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A Large Elizabeth I Dish

London, 1586
Maker's mark three trefoils slipped
Diameter: 42cm., 16 1/2 in
Weight: 1499gr., 48oz. 3dwt



Of plain circular shape, with moulded lip and raised centre.
This dish, a rare surviving example of the kind of functional plate found listed in late 16th and early 17th century inventories, is of a similar design as the dishes in the unique set now known as the ‘Armada Service,’ purchased in 1992 by the British Museum. As Dora Thornton and Michael Cowell observed in 1996, ‘Undecorated plate of this sort would have been particularly vulnerable in times of financial need, since its bullion value far outweighed its decorative appeal.’ They also state that of the original number of dishes comprising the ‘Armada Service’ when found in Devonshire in 1827, four of unknown size and weight disappeared before 1885.
The 26 ‘Armada Service’ dishes in the British Museum were hallmarked in London between 1581 and 1602. Each is parcel-gilt and engraved with the arms of Harris impaling Sydenham for Sir Christopher Harris (1553?-1625) of Radford, near Plymouth, Devon and his second wife, Mary (1536-before 1617), a daughter of Sir John Sydenham. The two oldest dishes in the service, both hallmarked 1581, bear the same maker’s mark as on this present dish: three trefoils slipped.
Harris, who was knighted in 1607, was elected M.P. for Plymouth in 1584, largely through the influence of his employer, Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford (1527-1585). He appears to have shown little interest in Parliament, however, and following Bedford’s death he began representing Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?-1618) in local (Devonshire) matters. In 1592 Raleigh appointed Harris to look after the Mãe de Deus, a Portuguese treasure ship captured by the English on her return from a highly lucrative voyage to the East Indies. Its fabulous cargo comprised jewels and pearls, gold and silver coins, rich cloths in abundance, as well as tons of valuable spices, supposed to have been worth £500,000. In 1596 Harris was further advanced (and no doubt enriched) by Raleigh who appointed him deputy vice-admiral of Devon. As his biographer, P.W. Hasler put it, Charles Harris ‘was one and the same time country gentleman, servant of a great man and efficient local official.’


A Large Elizabeth I Dish Reference: 23362.1