Whose fireback, whose arms?

The arms of Pierrepont

This fireback came up for auction recently and it is a bit of a puzzle precisely whose arms are displayed on it. The auctioneers described them as those of the Duke of Kingston but that is incorrect because the coronet above the shield has alternate strawberry leaves and balls along the top of the circlet which denotes it as that of a marquess. If it had been the coronet of a duke there would have just been a row of strawberry leaves. In fact the arms are those of the Marquess of Dorchester, who was a member of the Pierrepont family of Thoresby Hall near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Wittily their motto, Pie Repone Te (In pious confidence), is a pun on their name. The date on the fireback, 1728, seems to pin down when it was cast although whose the initials AH were is not known.

But the date is not when the original fireback was made for there is another casting of the same back which has the earlier date of 1722, and different initials, although as the second letter is again an H members of the same family may have been involved. This casting, which has used the same pattern as the first one, has been made into a larger fireback by extending the mould all round (rather crudely it must be admitted) and adding a date formed from small individual numerals lopsidedly across the top. The fact that the initials are clearly added – they are placed askew and were pressed a little too firmly into the mould so that the backing can be seen – indicates that the original fireback had no date and no initials, and is better represented by the 1728 casting.

In 1722 the Marquess of Dorchester was Evelyn Pierrepont who had succeeded his brother as 5th Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull in 1690 and had been created marquess in 1706. However, by 1722 he had been elevated even further as Duke of Kingston since 1715. So if he had had a fireback cast with the arms of the Dorchester marquisate it would only have been between 1706 and 1715 when it was his senior title.

The 1728 casting dates from when Evelyn’s grandson, also Evelyn, had succeeded to the titles as 2nd Duke, 2nd Marquess (and 6th Earl). His mother, Rachel Baynton, had been born Rachel Hall, and it is possible that the initials on both firebacks could relate to members of her family.

Why the solution to whose arms are actually on the fireback is confused even further is because a previous member of the Pierrepont family had also been created Marquess of Dorchester. Henry Pierrepont succeeded to the title of 2nd Earl of Kingston on the death of his father in 1643 and was created Marquess of Dorchester two years later. However, he died without male heirs in 1680 so the marquisate became extinct. Therefore the original fireback, from which the two castings under discussion were moulded, could have dated from between 1645 and 1680.

The question therefore remains: was the original fireback cast for Henry, the first member of the Pierrepont family to be created Marquess of Dorchester; or was it cast for Evelyn Pierrepont, Henry’s great-nephew, for whom the marquisate was revived in 1706?