• James

The Graye Settle

I purchased the Graye Settle from an antiques dealer in the United Kingdom in 2017. I was attracted to the piece because of its beauty and charm—the stunning 17th Century carvings, splendid boxwood and ebony inlay, and the fact that the piece has a direct connect to two real people. Those people were Henry and Dorothy Graye. The settle has the year 1661 carved into the front and includes the motto “De bon vouloir servir le Roy” (To serve the King with good will).

After having it delivered to the house, I was able to really inspect the piece and truly take in all the various details that are present in its carvings. The woman selling the piece described it as a “Marriage Settle” or a piece that celebrates a couple’s marriage. And there were certainly elements to support that notion. The top most row of carvings showcase two separate coats of arms, while the row beneath integrates those coats to create one. Unsurprisingly, one of the coats is for the Graye (Grey) family. The other, Dorothy’s maiden name, was a bit more difficult to figure out, but after much internet research, I determined that it was Wytham. This discovery led me to Collins Peerage of England which enabled me to figure out who both Henry and Dorothy were—at least to an extent.

Henry Grey was the grandson of Sir Edward Grey of Howick in Northumberland County, England. There’s quite a bit written about Sir Edward, not nearly as much about our Henry, except that he was born in 1634 and in 1658 he married Dorothy Wytham, daughter of William Wytham of Cliff, County York. The 1658 date for marriage is problematic for the notion that the settle celebrates the couple’s marriage since it dates three years later. It could, however, be an anniversary gift.

So what about Dorothy, what do we know about her? Not much unfortunately, other than her name, date of marriage, children’s names, and the date of her death in 1662. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding Dorothy. I was able to determine that she’s buried in the Galilee Chapel at Durham Cathedral right before the altar and quite close to the tomb of the Venerable Bede. The 17th Century marker for her grave is in excellent condition and provides many details. I was particularly struck by the fact that the grave carving of the family crest looks like the carving of the crest found on the settle. I would love to know she came to rest in such a high-profile location within the cathedral. I would have think that she was of some importance for that to take place. I asked some of the docents there, but they didn’t have any additional info.

The other bit of this story that is quite mysterious concerns the fact that the settle has two known siblings. There are similar settles to the same Henry and Dorothy Graye, one dated 1660 and one dated 1659. I have included a photo of the one from 1659. I don’t have a photo of the other one, just a description from a Christie’s auction in 1991 that states, “An oak and marquetry settle carved overall with scrolling foliage and heraldic motifs with scroll cresting centred by date panel 1660 above a central panel depicting Neptune in a sea chariot above inscriptions Henry Graye, Dorothy Graye and hinged panelled seat, scroll arms and block and bun feet, the frieze inscribed H.G. 1660 D.G. -- 82½in. (210cm.) wide.”

Obviously, these three would have been created during the years of Henry and Dorothy’s marriage which only lasted until her death in 1662. It is of course possible that the 1660 settle is for a different Henry and Dorothy, but that is extremely unlikely considering the many similarities and connections.

I cannot help but wonder who made these and why. Regardless, it's a beautiful piece with an interesting connection to the Greys and to Durham Cathedral.

I have included pics of the Durham Cathedral, the 1659 settle, Dorothy's Grave close-up and its location in the Galilee Chapel. I also included a 19th Century photo where you can see her grave in the floor just in front of the altar in the chapel.

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