Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles chronicles a family’s nearly 400-year history of wealth, inheritance, and titles. On November 14 the Rienzi and Bayou Bend book club host discussion about the book, with a surprise appearance by a guest close to the family.
The book, written by Robert Sackville-West, the 7th Lord Sackville, recounts the history of the Sackville family’s English country estate, Knole–a story of wealth, inherited titles, and the family’s relationship (or manipulation) or primogeniture.
Rienzi features many objects that would not have been out of place in the Sackville country estate: Worcester porcelain, gilded side tables and pier mirrors, and Georgian portraiture, to name just a few. One object at Rienzi would not have been unfamiliar to the Sackvilles themselves—an epergne that once belonged to Lord George Sackville, the third (and favorite) son of Lionel, 1st Duke of Dorset. Now gracing Rienzi’s living room, the sterling silver epergne was made by William Cripps in 1759 and bears the coat of arms of Lord George Sackville.
Lord George, who is also known as Lord George Germain after inheriting part of the estate of a wealthy family friend, Lady Elizabeth Germain, in 1769, is not a central figure in Inheritance. He did not inherit Knole, nor the family’s dukedom. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and became a member of the Irish Parliament. After entering the army, Lord George was sent to America during the Seven Years’ War (also referred to as the French and Indian War), and later served there as Secretary of State for Lord North’s cabinet during the American Revolution. Eventually, Lord George’s military career ended in court martial.
At Rienzi (where decorative arts trump military feats), the legacy of Lord George survives in a masterwork of English silver. Epergnes were a common feature on the dinner tables of 18th-century aristocrats. Placed in the center of the table for the duration of the meal, epergnes were the focal point of the dining setting, and were made to hold sweets such as wafers and marzipan fruit.
Rienzi’s “Sackville epergne” includes a central basket, elevated by an intricate, undulating base and surrounded by four small trays. The epergne features hallmarks of the period’s rococo style: shellwork, scrolls, and flowers. The head of the Roman god Mercury protrudes in two places on the basket.
The coat of arms present on the basket is the Sackville arms combined with the Sambrooke for Lord George and his wife, Diana Sambrooke. Over the coat-of-arms is a three-dimensional head of a goat.