International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

Georgiana Verney, Sarah Biffin, Margaret Audley and Boss Morris

In honour of International Women’s Day 2023, we are highlighting just some of the incredible women within our collections; from a talented miniature portrait artist who overcame immense adversity to a contemporary, all-female Morris Dancing Side, who recently performed at The Brit Awards!

Continue reading to find out more or click here to view our opening times and plan your visit to see and experience these collections in person!

Georgiana Verney, Lady Willoughby de Broke (1824-1889)

Our Women’s Library is one of the few parts of Compton Verney to have survived intact from the nineteenth century. Created around 1860 by Georgiana Verney, who was mistress of Compton Verney and a champion of women’s reading, education and suffrage, today it is a space for discovery and reflection.

The interior of the room reflects the original vision of Georgiana Verney, for example: the historic ‘dummy’ book spines decorating her library walls and door made a bold statement by citing only female authors!

The library was restored in 2017, and since then it has played host to a rolling programme of female guest curators, who have filled the shelves with works by the writers that they are passionate about. Previous guest Curators have included prison reading groups, Servicewomen of the British Army, the actress and UN ambassador Emma Watson, the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Ozak Esu and the journalist Martha Kearney.

You can come and visit the library Tuesday-Sunday, 10:30am-5pm and discover the curated texts currently on display with passages read by our guest curators explaining why they were chosen; or bring your own favourite book and take a moment to reflect and read in the grandeur and significance of this historic room.

Sarah Biffin (1784-1850)

Sarah Biffin’s story is an astonishing tale of adversity overcome.

The daughter of a Somerset farm labourer, she was born with the condition ‘phocomelia’ – described on her baptism record as ‘born without arms and legs’- and grew to little over three feet tall. Yet, Sarah taught herself to write, sew, use scissors and paint with her mouth!

Apprenticed by her family to a man who exhibited her round the country as a sideshow freak, she simultaneously taught herself how to paint miniatures. She was eventually rescued by the Earl of Morton, who sponsored formal painting lessons for her at the Royal Academy, and built up a large practice painting miniatures as a result of Queen Victoria’s patronage.

At Compton Verney, we have her painting ‘Princess Victoria Marie Louise, Duchess of Kent’ Watercolour on card; set in a gilt-metal frame, c. 1825 on display. The immense detail and likeness of the piece only reinforces the talent and inspiration that Sarah was and you can come and visit the collection, which contains a selection of other amazing portrait miniatures, in our British Portraits Gallery.

Margaret Audley, Duchess of Norfolk (1540-1564)

Featured in the world-first exhibition ‘Tudor Mystery: A Master Painter Revealed’, is the portrait ‘Margaret Audley, Duchess of Norfolk’ (1540-1564), dated 1562, oil on panel, by Hans Eworth (c.1520-1578). It portrays Margaret Audley who married Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk in 1558; (his portrait is on the left of her portrait in the exhibition).

In 1559, Margaret participated in the coronation of Elizabeth I. She was one of two principal ladies of honour who rode behind the Queen in her procession from the Tower of London. The following day, she bore the train of the new Queen whilst her husband carried St. Edward’s Crown to Westminster Abbey.

Margaret’s status and elegance are implied by her clothing. Her black over-gown was the hardest colour to obtain using natural dyes so black fabric was synonymous with luxury. The over-gown is also ornamented with decorative gold aglets and accentuated by gold-threaded ruff and cuffs. Ruffs required a huge amount of both fabric (up to 12 yards of cloth) and labour, with each figure-of-eight shape pinned into place or set with wax or starch made from starch-bearing plants such as grains or roots. After drying, warmed poking sticks formed the final shape. The Audley coat-of-arms is incorporated in the portrait – a hybrid red animal known as the ‘Audley Beast’.

Audley End (English Heritage) was Margaret’s family seat and after she sadly died two years after this portrait was painted, and her husband was later executed for his part in the Ridolfi plot, there Margaret’s portrait remained. Now, Margaret’s portrait has been brought to Compton Verney and hangs, once again, beside that of the Duke of Norfolk allowing us to learn about her incredible life and part in the significance reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Boss Morris

Part of our other ground breaking exhibition ‘Making Mischief: Folk Costume in Britain’ is this beautiful costume from Boss Morris. An all-female Morris Dancing Side, made up of professional performers, dancers, musicians, artists and a horde of magical beasts, Boss Morris create tailored performances for vibrant and exciting events including The Brit Awards 2023!

Boss is well known by folk and artistic communities alike, with audiences and fans from far and wide. Boss’s style pulls on ancient customs and traditional dances but gives them a modern twist with their striking attire, dazzling the crowds.

Join us from 6pm-9pm on Friday 5 May to gain exclusive access to the museum galleries and grounds after hours as well as a plethora of exciting acts including by Boss Morris! Book your tickets and find out more here.

These are just some of the incredible women you can learn about at Compton Verney. From the impressive collection of important 20th century designer Enid Marx to the historical portraits of women like Lady Fawkener and Mrs Baldwin, there are many more stories of incredible women to discover at Compton Verney.

Plan your visit here.