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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1500-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak, joined and carved, with traces of paint

  • Credit Line:

    Gift of Mr. Robert Mond through The Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Hampton Court Palace

Cupboards pierced in this way for ventilation were used for the storage of food. They are known as dole or livery cupboards since they are supposed to have contained the allowance of food and drink given each night to members of a household in the medieval period.

This famous cupboard was found at a farmhouse in Shropshire near Tickenhall Manor, where Prince Arthur (eldest son of Henry VII) stayed before his death in 1502. The 'Prince of Wales' ostrich feathers flanking the lower door and carved initial A on the upper door were regarded for some time as indicators of royal ownership, and the cupboard is sometimes known as Prince Arthur's Hutch.

Very little English furniture of any kind has survived from the 15th century against which to judge this cupboard. It has been suggested that some of the carved panels could have been added after the cupboard was constructed - perhaps as early as the 17th century - or that plain panels were embellished with later carving. In either case the intention may have been to create romantic historical associations that would make the piece more attractive to a collector.

On loan to Hampton Court Palace.

Physical description

Standing cupboard, the front with two central doors, each opening onto a large compartment. Below the compartments, between the two front legs is a solid apron of ogee form. The full-height front styles and the rails and muntins all with scratch mouldings. The two doors and the four flanking panels are carved with open-work representing (from left to right, top to bottom):
a tracery 'window' of two rows of three lights
a stylised letter A with five chip-carved roundels of rosette (x3) or quatrefoil (x2) form
a tracery 'window' of two rows of three lights
a single vertical feather flanked by three chip carved rosettes (one rosette and two quatrefoils)
a tracery 'window' of two rows of three lights, with four chip carved roundels (two rosettes and two quatrefoils)
a single vertical feather flanked by three chip carved rosettes (one rosette and two quatrefoils)

The lower door metal hinges were replaced by the Museum (the wrong way round) using old examples. Those on the upper door look more persuasive, and have worn at the knuckle in a way that it would be perverse to fake, and which has not been simulated on the hinges of the lower door. [LMW, 30/3/2006]
On the PL side (low down) is a replacement patch; supporting bars have been added under the top shelf, and the narrow internal shelf.
Front plank added to top section and finger latch added to both doors.
Rear - the back is made with four horizontal panels (which may be conveniently numbered 1-4 from the top). 1, 3, 4 appear to be replacements, while 2 is plausibly old with a water(?)-sawn surface and deterioration commensurate with adjacent stiles and rails.
Support behind carved openwork, and PL feather carving reattached from behind.
The front apron is a modern replacement, held by pre-existing grooves. They are held by pegs, possibly in old holes and the PR front leg groove also has a putty-like filler material in it.
Blocks are present under both rear feet.
Traces of red lead paint were found on the surfaces but analysis was inconclusive as to the date applied. The PR side panels show tear-out (from the time of manufacture) but no traces of paint in these areas suggest that it was not wholly painted.
An insecticide has probably been extensively applied internally.

Mason's mitre joints are found to hold panelling in place, usually indicative of a date before about 1600. True mitres are found from about c1540. Very large single pegs (c13mm diam.) where double pegging (smaller diameter) would be more frequently met with.
Extensive worm damage may be indicative of sapwood, perhaps because it was expected to be painted. Better quality quarter-sawn wood was used for the doors which are cut from the solid (not of panelled construction), indicative of early (pre 1600) date.
The sides are formed from large boards (formed with vertical planks) - another early (pre 1600 feature). On the sides an angled joint has been used (which has now opened up with shrinkage), perhaps to present a large flat surface for painted ornament.
One rear leg has been finished with a moulding, the other not. Is this an inconsistency characteristic of non-standardised work, or a sign that it has been remade?
It has been suggested that the open carving shows a Jacobean (or later) gothic revival (or survival) quality; it is unlike most carving c1500. Could the carved panels have been added to enhance the historical associations and antiquarian character? It appears that adding them would that have involved reconstructing the whole piece (a major job).
PR front mark TH - this might be a maker's or owner's mark, and is of a different character to other graffiti (PL)
Open carvings show evidence on the reverse that a covering (batten and fabric perhaps) was fixed using nails, plausibly to prevent flies entering a container for food.
A series of holes along the carved panels (PL) has no obvious significance.
The left side panels (and right) painted with white concentric circles, like a bull's eye.
Top right gothic window carving may be a copy of the top left as they aesthetically similar but the right hand appears more laboured.
The side panels appear to show the remnants of painted decoration. The sides also exhibit some curious abrasions and scratches.
The graffiti on the upper and lower right hand panels are repeated, but by different hands with the lower being less deeply incised.
The central door carving appears older and smoother than the upper left and right.
There is evidence of yellow deposit, possibly filler on the upper and lower left panels and to a lesser extent, the right lower panel.

