­duce an il­lus­trated mono­graph on the house, Chevening: a Seat of Diplo­macy (Paul hol­ber­ton Pub­li­ca­tions, 2017).

Read­ers of Coun­try Life may feel they know Chevening al­ready from ar­ti­cles pub­lished be­tween 1920 and 2012, yet, although the at­tri­bu­tion of the build­ing to inigo Jones has been the sub­ject of much re­search and de­bate, the fine col­lec­tions of the house re­main rel­a­tively un­known.

The founder of the na­tional Por­trait gallery (npg), the 5th earl Stan­hope, col­lected and re­ar­ranged fam­ily por­traits by Closter­man, Lely, Kneller, Ram­say, hud­son, Ba­toni, gains­bor­ough, Rom­ney, Lawrence and oth­ers, many in their his­toric carved frames. ge­orge Scharf, the first di­rec­tor of the npg, ap­pointed in 1857, was a reg­u­lar house guest and left sev­eral vivid sketches of fam­ily gath­er­ings there. Right: The 1720s stair­case hall. Its dis­play of weapons was pur­chased in 1731, but the armour in the cen­tre may have been an ear­lier diplo­matic gift. It’s first men­tioned in an in­ven­tory of 1753, when it was ar­ranged ‘with a long sword in one hand and Mr Stan­hope's Spon­toon in the other’

It’s not im­pos­si­ble that the armour was taken on this ex­pe­di­tion’

Chevening also pre­serves an out­stand­ing li­brary, the core of which was formed by the 1st Earl and his fa­ther, the Hon Alexan­der Stan­hope, Bri­tain’s Am­bas­sador to Spain. More fa­mil­iar is the set of ta­pes­tries pre­sented to the 1st Earl Stan­hope as a diplo­matic gift from Friedrich Wil­helm, fa­ther of Frederick the Great of Prus­sia, in 1720 (COUN­TRY LIFE,

Fe­bru­ary 29, 2012). How­ever, an­other trea­sure of in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, pre­sum­ably also a diplo­matic gift, has just been re­dis­cov­ered.

James, 1st Earl Stan­hope, had served as Com­man­der in Chief of the al­lied armies in Spain be­fore re­turn­ing to pur­sue his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. In 1708, the mayor of Tar­rag­ona pre­sented him with 13 an­cient tomb­stones from the Ro­man city of Tar­raco, which still stand, clus­tered as a gar­den fea­ture by the lake at Chevening. Could it have been dur­ing his time in Spain that he was given or ac­quired the armour that now forms the cen­tre­piece of the hall? The hall was dressed as an ar­moury, prob­a­bly by the 2nd Earl Stan­hope, in trib­ute to his fa­ther. All that is se­curely known about the dis­play is that the mus­kets and pis­tols that form part of the sur­round­ing dis­play were pur­chased in 1731. The en­tire piece was cer­tainly in place by 1753, when the armour is first de­scribed in an in­ven­tory. This con­tains the hand­writ­ten note by the Earl’s wife, Grizel: ‘A Suit of Armour, with a long sword in one hand and Mr Stan­hope's Spon­toon in the other.’ It’s not quite clear who Mr Stan­hope was, but he was ev­i­dently a mem­ber of the fam­ily. Any­way, there the armour stood, ad­mired but anony­mous, for the next five gen­er­a­tions and be­yond. Cov­ered with fine etched dec­o­ra­tion, the armour was clearly of ex­cep­tional qual­ity so a col­league at the V&A, An­gus Pat­ter­son, came to in­spect it. Thrilled, he iden­ti­fied it as largely from about

1590 and prob­a­bly by Pom­peo della Cesa, ar­mourer to the Span­ish Court in Mi­lan. At his work­shop in the Castello Sforzesco, his clients in­cluded Philip II of Spain, Fran­cis I de Medici, Grand-duke of Tus­cany, and Emanuel-philib­ert, Duke of Savoy. Orig­i­nally, the armour would have been bur­nished, the bright steel set off with black­ened and gilded de­tails. Some of the gild­ing sur­vives and would have height­ened the etched dec­o­ra­tion to re­sem­ble em­broi­dery on fash­ion­able cloth­ing.

The armour is as­sem­bled from a larger orig­i­nal out­fit, known as a gar­ni­ture. This was an as­sem­blage of armour with in­ter­change­able el­e­ments that made it suit­able for dif­fer­ent uses, so although the shoul­der guards or ‘paul­drons’ are for mil­i­tary use, the hel­met was de­signed for joust­ing. Con­fus­ingly, the breast­plate is from an­other armour and some other el­e­ments are later re­place­ments. Nev­er­the­less, in 10 places, the orig­i­nal pa­tron’s etched mono­gram could be found.

De­ci­pher­ing the let­ters proved im­pos­si­ble in Bri­tain, but a col­league at the Prado showed them to Ál­varo Soler del Campo, chief cu­ra­tor at the Royal Ar­mory in Madrid, whose col­lec­tion in­cludes armour marked with the iden­ti­cal mono­gram. It iden­ti­fies the owner as Alonso Pérez de Guzmán (1550–1615), 7th Duke of Me­d­i­naSi­do­nia, 10th Count of Niebla. The Cap­tain-gen­eral of the Ocean Sea is best known to­day as the com­man­der of the Span­ish Ar­mada in 1588. Given its ap­prox­i­mate dat­ing, it’s not im­pos­si­ble that the armour was taken on this un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­di­tion.

When and why the armour came to the home of the Stan­hope fam­ily is a mat­ter of on­go­ing re­search, but it seems only fit­ting that, in Chevening’s ter­cente­nary year, as the es­tate looks for­ward to play­ing its part in the new chap­ter of Bri­tain’s re­la­tions with Europe, the armour of the com­man­der of the Span­ish Ar­mada looks down on the en­trance hall. It’s a re­minder from the pre­vi­ous El­iz­a­bethan era to ev­ery one of the For­eign Sec­re­tary’s guests of the costs of war and the ben­e­fits of Euro­pean good­will.

‘Cov­ered with fine etched dec­o­ra­tion, the armour was clearly of qual­ity’ ex­cep­tional

Right: The Duke was a fig­ure of suf­fi­cient no­to­ri­ety in Bri­tain to fig­ure in this 17th­cen­tury pack of cards

The com­bined let­ters of the crowned mono­gram, vis­i­ble on the side of the hel­ment and the shoul­der, can be un­packed to read CO [NDE] NIEBLA, a ref­er­ence to the Duke’s ti­tle as Count of Niebla (‘the count of fog’)

A view of the armour. Its sur­face was orig­i­nally bur­nished, the etched dec­o­ra­tion picked out in black and gold

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