Before clocks arrived in England, sundials were being used to tell the time. However, even after the arrival of early clocks, sundials were still very important during the late 16th and early 17th centuries because the earliest clocks were not always accurate, and they had to be reset regularly using sundials as a reference. Lantern clock makers would often sell their clocks, accompanied by a small brass sundial that was made by the clockmaker or in some cases, if the budget allowed - by a scientific instrument maker.
The extremely rare early seventeenth century brass sundial shown here is particularly interesting and was made during what would turn out to be one of the most historically important years in the history of the English monarchy. This sundial was made in the same year as when the King of England, Scotland and Ireland, James VI and I, died on the 27th of March 1625 and who was then succeeded to the throne by his second son, Charles I. On 1st May 1625 Charles I married Henrietta Maria, daughter of the King of France, by proxy at Notre Dame and in person at Canterbury the following month. The dial is both exciting and mysterious. And it is about this 400-year-old timepiece with its fascinating historic links that is the subject of my article, which is discussed and fully illustrated below.
James VI and I
James VI and I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII. He was King of Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the Scottish and English crowns on 24 March. In 1603, he succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch of England and Ireland, who died childless. He continued to reign in all three kingdoms for 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era, until his death in 1625.
Above. Portrait of King James I. He was then succeeded to the throne by his second son, Charles I. National museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Below. Another portrait of King James VI and I. (born 19th June 1566 and died on the 27th March 1625). Paul van Somer I, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Below. Charles, Duke of York and Albany. The future Charles I of England is dressed the robes of the Order of the Garter. Later inscription " CHARLES DUKE OF YORK And ALBANY. Afterwards CHARLES The First KING OF GREAT BRITAIN". Robert Peake the elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
On the Death of his father, King James VI and I, Charles I succeeded his father as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. In 1600, Charles had been born into the House of Stuart as the second son of King James VI of Scotland, but after his father inherited the English throne in 1603, he moved to England, where he spent much of the rest of his life. He became heir apparent to the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1612 upon the death of his elder brother, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Above. Portrait of a young King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland. Gerard van Honthorst, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
On the 1st May 1625 Charles I married Henrietta Maria, daughter of the King of France, by proxy at Notre Dame and in person at Canterbury the following month. Charles handing a laurel wreath to Henrietta Maria, by Daniël Mijtens. Daniël Mijtens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Above. After a rocky start, Charles and Henrietta Maria of France settled into the kind of complacent domesticity to which political matchmaking aspired, and from this came nine children. Two of those sons – Charles II and James II – would end up kings. Henrietta Maria and King Charles I. Painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1633, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The English Civil War stemmed from conflict between Charles I and Parliament. The king believed in his divine right to govern without interference from Parliament, and it was this conceit and arrogance that would eventually lead to his execution. In 1642, after an abortive attempt to arrest five of his biggest critics on charges of treason, even Charles realised that things had broken down between the crown and Parliament. A week later, he left London for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. A civil war was inevitable.
Above. Charles I, King Charles of Great Britain and Ireland from 1625. In 1642 he left London for Oxford to raise an army to fight Parliament for control of England. Image Alamy.com
After seven long years of a ferocious and unrelenting war which sent terror and destruction throughout the whole country King Charles I was put on trial for treason and found guilty. He was executed on Tuesday 30th January 1649 outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and it has been said that he faced his death with courage and dignity.
Above. King Charles I was executed on Tuesday 30th January 1649 outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and it has been said that he faced his death with courage and dignity. Image by Alamy.com
E.C Sundial, 1625
Above. Showing an angled view of the 400-year-old E.C sundial made during what would turn out to be one of the most historically important years in the history of the English monarchy. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing another angled view of the 400-year-old sundial.Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
This horizontal dial is comprised of a thin brass scale plate measuring four and a half inches square with securing holes at each corner, the central plate is engraved with a roman numeral scale around the outer circumference with hour division lines terminating to decreasing circles motifs to the centre. The South point of the scale is also engraved with the initials EC and the date 1625 with the North point behind the gnomon provided with a cross pattee, a Christian cross motif more recently associated with the German iron cross but used in abundance since medieval times. The centre is provided with its original, thin brass knife-edge gnomon with fringed back edge which is secured through the centre of the dial.
