Considering I’m the new boy here at Knole, picking a favourite object was surprisingly simple. I’m finding the more you explore, the harder it is to choose something. This means the thing I’ve picked probably won’t be the same a month from now! For now then, I’m settling for the Sackville and Curzon family Pedigrees.
The pedigrees are such a fantastic object because they demonstrate how important connections were in the in the medieval and early modern world. They serve as a way to link the Sackvilles with other important families (including royalty) thus establishing a dynastic pedigree for a family only recently raised to the aristocracy. They also parallel certain objects within the house. The Sackville’s obsession with heraldry and symbolism can be seen throughout the house and the pedigrees can help us understand this more.
What are pedigrees for?
Basically a means to boast about how powerful and well connected a family is! There are two pedigrees in our collection, one of the Sackville family commissioned by Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset in 1622.
The second is the Curzon family pedigree, commissioned by Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset in 1635 to honour his wife, Mary Curzon. The Sackville’s who were still relative new comers on the aristocratic scene, having been raised to the peerage in 1567 used the pedigree in order to try and establish some dynastic respectability. Pedigrees could be used to show connections already well established great families, even royalty.
Every one of the great families you’ve ever heard of is connected in some way, and I find these connections astounding! The idea of 6 degrees of separation can be really seen in the aristocracy of England, and these pedigrees really help you understand it. The Sackville’s needed to show how well connected they were and so we are shown the connection to the monarchy itself through the marriage of John Sackville (grandfather of the 1st Earl) to Margaret Boleyn. The newly ennobled Sackville’s proved their worth by linking themselves to not only the Boleyn’s, but the Howards (Dukes of Norfolk) and the Fitzalans (Earls of Arundel) as well.
Heraldry is all about symbolism, and for a ‘new’ family like the Sackvilles this symbolism is even more important! If you’ve been to Knole you’ll know that the place is dripping with heraldic symbols. From the leopards that adorn staircase and screen to picture heraldic vair patterns embedded the frames. It’s worth knowing a little bit about these arms as you can then notice them where most people might not. Hidden heraldry can be seen around the Dover painting in the Great Hall and the glass bottles in the Leicester Gallery are actually inset with the Sackville arms if you look closely.
The family tree is a great way to see a) viewed itself and b) wanted the world to see them. They wanted to present an image of established power and good breeding, basically genealogical propaganda. This is why a link going back to the Norman Conquest is shown so prominently. Herbrand de Sackville seen in the roundels below, was the first Sackville in England. He came over in the 1070s to help manage the new Norman lands in England.
The Bodiam connection.
This is of particularly personal interest for me as before I worked at Knole I was at Bodiam Castle, given to the National Trust by George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston. The Curzon pedigree at Knole shows a direct connection between the Sackvilles of Knole to the Curzon family. Not only this, but the pedigree also shows that the Sackville’s had an even more direct connection to Bodiam through the marriage of Margaret Dallingridge, daughter of the original builder of Bodiam Castle. From Bodiam’s construction to it’s acquisition by the NT, it was connected to Knole and the Sackvilles (even if it was a pretty minor link!).
In the end the sheer artistry and skill makes them amazing to me. Our idea of medieval life can be so austere, especially when thinking about the lineage of great families, but heraldry so often has little bits of humour as well as serious boasts. The Sackville shows a connection to the Shelley family (of poet Shelley fame), whose arms include actual shells. OK it may not be comic genius but who doesn’t like a good pun?
Understanding them can make going to other places even more interesting too. If you recognise this coat of arms you’ll be able to pick it out on a pedigree at Hever Castle like I did just the other day! I love these pedigrees because they look fantastic and tell the story of a whole family!