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Harrison, Edmund (1590-1667)

Altar dossal, embroidered by Edmund Harrison, c. 1630's. Altar dossal, embroidered by Edmund Harrison, c. 1630's. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no.T.206-2009.

Edmund Harrison was the King’s Embroidererat the courts of James I (r: 1603-1625), Charles I (r: 1625-1649) and Charles II (r: 1660-1685) of England. Harrison grew up in London, but nothing is known of his apprenticeship as an embroiderer. His name is associated with William Broderick (d. 1620), King's Embroiderer to James I, and his son-in-law, John Shepley (Shipley; d. 1631), embroiderer to Charles I as Prince of Wales.

By 1618 Harrison was working for James I, but he only officially bore the title of King’s Embroiderer from 1621 onwards. Harrison is known to have produced various embroideries for Charles I, including rich, figured altar cloths and hangings. There is a Nativity embroidery worked in or nué technique attributed to Harrison, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (acc. no. T.147-1930), an embroidered altar dossal with the Last Supper (acc. no. T.206-2009); another frontal, also attributed sometimes to Harrison, carries the arms of Sandys of the Vyne (with the date 1633; acc. no. T.108-1963).

In 1628 he became warden of the Broderers' Company for the first time, presenting them with a gilt cup to mark the occasion. The English Civil War (1642-1651) temporarily ended Harrison's career as King's Embroiderer, but he was employed by the Cromwell Commonwealth to embroider the Tabards for their Heralds, with the Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth.

By 1651 he had moved to Hartshorne Lane (now Northumberland Avenue), London, where he was engaged in various trading activities. At the same time he was buying paintings and other items at sales of the king's goods. These objects included Henry VIII's embroidered table carpet from the Paradise Chamber, Hampton Court, and the Cloth of State with the arms of James I, which Harrison had embroidered for the banqueting hall at Whitehall in 1638. Harrison produced these embroideries and other items at the restoration of Charles II in 1660, plus a certificate from the Broderers' Company testifying to his skill as "the ablest worker living", both of which helped to have him reinstated as King's Embroiderer under Charles II.

Harrison retained the position until his death in 1667. He is buried at St Giles, Cripplegate, London. None of Harrison's official works for Charles II survive, but the account books of the Great Wardrobe and the Master of the Robes indicate that he was involved in the designing and embroidering of numerous embroidered items, including suits, masque costumes, horse trappings, cloths of state, heralds' tabards, liveries, Bible and prayer book covers, banners and armorials. The seventeenth century English writer, Elias Ashmole, describes and illustrates two examples of Harrison’s work, namely a seal bag and the cover of a book in his publication, The Order of the Garter (1672).

Sources:

  • HOLFORD, C. (1910). A Chat about the Broderers' Company, London: George Allen & Sons: London.
  • WARDLE, Patricia (1994). 'The king's embroiderer: Edmund Harrison (1590–1667)', Textile History, 25, pp. 29–59.
  • WARDLE, Patricia (1995). 'The king's embroiderer: Edmund Harrison (1590–1667)', Textile History, 26, pp. 139–84.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 30 June 2019).

GVE, with the help of Mr Barry Watson.

Last modified on Sunday, 30 June 2019 17:46