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The Mortlake Tapestries were founded by Sir Francis Crane.
From the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 13
CRANE, Sir FRANCIS (d. 1636), was the director of the tapestry works established at Mortlake under the patronage of James I. His origin is generally assigned to Norfolk or Suffolk, but of his early history little is known. In April 1606 he had a grant for life of the office of clerk of the parliament, and he was secretary to Charles I when prince of Wales, and during his secretaryship he was knighted at Coventry (4 Sept. 1617). C. S. Gilbert in his history of Cornwall asserts that Crane was a member of the family of that name seated at Crane in Camborne, but this statement is unsupported by any authority. Nevertheless he was intimately connected with that county. His eldest sister married William Bond of Erth in Saltash, and his second sister married Gregory Arundel, and to the Arundels his estates ultimately passed. Through the influence of these connections and through the support of the Prince of Wales as duke of Cornwall, he was twice (1614, 1621) returned to parliament for the borough of Penryn, and for Launceston in 1624. In February 1618 his name was dragged into the Lake scandal, as Lady Lake charged the Countess of Exeter with having been on the death of her first husband, Sir James Smith, contracted in marriage to Sir Francis Crane, and with paying him the sum of 4,000l. in order that she might be freed from the bargain. Tapestry had been worked in England by fitful efforts for some time before 1619, but in that year a manufactory was established with the aid of the king in a house built by Crane on the north side of the High Street at Mortlake with the sum of 2,000l. given to him from the royal purse. James brought over a number of skilful tapestry workers from Flanders and encouraged the enterprise with an annual grant of 1,000l. The report spread about in August 1619 that the privilege of making three baronets had been granted to Crane to aid him in his labours, and the rumour seems to have been justified by the fact. In June 1623 it was rumoured that ten or twelve serjeants-at-law were to be made at the price of 500l. apiece, and that Crane would probably receive the payment ‘to further his tapestry works and pay off some scores owed him by Buckingham.’ In the first year of his reign Charles I owed the sum of 6,000l. for three suits of gold tapestry, and in satisfaction of the debt and ‘for the better maintenance of the said worke of tapestries’ a pension of 2,000l. per annum was granted for ten years. Grafton and several other manors in Northamptonshire were conveyed to Crane in February 1628 as security for the sum of 7,500l. advanced by him for the king’s service, but the magnitude of the grant was hateful to his rival courtiers, and the transaction caused him much trouble, which however seems to have ended at last with his triumph (Strafford Letters and Despatches (1739), i. 261, 336, 525). Stoke Park was granted to him in 1629, and there he built, after designs which he brought from Italy, a handsome house, afterwards visited by Charles I. As a further mark of royal favour he had a joint-patent with Frances, dowager duchess of Richmond and Lenox, for the exclusive coinage and issue for seventeen years of farthing tokens. About 1630 his enemies began to allege that he had made excessive profits out of his tapestry works, and it is difficult to refuse credence to the accusation. Crane, however, contended that the manufactory had never made a larger return than 2,500l., and that he was out of pocket in the business ‘above 16,000l.,’ so that his estate was wholly exhausted and his credit was spent. He suffered from stone in the bladder, and for the recovery of his health went to Paris in March 1636. Next month he underwent the usual operation, and at first it seemed successful, but ‘the wound grew to an ulcer and gangrene,’ and he died at Paris 26 June 1636. In the whole course of his illness, writes John lord Scudamore to secretary Windebank, ‘he behaved himself like a stout and humble christian and member of the church of England.’ His body was brought to England and buried at Woodrising in Norfolk, 10 July 1636, a gravestone to his memory being placed in the chancel of the church. He had bought the lordship of Woodrising from Sir Thomas Southwell, and it remained with his heirs until about 1668. His wife was Mary, eldest daughter of David Le Maire of London, a family which came from Tournay, and widow of Henry Swinnerton of London, and she survived until 1645. Sir Peter Le Maire, his wife’s brother, died as it seems early in 1632, when Crane wrote that he had come ‘into an inheritance further off than the king of Sweden’s conquests are likely to reach.’ As he died without issue, his property in Northamptonshire passed to his brother Richard Crane, created a baronet 20 March 1642, and that in Norfolk to his niece Frances, daughter of William Bond. He gave 500l. to the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and provided for the main- tenance of four additional poor knights at Windsor Castle.
At the time of Crane’s death 140 persons were employed in the works at Mortlake, and the manufactory was carried on long after 1636. Rubens and Vandyck are said to have assisted in the designs, and Klein the German was brought over to this country for the purpose of helping in the operations. For three pieces of tapestry, the largest of which depicted the history of Hero and Leander, the sum of 2,872l. was paid from the royal treasury in March 1636, and Archbishop Williams gave 2,500l. for representations of the four seasons. The hangings at Houghton with whole lengths of kings James and Charles and their relations, and the tapestry at Knole wrought in silk with portraits of Vandyck and Crane, were woven at Mortlake. The masterpiece of the works was the ‘Acts of the Apostles,’ presented to Louis XIV by James II, and now in the National Garde-Meuble of France. A representation of ‘Neptune and Cupid interceding for Mars and Venus’ from the Mortlake tapestry is reproduced in the 21st part of Guiffrey’s ‘General History of Tapestry.’ A portrait by Vandyck of Crane, who was the last lay chancellor of the order of the Garter, was in the possession of John Simco, who published a print of it in 1820.
[Baker’s Northamptonshire, ii. 241; Bridges’s Northamptonshire, i. 328; Blomefield’s Norfolk (1809), x. 278–81; Manning and Bray’s Surrey, iii. 302–3; J. E. Anderson’s Mortlake, pp. 31–5; Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting (Dallaway), i. 235–7, iii. 488–94; Davis’s Translation of Müntz’s Tapestry, pp. 249, 295, 305; State Papers, 1603–36, passim; Lloyd’s State Worthies (1670 ed.), p. 953; Visit. of London, 1568 (Harl. Soc. 1869), p. 93; Burke’s Extinct Baronetcies.]