Above. Showing a side view of the E.C, 1625 dial. The thin knife-edge brass gnomon with fringed back edge are typical features of sundials from this early period. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Above. Showing another side view of the E.C,1625 dial. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Above. The South point of the scale is engraved with the initials E.C and the date 1625. The centre is provided with its original, thin knife-edge brass gnomon with fringed back edge which is secured through the centre of the dial. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Above. Showing a close-up of the deeply engraved signature and date. E.C, 1625. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Above. The early 4.5-inch square brass sundial with the North point behind the gnomon provided with a deeply engraved cross pattee, Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing a close-up of the deeply engraved cross pattee with no-noon gap, a feature often seen on early clockmaker sundials. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing a close-up of a 3.5-inch square brass sundial that was made by clockmaker Deodatus Threlkeld. Threlkeld, probably supplied the dial along with a clock that he had made for a customer. Again - typically for early clockmaker sundials, it also has a cross pattee for noon with no noon gap. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below Showing a rear view of the E.C,1625 sundial. Note the original gnomon rivets are still in place. Private collection, Photograph Lee Borrett.
Who is the early 17th
Maker E.C ?
Quite often, antique sundials that appear on the market are anonymous but these can sometimes be safely attributed to a certain maker from the style of its engraving, gnomon, and approximate date of making. Fortunately for this dial, it has been signed and dated, however, the identity of E.C remains a mystery even after being featured by John Davis in the June 2020 edition of The Sundial Society’s monthly publication to help find out the makers identity. The E.C mark might immediately lead one to consider the name of Edmund Culpeper as the manufacturer for this rare and early example, but his working dates are clearly misaligned. Although it has not been established exactly who these initials relate to, there are other extant examples which are similarly signed including an example dated 1642 (with later gnomon). The fact that there are other known examples, points to E.C being the actual maker of the dial rather than the first owner. Hopefully by showing the sundial on this website, someone will come forward with further information and help solve the mystery of this elusive, maker. If you have any information that would help, please Contact me.
Above. John Davis featured the E.C,1625 sundial, alongside another early example signed E.C,1642 in the June 2020 edition of The British Sundial Society’s monthly publication in a bid to help find out the makers identity. BSS Bulletin Volume 32(ii) June 2020
Above and Below Showing colour views of the early E.C brass sundial dated1625. Private collection, Photograph Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing another very interesting early brass sundial, made by Clockmaker William Bowyer in 1730 for John Endecott of Salem, Massachusetts, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The thin knife-edge gnomon with a fringed back edge is typical of dials this early period. Note how similar the engraving of the Bowyer sundial is to the slightly earlier E.C, 1625 dial (shown above). Image, Alamy.com
This E.C, 1625 sundial is shrouded in a wonderfully interesting and fabulous historical background dating back over 400-years-ago. To give some historical context, this dial was created prior to such historical events as the English Civil War, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and during the Thirty Years War which raged over Europe from 1618 to 1648. It is an enormously rare survivor with great patina and near prefect definition remaining to the engraving. Measuring only 4.5-inches square, it would have been a very useful instrument to own in the early 17th century including re-setting the clocks of the house. Being lightweight in construction, it would have also been used on journeys away from home including travelling on foot or by horseback and would have been mounted on a small wooden plinth.
Events of 1625
Signed E.C and dated 1625, this sundial was made during the same year as when the King of England, Scotland and Ireland, James VI and I, died on the 27th of March 1625 and was succeeded to the throne by his second son, Charles I. This succession would eventually have devastating consequences throughout the entire land as an unpopular King Charles would go on to steer England into a brutal and bloody civil war which ultimately lead to his own death when he was executed outside the banqueting hall in Whitehall on the 30th January 1649.
This enormously scarce, small sundial was first discovered and brought to light by Scientific Instrument Dealer, Jason Clarke. I would like to thank Jason for allowing me to use his own previously published material about the E.C, 1625, sundial for this website.