New research uncovers the story of a 'secret Jacobite' at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, England

17 March 2020
3rd Baronet
New research commissioned by the National Trust has uncovered the story of a secret Jacobite at Oxburgh Hall, revealing the owner of the house, Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld - pictured above - was likely to have been part of a rebellion to overthrow the Hanoverian king George II.

Clues to Sir Henry's secret allegiance were engraved in a drinking glass, which has now returned to Oxburgh Hall and will go on display more than 100 years after it was last seen there.

The Bedingfeld family have remained devout Roman Catholics throughout their 500 year history at Oxburgh Hall, refusing to change their faith even when Catholics were persecuted.

The new research shows active support for the return of a Catholic monarchy to Britain in the early 18th century and payments made by Sir Henry to the Jacobite cause, supporting Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his claim to the British throne. 

The research is part of the preparations for a new visitor experience in the house, which opened to the public on 14 March and explores Oxburgh’s 500-year history in more depth, during a £6 million project to repair the roof.

Oxburgh Hall, copyright National Trust images/Jemma Finch

The Oxburgh Jacobite glass  

Dating from the 18th century, the glass was originally from a set of 11 glasses. The rose and twin buds represent the ‘Old Pretender’ James Francis Edward Stuart, and his sons Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and Henry Stuart. 

Anna Forrest, National Trust curator, admiring the glass, on loan from William Grant & Sons. Copyright National Trust/Jemma Finch

‘Fiat’ is inscribed on the glass and means ‘let it come to pass’.  The oak leaf was a Stuart symbol from the Restoration. Charles II hid in an oak in the grounds of Boscobel House during the English Civil War, and in 1660 he wore oak leaves as he returned from exile in France to assume the throne. 

The secret Jacobite 

National Trust Curator Anna Forrest reveals the significance of the discovery: “We knew when we started to find tantalising nuggets of new information about the Bedingfeld family, that we were onto something. Following an extensive search through family archives, as well as public and private collections around the country, we can now say there’s a strong indication that the 3rd Baronet, Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld, was a secret Jacobite.

“We discovered Sir Henry made four hefty payments to the value of £285, to the Jacobite banker, George Waters. That’s equivalent to £55,000 today. This would have helped fund Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ - the grandson of the deposed Catholic King James II - and his supporters as they plotted to seize the throne from the Protestant King George II and restore it to the Catholic House of Stuart. 

“We’ve found further evidence that the Government accused the 3rd Baronet of sending horses and servants to support the uprising and that he was mixing in circles of well-known Jacobites. It’s also likely he was involved, or knew those who were, in the mysterious disappearance of a shipment of arms that was intended to defend against a Jacobite invasion.

“This is a significant discovery, as it is an added layer to the story we thought we knew. It reveals the covert life of a key figure in Oxburgh’s story, which remained a Catholic stronghold during a time when you could be imprisoned or sentenced to death for your faith.”

See the Jacobite glass

The glass is now returning to Oxburgh Hall for the first time in more than 100 years. On loan from the Drambuie Collection with kind permission of William Grant and Sons, it’s one of a group of 11 glasses that were likely commissioned by the 3rd Baronet and later sold in 1908. The location of the other ten glasses remains unknown.

copyright William Grant & Sons

Visitors will be able to see the glass and several more items on display for the first time when the exhibition opens later this spring (subject to the current Corona virus closures), including portraits on loan from the current Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfeld. Of note is the 18th century portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, that has just undergone extensive conservation work and is an integral figure in the Jacobite story. 

The research has been made possible thanks to National Trust members and supporters and grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

For more on Oxburgh Hall and the roof project, visit the website.

QUICK LINK: Fight for the throne - the Jacobite '45 reconsidered