Young husband's wedding anniversary gift recalling the Flitch Trials is up for auction at Christie's

PUBLISHED: 10:19 30 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:47 01 December 2015

A contemporary satirical cartoon depicting the presentation of the basket. © British Museum

A contemporary satirical cartoon depicting the presentation of the basket. © British Museum

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This ornate silver fruit dish, which has a direct connection to the Little Dunmow Flitch Trials, is up for auction at Christie’s in London tomorrow, Tuesday, December 1.

Silver BowlSilver Bowl

This ornate silver fruit basket, which has a direct connection to the Little Dunmow Flitch Trials, is up for auction at Christie’s in London this week in a two day sale called Centuries of Style.

The basket was a romantic gift from a 22-year-old husband to his 51-year-old wife.

Though their marriage caused consternation in society and vilification in the press, he celebrated his first wedding anniversary with this gesture and inscribed it with a love poem inspired by the Dunmow Flitch Trials.

These ancient trials, mentioned in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, are a comic occasion where couples have to prove that they haven’t regretted being married for a single day in the past year. Several couples can win.

Their prize is to be carried through the town in celebration and given a flitch (or side) of bacon.

The delicate ornament was a gift to Harriet, Duchess of St Albans on her first wedding anniversary in June 1828 from her spouse William Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans.

The Flitch Trails had gone out of fashion in the 19th century but he said he wished he could revive them because he was sure they would win.

His verse read: “In the love can you be all formed to live and last,

This gift records a BLISSFULL twelvemonth past;

We claim then, boldly claim, the flitch Dunmow,

First of the blessed, to thy marriage vow.”

The couple’s exchange of gifts was satirised at the time in an engraving by William Heath. The Royal Dukes and Prince Leopold are shown on the left with the duchess presenting her gift of a ship called The Falcon to her diminutive husband who is dressed in a parody of his uniform as Grand Falconer clasping a basket and the Flitch of Bacon.

The duchess died in 1837, leaving most of her estate to the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, her step-daughter.

The estimated value of the silver dish is between £20,000 and £30,000.

The next Flitch Trials are in July. The closing date to take part is Valentine’s Day, February 14. Register at www.flitchtrial.co.uk

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