It is astonishing to read how this beautiful house, blessed today with so many works of art, was at various times in its history sequestrated from its owners by a scurvy stepmother, repeatedly mortgaged, threatened with a ‘gothick’ makeover, neglected in favour of foxhunting, and allowed to moulder in the rising damp which nearly killed off the family. What with teetering ceilings and cricket balls crashing into antiques, it is a minor miracle that The Vyne and its treasures survived intact!
Visitors can read here the personal story behind each of the portraits on the walls: their artistic contributions, their friendships with Cromwell, Horace Walpole, Thomas Gray, Jane Austen, etc, their prudent and imprudent marriages, and so on. The story is backed with pictures and contemporary documents; diaries, letters, mediaeval heraldry, a sculptor’s model c.1765, and an 1827 passport in the name of the King of France. The writer, who can personally remember the morning parade of white-starched domestics in the 1930s, also starts a register of servants who worked at the Vyne.
This book is written in easy style and copiously illustrated in colour. Its general interest lies in the vignettes of selected characters (apart from those of the Vyne) caught up in wider historical events: e.g. Henry VIII’s Standard Bearer, Philip Chute, in the spin and deception of the Tudor Court, Sir Walter Chute (friend of John Donne, the poet) imprisoned and disinherited for challenging his king, George Chute imprisoned for challenging Cromwell, expatriate Chutes who fought in Ireland and taught in America, l9th/20th Century actor-managers of Bristol Theatre, and a craftsman-artist exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, who worked with Stanley Spencer and Eric Gill but later became a priest in Italy under Mussolini.
These stand out in a 900-year survey of the Chute family’s rise from its legendary founder Edvard, a Jutish sailor in 1066 under the Norman Count Robert of Mortain, via manorial stewardship in Somerset and survival in the Black Death, up to the ranks of English and Irish gentry by 1450, and thence into national prominence.
Containing a wealth of information about the Chutes and their origins, this book will be of particular interest to the family’s many descendents around the world, although there is plenty to be enjoyed by any reader with a keen interest in English social history.