Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (1766-1827)
Frederick North was born on 7 February 1766, son of Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford and his wife Anne (d.1797) daughter of George Speke. His father was active in politics for much of his life, culminating in a stint as Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782. As Frederick North senior did not succeed his father until 1790 he sat as a Member of Parliament and not a peer and thus was expected to serve concurrently as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, with responsibility for national income and expenditure, involving considerable administrative work. Despite the onerous nature of his dual positions, North only missed only 23 of 670 such meetings.
Frederick North was the youngest of three surviving sons and due to poor health spent much of his childhood in southern Europe where he became interested in the classics and languages. These skills were honed during his time spent at Eton. He was elected a student at Christ Church, Oxford but was only there for a year before taking first a leave of absence and then resigning in 1786. Following his resignation from Christ Church, North seems to have spent time travelling Europe, being spotted by Lord Auckland, Ambassador to Madrid, in May 1788, who described seeing him attired in the dress of a Spanish mule-driver (quoted by M. C. Curthoys, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
Most of his time travelling seems to have been spent back in Southern Europe where he undertook a tour of the Ionian Islands and Greece during which he also visited Tiryns, Mycenae, Athens, and Mount Athos, before going on to Smyrna, Cyprus, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. His travels obviously reinforced his interest in Greek culture and led to his joining, in secrecy for fear of alienating his family, the Orthodox Church, before his return to England in 1792, arriving home not long after his father died in August of that year. In September of 1792 North succeeded his father as member of Parliament for Banbury, though he was never a happy parliamentarian and so was presumably glad to give up the seat in March 1794 to become controller of customs for the port of London. In 1795 North was sent to Corsica where he acted as secretary to Sir Gilbert Elliot, the viceroy during the British occupation of the island. In that role his pleasant manner impressed not only Pope Pius VI and Maria Caroline, Queen of the Two Sicilies but also the Corsican patriots who found him conciliatory.
The manner in which North undertook his position on Corsica led him, in 1798, to be appointed as first British governor of Ceylon. On his arrival there in October 1798 he immediately set to work bringing a programme of reforms to fruition, reorganising the executive and judiciary. This process led to a reputation for probity but also to the resentment from the existing Madras civil servants, who ran the island until 1801. His time there also saw North enforce the abolition of slavery and the creation of a medical department as well as a postal service and the extension of the school system which had been started by the Dutch. Despite the positive reforms that North introduced to the island he also became embroiled in hostilities towards the independent kingdom of Kandy upon whom war was declared in 1803. Initial success in Kandy was hampered by overstretched supply lines and disease, forcing the army to withdraw by April 1803. The failure of this war, which resulted in a massacre of a garrison, resulted were the beginning of the end of North's time in Ceylon and in July 1805, pleading ill health, North was replaced by Sir Thomas Maitland.
The poor health that had sent North to Southern Europe in his childhood was to affect him for much of his life, though he still outlived both of his older brothers who had succeeded to the earldom in turn as 3rd Earl of Guilford in 1792 and 4th Earl of Guilford in 1802. On the death of his brother Francis North in 1817, Frederick became 5th Earl and inherited property worth £18,000 a year and a seat at Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire. This new found wealth gave him the opportunity to support his love for Greece with the establishment of the Ionian Academy. On his death in October 1827 his will created controversy as a codicil added on 13 October of that year bequeathed his books and manuscripts to the Ionian Academy conditional on the Ionian government endowing the university. This condition was considered not to have been met and led to a demand by his personal heir the 2nd Earl of Sheffield for the return of the library which was subsequently sold at auction in London.
The Theocritus Cup
The distinctive shape of this pair of wine coolers can be associated to a pen and ink drawing of the Theocritus Cup of circa 1811 by John Flaxman. Flaxman, considered by many the greatest English sculptor of his day, designed both fully-modelled figural groups and bas-relief friezes for many of Rundell's most important works in silver. When the Prince of Wales, later George IV, commissioned two massive candelabra for his London palace Carlton House, Rundell's engaged Flaxman to design their sculptural bases. The subjects of the figural groups were the Garden of the Hesperides and Mercury Delivering the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs of Nysa. The finished products, marked by Paul Storr in 1810 and in 1816, are acknowledged to be Flaxman's greatest fully-modelled works in silver. Flaxman's greatest bas-relief work for Rundell's was the Shield of Achilles, marked by Philip Rundell in 1821 and sold to George IV for display at his coronation banquet that year. While Rundell's subsequently made four more Achilles Shields, the present candelabrum is the only example of the Mercury sculpture known outside the Royal example. Rundell's also made just one other version of the Hesperides sculpture, for a candelabrum in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (illustrated in Shirley Bury, "Flaxman as a Designer of Silverwork," in David Bindman, ed., John Flaxman, 1979, fig. 185a, p. 144).
For the Theocritus Cup, Flaxman based his design on the description of a wooden cup by the Greek poet Theocritus (c. 308-240 B.C.) in his First Idyll:
"And I will give thee a deep cup, washed over with sweet wax, two-handled, and newly fashioned, still fragrant from the knife. Along the lips above trails ivy, ivy dotted with its golden clusters, and along it winds the tendril glorying in its yellow fruit. And within is wrought a woman, such a thing as the gods might fashion, bedecked with cloak and circlet. And by her two men with long fair locks contend from either side in alternate speech. Yet these things touch not her heart, but now she looks on one and smiles, and now to the other she shifts her thought, while they, long hollow-eyed from love, labour to no purpose. By these is carved an old fisherman, and a rugged rock whereon the old man eagerly gathers up a great net for a cast as one that labours mightily...And a little way from the sea-worn old man there is a vineyard with a fair load of reddening clusters, guarded by a little boy who sits upon its dry-stone wall..." (as quoted in N. M. Penzer, Paul Storr, London, 1954, p. 158).
Other silver in the form of the Theocritus cup include a pair of wine-coolers made for Sir Richard Sutton, Bt. (Christie's, London, 23 October 2000, lot 405, and a cup in the British Royal Collection (E. A. Jones, The Gold and Silver of Windsor Castle, London, 1911, p. 120, pl. LXI).