In 1688, James II, the Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was ousted by parliament in the Glorious Revolution and fled into exile in France. But he did not quietly relinquish his claim to the throne, and he immediately began plotting his return. So began a political and military struggle which would last nearly sixty years as the Stuart dynasty sought to reclaim their lost Kingdoms. The most famous event in this momentous struggle occurred in 1745 when James II’s grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, led an armed invasion of Scotland and England, a revolt which was put down at the bloody Battle of Culloden, but which almost met with success. Throughout the years of struggle in exile, the Stuarts continued to have many supporters in England and Scotland. Such support was, however, treasonous. So the Stuart supporters, or Jacobites, instituted, amongst other things, the practice of drinking toasts to their King “over the water” in glasses engraved with cryptic symbols which reflected their Stuart loyalties.
The NGV possesses an extensive and important collection of these rare glasses, many of them generous gifts from the Morgan family of Melbourne. Kings over the water will explore the fascinating hidden symbolism of these beautiful objects, created as part of a doomed political adventure whose tragic history continues to cast a romantic spell even today.