A dinner service provides a lasting link to the distinguished Clan Montgomery.
Montgomerie Quartering Eglinton
A Porcelain Window into the Past | Marcia Feinstein
Collectors and purveyors of Chinese Export Porcelain tend to be enthusiastic — indeed, passionate—agents of history. In discovering the historical connections of tangible objects, we achieve a heightened appreciation for their owners’ ambitions and achievements.
The dinner service bearing the arms of Montgomery (or Montgomerie) quartering Eglinton is a fascinating and lasting link to the distinguished members of this widely dispersed clan—familiar to most in its Scottish incarnation—who have established their place in the history not only of Scotland, but wherever fortune took them, including the New World.
My circa-1785 Montgomerie Service, one of three known Montgomerie armorial services, is notable for its famous “Fitzhugh” border. This same blue and white border decorates the highly prized Society of the Cincinnati Service, created in homage to the French and American Officers of the Revolutionary War. It was a stock pattern in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and dozens of other titled families chose this border for their services. Commissions were delivered by ship to Canton, where arms or monograms would be painted in enamel on the partially decorated porcelains. It is presumed that the Montgomerie service was made for Alexander, second son of Hugh, the Eleventh Earl of Eglinton. Alexander served in the East India Company as Captain of the Bessborough, whose three voyages to the orient—Bengal and Canton in 1776-1780, Bengal in 1782-1783, and Bengal and Bombay in 1785-1786—are documented in the extensive records of the East India Company and the Royal Navy at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The arms displayed on this dinner service are those of a major branch of the clan that can be traced from 1388, when John Montgomery captured Sir Henry Percy (“the Hotspur“). His descendant, Hugh, was created Earl of Eglinton in 1508. The language of authentic heraldry is precise, and the Montgomery arms are described in detail: Azure three fleurs-de-lis, or; quartering Eglinton, Gules three gem rings or; stoned azure; with crest, SA cubit arm, the hand grasping a broken spear all proper; and motto Garde bien.
Other clues to the history of the dinner service continue to intrigue. Despite careful research in the extensive archive of the National Maritime Museum, this writer has been unsuccessful in uncovering the relationship of the ship commanded by its first owner to England’s notable “Bessborough” of the era. Harriet, Lady Bessborough, was the sister of the illustrious Duchess of Devonshire and mother of Caroline, Lady Melbourne, wife of the influential first Prime Minister to Queen Victoria.
The Montgomery heraldry reflects the legacy of a clan highly distinguished in its own right, prolific and far-flung, which has served kings and revolutionaries, Catholics and Protestants, through the centuries. Written accounts of the Montgomeries, who held large estates in Normandy, date from the 10th century. The Battle of Hastings established Roger, Sixth Count of Montgomerie, as a major historical figure. He led the cavalry charge which gained England for William the Conqueror. Created Earl of Shrewsbury, his lands were greatly enlarged through royal fiat and marriage.
Right: Portrait of Hugh Montgomerie, Later Twelfth Earl of Eglinton, 1780.
Oil on canvas, 941/2" x 593/4". Signed and dated lower right: J. S. Copley/1780.
Gift of Andrew Norman Foundation and Museum Acquisition Fund.
DIGITAL IMAGE © 2013 MUSEUM ASSOCIATES/LACMA,
LICENSED BY ART RESOURCE, NY
Nobility, however, has its price. In the case of Count Gabriel I de Montgomery, Captain of the French King Henry II’s Scottish Guards, observance of the obligations of office would result in tragedy. In 1559 he was commanded by Henry to compete against him in a joust honoring the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis between France and Spain. In the course of a tilt, a splinter from the Count’s shattered lance lodged in the King’s eye and entered his braincase, resulting in his death—thus altering the course of history and incidentally bringing an end to the sport in France. Years later, in 1574, Henry’s widow, Catherine de Medici, had Montgomery beheaded after he abandoned Catholicism and joined the Protestant cause, which the Scottish Guards had been tasked with suppressing.
The Montgomeries distinguished themselves in less martial fields as well. Literature, for example, owes a debt to Archibald, eleventh Earl of Eglinton, one of Robert Burns’ earliest patrons.
Over the course of centuries, the clan spread through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and, ultimately, reached America in the 1600s. Hugh Montgomery, 5th Earl of Eglinton, who died without issue in 1612, had resigned his arms and properties, thus forfeiting the male line of the family’s titles. His nephew, Alexander Seton, inherited the Earldom. The proper sequence of succession, however, would have favored Sir Neil Montgomery, whose genealogical line survives to this day, brought to America by William Montgomery of Brigend, who settled in 1701-1702 in Monmouth County, New Jersey. During the same era, the Commonwealth of Virginia records a land grant in 1679 to Robert Montgomery. Only decades later, members of the clan were to distinguish themselves in the American Revolution. Irish-born Major General Richard Montgomery was an early hero of the American Revolution, who led the ill-fated invasion of Canada, meeting his death on December 31, 1775, in the Battle of Quebec. Scores of colonial counties, towns and townships were named in his honor. His wife honored his memory with Chateau de Montgomery, which continues to this day as Montgomery Place, a 300-acre riverfront estate on the Hudson comprising a house museum and gardens near Rhinebeck, designed by the celebrated Alexander Jackson Davis.
In modern times, Montgomerys continue to bring distinction to the name. Scottish members of the clan who settled in Donegal, Ireland, were the forebears of the World War II hero Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Better known as “Monty,” Britain’s senior commander in Italy and Northwest Europe is also remembered for his strategic skirmishes with Allied Commander General Eisenhower.
In the United States, Philadelphia’s Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, the daughter of Colonel Robert Learning Montgomery, made her mark not only as a stylish leader of society (once called by Vanity Fair “the unofficial Queen of Philadelphia’s WASP oligarchy”), but as a philanthropist, serving as the longtime chairman of the Devon Horse Show, which raised money for the Bryn Mawr Hospital, her favorite charity. Hope’s husband, Edgar Scott, an investment banker and heir to a railroad fortune, served as president of the Academy of Music and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her 750-acre estate, Ardrossan (named for the town in Ayrshire whence her family originated), welcomed notable figures of society, politics, and the arts—the likes of Averell Harriman, Cole Porter and Katharine Hepburn. The inspiration for Tracy Lord in the Broadway play and cinematic box office hit The Philadelphia Story and the movie musical High Society, her vivid personality inspired memorable performances by two of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses, Katharine Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
Clan Montgomery in America is currently represented by about one thousand members. In 2012, it hosted the Hereditary Chief, Archibald George Montgomery, the Right Honourable 18th Earl of Eglinton and Winton, who attended the Greenville Scottish Games and Highland Festival in South Carolina.
Montgomery history is still in the making. No doubt it will continue to fascinate and inspire.
About the Author
Marcia Teller Feinstein, an antique porcelain specialist, is the principal of Vintage Interiors II, an antique gallery, Alexandria, VA. She welcomes any additional information regarding the Montgomery dinner service.
Grateful appreciation to the staff of the Ciard Library, National Maritime Museum, and Leticia Roberts, for their assistance in research.
COURTESY OF THE SCOUT GUIDE
David Sanctuary Howard, Chinese Armorial Porcelain. Faber and Faber, Ltd., London, 1974.
David B. Montgomery, A Genealogical History of the Montgomerys and their Descendants. 1903.
Thomas Harrison Montgomery, A Genealogical History of the Family of Montgomery. H. B. Ashmead, Philadelphia, 1863.
Eugene Zieber, Heraldry in America: A Guide with 1000 Illustrations. Dover Publications, 2000.