A photograph of the cupboard appears in a pamphlet, 'Elizabethan Furniture offered for sale by Phillips of Hitchin' c.1920. Visible differences between this photograph and museum photoraphs taken after 1912 indicate that:
-on the lower door, two external leather hinges have been removed and replaced with the present nailed, iron butterfly hinges.
-on the lower door, an infill section has been added at the PR upper corner of the tracery 'windows' comprising most of the chip carved roundel and the plain area below it.
-the current top board appears to have replaced one that overhung the cupboard front by c2cm

Place of Origin

England (made)


1500-1600 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Oak, joined and carved, with traces of paint


Height: 164 cm, Width: 126 cm, Depth: 61 cm

Object history note

Presented by Robert L. Mond through the National Art Collections Fund (RF 12/2908): bought by R.L.Mond from Phillips of Hitchin for £220
On long loan to Hampton Court Palace from 2007 -
Lent to the temporary exhibition Sold! at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle 2018-19.

Review of the Principal Acquisitions 1912: notes that the cupboard was originally painted.
Around the time of acquisition it was noted (dept. file) that "The upper hinges are original. The lower hinges were missing. Contemporary hinges (presented by the Rev. J. Meyrick Jones) were added in the Work Room."
2019 January: lent to the exhibition Sold! at The Bowes Collection

This celebrated cupboard was found at a farm house near Burwarton in Shropshire near Tickenhall Manor, where Prince Arthur (eldest son of Henry VII) and Katherine of Aragon lived until his death in 1502. The 'Prince of Wales' feathers and initial A were for some time regarded as indicative of his ownership. Various copies of the cupboard were made in the early 20c. These royal associations seem suspicious - given the late 19c market for furniture with colourful historical associations, and what we know of the more elaborate nature of royal furniture at the time, although not all palace furniture would have been highly sophisticated. One of the difficulties with judging this piece is that there is little comparable provenanced furniture of about 1500 with which to compare it (see below Context). By comparison with church fittings or wainscot c1500 the cupboard is comparatively low quality, without the consistency, economy and neatness of construction and finish usually seen, yet other utilitarian woodwork eg doors or boarded chests is much closer. The popularity this type with 20th century collectors may explain a number of copies made, but does not exclude the survival of certain pieces made between 1450-1650. It has been suggested that this is a 17c cupboard with carvings added later, reminding us that older types and styles of furniture can survive long after their hey-day, and sometimes even overlap with antiquarian interests.

Charles Tracy omitted it from his catalogue of Medieval Furniture and Woodwork, explaining in his introduction:
"A notable example of a misunderstood specimen, if not strictly speaking a counterfeit, is the so-called 'Prince Arthur's Cupboard'. This was acquired by the Museum in 1912. Although accepted in the literature as an important historical piece its authenticity is questionable to say the least." P.xxi
"probably a piece of seventeenth-century Gothic survival"

It seems that in addition to improvements made while the cupboard was in the workshop of 'antique furniture dealer' William Wertheimer c1911, at least one copy may have been made later found in America (see below). The cupboard, apparently bought by Wertheimer for £9. 10s was then sold to the dealers Philips of Hitchin (Hugh Phillips and Amyas Phillips) for £100, from whom Robert Mond purchased it for £220, who presented it to the Museum.

In 1923 a Worcester craftsman named Clackston (accompanying the dealer Mr H.J. Milward of Evesham) claimed to have added in 1912 under instructions from Mr Wertheimer, dealer of Worcester the front apron and carved rosettes over each side opening with 'feathers' and above the top centre door. The aprons do appear to be added, possibly replacements held by pre-existing grooves.

Cescinsky and Gribble comment (p.28) that the upper door crocketting is early 15th century in character, whereas the door itself is of 16th. [Fred] 'Roe rightly rejects the association with Arthur Prince of Wales.' They prefer the interpretation that the feather is a bill hook, perhaps a rebus on the name of the owner (William Hook). They comment that there is no doubt as to its authenticity although the type has been extensively forged. They think that the front apron piece is open to question.

The moulded surfaces of the legs corresponds to that dated c1500 by Garside (1924) plate 26.15

Cescinsky (1934, p.74) later argues that the construction of the cupboard from Burwaston, Salop is 'quite traditional and of the XVIIth century. The crude piercing of the panels and the slab doors are the incongruous features which give a false appearance of an age to which the cupboard could not possibly belong. The apron pieces below are obviously later than the piece itself.' He proposes that the cupboard is an early 17th century structure 'honest' but 'of no great commercial value' to which pierced slab doors were added, and piercing on the four fixed panels, presumably c1870-1910).

A copy of the cupboard was in Sarum Chase, West Hampstead, in the 1960s and featured in the inner cover artwork of the Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet". A large format image is held in the Theatre and Performance department (S.1284-1982).

Historical context note

Analogies (all of oak, apparently unpainted) exist in the Burrell Collection (14/410) acquired in 1936 for £330 from Acton Surgey (130 x 124.5 x 49.5cm), with two solid front doors, and pierced front panels, with large end panels; 14/420, found in the SW and bought from Hunt for £421, 134.5 x 129.5 x 58.5cm with divided panels at the ends; 14/424 with linenfold panels flanking the two solid front doors (Bought in 1948 for £400 from Murray Adams Acton, 96.5 x 132 x 54.5cm). Otherwise, the more conventional pattern for a large, standing cupboard is of boarded construction (eg Chinnery 4:8, Burrell 14/408, 14/409, 14/411, 14/415, 14/418 etc.), or panelled, but with at least two central drawers eg. Chinnery 4:7, or V&A W.11-1986 (with renaissance style ornament). Chinnery claims that all genuine examples of food cupboards/aumbries bear evidence that cloth coverings were originally nailed behind pierced openings (p.416).

