Lady Lever Artwork of the Month – May, 2007
‘The Defeat of the Armada and the Gunpowder Plot’, by Anonymous
About the artwork
This canvas-work picture, made of linen worked with silk, is a very rare example of embroidery with a political theme. Its design is based upon an engraving published in Amsterdam in 1621, The Double Deliverance, by the Puritan preacher Samuel Ward of Ipswich.
It depicts scenes from two historical events, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Both events involved attacks upon Protestant England by Catholics; the first by the forces of the Catholic King of Spain, Philip II, against Queen Elizabeth I, and the second by a group of English Catholics, led by Guy Fawkes, opposing the government of King James I. These attempts to overthrow the Protestant authorities in England, together with long-held memories of the oppressive rein of the Catholic Queen Mary in the mid-16th century, led to a prolonged fear and suspicion of Catholics generally. This would explain the popularity of prints such as Ward’s even some 20 years after the Gunpowder Plot took place. In fact, it was still being sold in print-shops as late as the 1660s.
The scenes in the picture are laid out from left to right, almost like a cartoon serial. On the far left we can see the ships of the Armada drawn up in a circle. Above them, a mermaid sports in the waves beneath the words I blow and scatter and next to the number 88. This refers to the Latin inscription on the commemorative medal struck in 1588 to celebrate the defeat of the Armada, God blew and they were scattered. Above and to the right of the Armada is a wooded hill, labelled Tilbry Campe. This represents Tilbury in Essex, where Queen Elizabeth made her famous speech to rally her troops on the eve of the Armada’s arrival off the coast.
Free gallery talks Wednesday 2 and Monday 21 May, 1pm in the Education Room by Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costume and Textiles