Say “Hello” to Captain Thomas and Mary Bowrey!



OK, I admit it, this is almost definitely not how Thomas and Mary would have looked. The style of costume is not what a fashionable late-seventeenth would have worn at the time they married. Certainly the man’s costume does not tally with the clothing made by Thomas’ tailors. But, to me, they are Thomas and Mary.

I purchased these tiny (just 10cm x 15cm) seventeenth century silk needlework pictures at auction yesterday along with two other, larger ones. One was a beautiful example of stumpwork – something I have coveted for a long time. It is a very long time since I have been so nervous and excited at an auction. You would have thought I was an auction virgin.

If you study the pictures carefully you will see that the needlewoman – they were almost certainly stitched by a wealthy woman – has used stock images from a pattern book transferred to the fabric by ‘pouncing’. The pattern outline was pricked out using a pin, placed over the material and soot or charcoal rubbed over the page to transfer the design. Compared to many period needleworks, these pictures are naïve, the same motifs placed in the same place in both. A professional design draughtsman is likely to have been a little more sophisticated.

The motif that really caught my eye, leading me to christen the couple Thomas and Mary, are the monkeys. I recalled James Wheeler’s 1684 letter to Thomas requesting that he obtain a ‘type of monkey’ called a ‘orum mustan’ from Borneo  for Mr Freeman in return for his ‘dogg Tiger’ given to Thomas. I imagine Mary adding the monkey motif to her embroidery having heard the story. After all, Thomas’ library included a book about orang-utans demonstrating his interest in the animals.

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