A similar cupboard with pierced A and pierced tracery panels (oak, HWD: 5 ft. 6 1/2 in. x 4 ft. 6 in. x 1 ft. 10 1/2 in) was advertised by the dealer T.G.Bayne Ltd (98 Crawford Street, London W1A 1AN) in Apollo, June 1978

Descriptive line

Food cupboard of oak, English, 1500-1600

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Burlington Magazine, vol XXI, July 1912, p.228
Procedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, vol. XXIV (1912), p.275
National Art Collections Fund, Annual Report, 1912, p.44
Connoisseur, March 1916, p.128
Victoria & Albert Museum Museum: Fifty Masterpieces of Woodwork (London, 1955), no. 11.
Prince Arthur’s Cupboard
Food cupboards with fronts pierced for the ventilation of the contents were among the most important of the few varieties of domestic furniture in use at the close of the medieval period. They are known as dole or livery cupboards, because they are supposed to have contained the allowances of food and drink which were each night delivered (livré) to members of a household, guests and retainers. This practice, with the food and drink supplied, is vividly described by George Cavendish in his account of his master, Cardinal Wolsey.

Few English Gothic cupboards of this type have survived, and this is perhaps the most celebrated example. Known as ‘Prince Arthur’s Cupboard,’ it was found at a farm-house near Burwarton, Shropshire, close to Tickenhall Manor, where Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII lived with his bride, Katherine of Aragon, until his death in 1502. The upper door is pierced with a crocketed design resembling the initial ‘A’, and the devices in the lower panels may be intended for Ostrich feathers, the badge of the Prince of Wales. Traces of the vermilion paint, which once evidently enriched the whole exterior, are still visible on the surface.
The cupboard was given to the Museum in 1912 by Sir Robert L. Mond through the National Art-Collections Fund.
English; about 1500.
H. 64 ½ in., L. 49 ½ in., W. 24 in.
Measured drawings of English Furniture, P.E.Marx and M.S.Taylor (London, 1931), pp.14-15
CESCINSKY, Herbert & Ernest Gribble: Early English Furniture & Woodwork. Vol. II. fig.38 (London, 1922).
Dictionary of English Furniture (Country Life 1924-7, 2nd rev. ed. 1954, 3 vols.) - Cupboards, Food fig.2
Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture. The British Tradtion (Woodbridge, 1979), fig. 4:13
Thomas W.Bagshawe, 'Open Cupboards', in Apollo April 1937, pp. 205- 209
Fred Roe, A History of Oak Furniture (London, 1920), pp 7-8, pl 11.
WINDISCH-GRAETZ, Franz: Möbel Europa. 1. Romantic-Gotik. 1982, p 223.
Herbert Cescinsky, "Post-Dissolution Gothic" in English Furniture, Apollo August 1934 pp.73-9, fig.1
Suggests that construction is traditional, 17th century, with later slab doors, apron and pierced ornament.
‘Roger Warner: Memoirs of a Twentieth Century Antique Dealer’, Regional Furniture, vol. XVII, 2003, p. 36

We got to know Mr Eborall fairly well over the years. Among the stories he told me was that as a lad of about eleven, he had been sent by dealers from Worcester late one evening up to a farm house on Clee Hill near Ludlow. There, out in a shed, was a very early oak cupboard which the antique trade had been trying to buy for many years, and which the farmer refused to sell as it was being used as a rabbit hutch. The day before Eborall's visit, dealers from Worcester had called, and found that there was only one rabbit in the hutch. Following Eborall's night call with perhaps a little poison, dealers again arrived, asked to buy the cupboard, the farmer again refusing on the grounds that it was in use. They said, 'But the rabbit's dead', and there inside the hutch was found one dead rabbit. One hour later the desired oak cupboard was thrown on to a cart, and so down to Worcester where it was seen by Amyas Phillips, the dealer at Hitchin, whose customer eventually gave it to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it is now known as Prince Arthur's cupboard (W.15-1912). It was given to the museum by Robert L. Mond of Sevenoaks, Kent, via the National Art Collection Fund.

Labels and date

Livery Cupboard
English; about 1500

Oak, with traces of vermillion paint. Cupboards pierced in this way for ventilation were used for the storage of food. They are known as dole or livery cupboards since they are supposed to have contained the allowance of food and drink given each night to members of a household.

This famous example was found at a farmhouse near Burwarton, Shropshire. It is known as "Prince Arthur's Cupboard" since the carved feathers and the initial A suggested a connection with Arthur, Prince of Wales, who stayed at nearby Tickenhall Manor before his death in 1502. However, it has been suggested that the carved decoration is comparatively modern. The hinges were replaced after the cupoard was acquired by the Museum. [pre July 2001]

Production Note

with some later carving; the lower door hinges replaced by the Museum




Furniture; Containers


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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