Oxburgh Embroidered Hangings

The Shrewsbury Hanging, now at Oxburgh Hall, late 16th century. The Shrewsbury Hanging, now at Oxburgh Hall, late 16th century. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. T.31-1955.

The Oxburgh hangings are several long lengths of green velvet, which were made into a wall hanging, two bed curtains and a valance. They include the so-called Shrewsbury Hanging and the Cavendish Hanging. They are decorated with over one hundred applied panels called slips, which are decorated with counted thread embroidery. In addition there are 33 loose slips.

Most, if not all of the slips were made between 1570 and c. 1585 by Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick. During this period Queen Mary was a prisoner of Queen Elizabeth I of England and was in the custody of George Talbot, Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, and his second wife, Elizabeth Talbot, who is better known as Bess of Hardwick. Mary was executed, aged 44, at Fotheringhay Castle, on 8 February 1587.

The slips often contain various symbolic and political messages (emblems), such as the catte embroidery that depicts a crowned ginger cat (Elizabeth I) playing with a mouse (Mary, Queen of Scots). Another slip is decorated with a phoenix, which was the symbol of Mary’s mother, Marie of Guise. The slips made by Mary have her monogram (letters MA, sometimes superimposed on the Greek letter phi), while those made by Bess have the initials ES. They are all made using a linen ground, with a design worked in tent stitch using floss silk. The emblem designs of the Oxburgh slips were probably devised at the request of Queen Mary and many were based on woodcut illustrations from contemporary botanical and natural history books, such as the Icones Animalium by Conrad Gesner (Zurich, 1553).

At some point, possibly in the late seventeenth century, the slips were sewn onto the green velvet ground that now makes up the wall hanging, bed curtains and valance. In addition, there are 33 loose slips (including the catte embroidery) that were probably removed from another hanging of some form, but no information is available about what form it may have taken or when this occurred.

Oxburgh Hall is a moated house in Oxborough, Norfolk (England). It was built in about 1482. It was owned by the Bedinfeld/Bedingfield family until the 1950's, when it was taken over by the National Trust. How the embroideries came to Oxburgh Hall is not clear, but it is likely that they formed part of the marriage settlement of Mary Browne, daughter of Anthony Browne (6th Viscount Montague), who married Sir Richard Bedingfield in 1761. She died in 1767 shortly after giving birth to a son. The hangings remained in the possession of the Bedingfield family until the 1950's. The hangings are on display in Oxburgh Hall. Other slips are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.


  • BATH, Michael (2008). Emblems for a Queen: the Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots, London: Archetype Publications, Ltd.
  • SYNGE, Lanto (2006), The Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique, London: The Royal School of Needlework / Antique Collectors'Club, pp. 95-97.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 19 June 2016).




Last modified on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 20:27
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