The Mortlake Tapestries
August 17 12:00 pm - October 31 3:30 pm
The house is of architectural importance both inside and out, with its sixteenth-century great hall and a series of rooms created in the seventeenth century with elaborate moulded-plaster ceilings. The grandest of these is the first-floor saloon, which is still hung with the rare set of 1640 Mortlake tapestries commissioned to fit its handsome proportions.
Woven from the cartoons painted by Raphael, and now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum they have hung in place for over 300 years. Along with the originals commissioned by the Sistine Chapel, in Rome, they vividly bring to life the stories of St Peter and St Paul, and depict in finely stitched detail: The Healing of the Lame Man, The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, The Sacrifice of Lystra, The Death of Ananias and Christ’s charge to St Peter.
They were commissioned by Sir Edmund Prideaux, Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis, fervent supporter of the parliamentary cause and later, Oliver Cromwell’s Attorney General. Prideaux died in 1659 and was succeeded by his son, also Edmund. Despite being considered an intelligent man he made the disastrous mistake of entertaining the Duke of Monmouth one night in 1680.
Five years later, after the Battle of Sedgemoor in which James II’s army defeated Monmouth’s Protestant rebels, Prideaux was suspected of having supported the invasion. On the slender pretext of Monmouth’s earlier visit to Forde, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of high treason. The notorious Judge Jefferies demanded a sum of £15,000 to save him from the gallows, but only after his wife had made an impassioned plea for his life.
As further punishment, the tapestries were confiscated and kept rolled up in Whitehall until they were presented to the later resident of Forde Abbey, Francis Gwyn by Queen Anne, in recognition of his work as Secretary of State for War.
Protecting them from any harsh sunlight over the years, has ensured the stories continue to be played out in rich and vivid detail.