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The Sir Theophilus Lee Silver Gilt Presentation Porringer


A gift in 1828 to Sir John Theophilus Lee, from His Majesty Nicholas I, the Emperor of Russia, in “ Testimony of His High Esteem and Satisfaction,” in response to Sir Lee’s gift earlier that year to his Majesty of two aquatint plates depicting the battle of Navarino.

The George IV cup made of gilded silver in 1826 by the silversmith John Bridge, was designed as a stock item for and retailed through the King’s Goldsmiths, the firm of Rundell Bridge and Rundell, to which John Bridge was a partner. The cup bears two plaques to the front and back of the bowl, taken from the drawings produced by John Flaxman, (then employed as the firm’s designer); that depict Neptune upon a winged seahorse riding into battle, and returning victorious. An allegorical design emblematic of Britain’s naval supremacy. A fitting theme given Sir Lee’s history of service in the British navy and to the Admiralty, and considering the content of the two engravings presented to Nicholas I.

The marine nature of the decoration was taken further in the stylized shell, leaf work and scrolled waves of the rococo engraved work that appear on the sides of the bowl and lid, and to the lid finial, cast in the composition of sea shells, coral and other sea flora.

During the early part of the 19th century Rundell Bridge and Rundell employed a number of well known artists and sculptors to produce designs for them, of which John Flaxman RA was one. He produced most famously the designs for the John Kemble cup and the Shield of Achilles.

The John Flaxman design used on the Sir Lee porringer appears on a number of other examples of silver gilt work by Rundell Bridge and Rundell, such as the Hope tea set, ( Thomas Hope had set up a “Flaxman Room” at his London home), and on the Equestrian centrepiece depicting King George IV as Pater Patriae. (Ref. Fig 62 p73 Royal Goldsmiths – The Art of Rundell and Bridge 1797-1843 by Christopher Hartop)

Also for a similar shaped vase of the same date, supplied to George IV by Rundell’s, with the mark of John Bridge, but with different John Flaxman panels, this time depicting The Age of Silver and The Age of Gold, ….. see ref. Fig.99 p105 Royal Goldsmiths – The Art of Rundell and Bridge 1797-1843 by Christopher Hartop.



There were many note worthy patrons of the firm Rundell Bridge and Rundell during the early 19th century. King George IV built up a superb collection of silver from the Goldsmiths, Lord Castlereagh, Duke of Wellington and William Beckford among others were regular customers.

Prince Lievin, the Russian ambassador to the British Court of St James from 1812 – 1834, was also a regular customer of Rundell’s during this time.

The second letter to accompany the silver gilt porringer is from Prince Lievin, written in ink, in French, and in Lievin’s own hand, dated and signed ‘Lievin’, ‘Londre a 15 Avril 1828’, the same date as engraved on the porringer. The letter informs Sir Lee of the Emperor’s satisfaction and appreciation of the two aquatints of the Battle of Navarino, and of the order to Lievin to gift the porringer in return. This order Prince Lievin duly carried out that day.

The first letter written on behalf of Prince Lievin and dated Nov 30 1827, gives Prince Lievin’s approbation for his name to be added to the list of subscribers for the intended publication of two the plates, each depicting a view of the Battle of Navarino. The plates being engraved from the drawings made by Sir Lee.

The battle of Navarino took place on 20 Oct 1827 between the Allied forces of France, Russia and Britain, under the command of Admiral Edward Codrington, a hero of Trafalgar; and those of the Ottoman Empire. The Allies had united under the Treaty of London in July of that year, and though ordered not to take sides between the Greeks fighting for independence from the Ottomans, the treaty gave the Allies the power of military intervention if the Ottomans did not cease hostilities and grant the Greeks autonomy. Fearing an unsuccessful blockage of the Ottoman fleet as winter approached, Codrington moved the Allied fleet into the Bay of Navarino as a show of strength to the Ottoman fleet anchored there, and to persuade the Ottomans to respect the armistice. This act was considered highly provocative and a naval battle ensued with the Allies defeating the Ottoman fleet resoundedly. The destruction of the Ottoman fleet was pivotal in saving the Greek republic from collapse, and leading to Greek independence.

Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, and later William IV, (known as the sailor King), had been appointed The Lord High Admiral earlier in 1827, and the Battle of Navarino was the first major sea battle of his tenure.

On Prince William Henry’s ‘express desire’, Sir John Theophilus Lee was asked to make a drawing, with a view to publishing, and from his Lordship’s ideas and plans communicated through Lord Viscount Ingestrie; of the Battle of Navarino. This was done, and due to the high costs of publishing, a subscription was raised to meet production. ‘80 Admirals, a proportionate number of captains and other officers of the navy and army’ and various other personages of society subscribed.

A quantity of oak from the Victory, Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar, was sent to Sir Lee on the King’s command, so that some of the aquatints could be so framed.

One pair of the prints, so framed, was gifted to his majesty George IV, and another set presented personally by Sir Lee to Prince William was hung over the mantelpiece of his Royal Highness’ private room in the Admiralty. Further sets framed in the Victory’s oak were presented by Sir Lee, through their respected ambassadors, to the Emperor of Russia, the King of France, the King of Prussia and the King of Sweden, all of whom Sir Lee personally knew.



Sir John Theophilus Lee


Above is a link to a portrait in oils of Sir John Theophilus Lee in Deputy Lieutenant’s uniform, held in the Chequers estate collection. The Chequers country estate was bought in 1912 by Arthur Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham after taking out a lease on the estate in 1909. In 1917 the estate was gifted in trust to the nation, to be used as an official residence and retreat by the Prime Ministers of Britian. Arthur Lee was the grandson of Sir John Theophilus Lee.

In 1827 Theophilus Lee was knighted by King George IV for services to his country. This wasn’t the only honour he received that year. Louis 18th, at the Court of St James and through the then Minister of France, Prince Polignac, awarded Sir Lee the Legion of Honor, The King of Prussia sent a Dresden porcelain vase, two feet high with a portrait of the King in regimentals, and later a second ‘still more splendid’ vase. The King of Sweden, a ring with his crown and initials in diamonds set on blue enamel and surrounded by one hundred and sixteen other diamonds; and from the Emperor of Russia, through his ambassador Prince Lievin, ‘a superb gold vase of exquisite workmanship and great intrinsic value’.

Born John Theophilus Lee on 28 August 1787, at Modbury, a small village in the South of Devon, into a sea faring family, both his father and grandfather were to become captains in the British navy; it is unsurprising that Sir Lee should have shown a penchant for the sea and for naval life at an early age.

At the tender age of 7 ½ years John Lee was put upon the books of the Cambridge guard ship at Plymouth, as one of the Admiral’s retinue, and at eight years of age he boarded the Eurydice in order to join his father, at that time a first lieutenant on board HMS Barfleur, and sailing to the Mediterranean to join the fleet under the command of Sir John Jarvis, later the Earl of St Vincent.

At 9 Sir Lee found himself present at the battle of Cape St Vincent, and a year later, having transferred to HMS Swiftsure, he experienced the Battle of the Nile as the youngest Midshipman in the fleet, under the command of Admiral Nelson in the flag ship HMS Vanguard.

Sometime later Midshipman Lee was ordered back to England to take up a position at the Royal Academy school in Portsmouth to study for a Lieutenantship. Here he attended from 1800 – 1802, gaining his first proper tutelage in naval drawing, (submitting engravings to the Naval Chronicle), and passing his Lieutenantship exams.

In 1809 he resigned from the navy to take up an appointment to one of the public boards under the Admiralty. Later joining the civil service in a department held within the Admiralty, rising quickly to head a civil service department of personnel still within the Admiralty. Throughout this time he was regarded highly as a naval artist.

At the age of 41, tired from the stresses of his work and the sights he had seen and experienced, Sir John Theophilus Lee retired from the civil service. Purchasing, through funds acquired from an inheritance in that year, 1828, an estate called The Elms at Bedhampton, Hampshire to which he retired to. Here Sir Lee commissioned the building of a functions room, which he named the Waterloo Room in honour of a visit from his cousin by marriage, the Duke of Wellington, and in 1836 he published his memoirs.

Sir Lee died in 1843 at Lauriston Hall, Torquay.