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Panel - The Oxburgh Hangings
  • The Oxburgh Hangings
    Talbot, Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, born 1527 - died 1608
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The Oxburgh Hangings

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Sheffield (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1570 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Talbot, Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, born 1527 - died 1608 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Embroidered linen canvas with silk, gold and silver threads

  • Credit Line:

    Presented by Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 57, case 5

Object Type
It was a popular pastime of wealthy ladies in the 16th century to make up large decorative hangings from a number of smaller panels. This enabled a group of women to work on individual panels at the same time. The hangings would be used as part of a bed set, as either curtains or covers, or be placed on the wall like a tapestry. If necessary, they could be dismantled at a later stage and the panels reused. In the case of this hanging, it seems likely that the panels were left unused until the 17th century.

It is very rare to be able to identify surviving embroideries as having been owned or worked by royalty. This piece and others in the same group are exceptional since they were worked by Mary, Queen of Scots and her attendants. During her long imprisonment she made numerous embroideries, some of which have her initials or cipher. This activity must have both filled her time and occupied her mind as many of the emblems or mottoes have more significance than is immediately apparent.

A signed monogram with the initials 'ES' indicates that this piece was made by Elisabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury. She was the wife of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, who was Mary's custodian at Tutbury and Sheffield castles from 1569 to 1584 . Elizabeth (now more familiarly known as Bess of Hardwick after the great house that she had built) was an accomplished needlewoman as well as being highly intelligent and an astute business woman.

Subjects Depicted
The subject was taken from a woodcut in a book by Conrad Gesner, Icones animalium ('Pictures of animals'), published in Zurich in 1550. The woodcut is entitled 'CERCOPITHECUS' but Gesner also refers to goggle-eyed wildmen, so presumably the creature is an amalgam of the real and imaginary.

Physical description

Textile panel of embroidered linen canvas with silk, gold and silver threads in cross stitch.

Place of Origin

Sheffield (probably, made)


ca. 1570 (made)


Talbot, Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, born 1527 - died 1608 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Embroidered linen canvas with silk, gold and silver threads

Marks and inscriptions

Signed monogram ES for Elisabeth Shrewsbury CERCOPITHECUS a monkey from C. Gesner Icones Animalium Zurich 1650 p95 . He also refers to goggle eyed wildmen.


Height: 27 cm, Width: 27 cm, Depth: 0.5 cm

Object history note

Probably made by Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury and members of her household at Sheffield Castle where Mary was imprisoned.

Originally all the panels were applied to a green velvet background, parts of which survive on the central panel and on several of the smaller panels.

The Oxburgh Hangings. Hanging with applied panels of embroidery, formerly at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.

Descriptive line

Textile panel 'The Oxburgh Hangings' of embroidered linen canvas with silk, gold and silver threads, probably made by Elizabeth Talbot, probably made in Sheffield, ca. 1570

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

Mary Queen of Scots' troubled reign in Scotland ended in 1568 when the Scottish Lords forced her to flee across the border into England. As Elizabeth's cousin Mary had long claimed the English throne, leading Elizabeth to see Mary as a threat and place her in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary was held captive in various English country houses for 19 years. She was finally executed in 1587.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) embroidered these panels with Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) and ladies of the household, during her imprisonment. Mary may have intended the large central panel as a cushion for Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel (1557-1595), an English Catholic courtier imprisoned in London by Elizabeth I. Mary's emblem of the marigold turning towards the sun (lower right) has been combined with various coats of arms and emblems representing courage in adversity. Many other panels from the same group are now at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk. [27/03/2003]

Subjects depicted



Wall coverings; Textiles; Embroidery; Royalty; British Galleries; Scotland


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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