Exhibition features bedsheet embroidered with love note made of real human hair

It was embellished by Anna Maria Radclyffe, whose husband James was executed for his role in the first Jacobite rebellion.

The Museum of London Docklands has announced a major new exhibition, Executions, opening this autumn, at the heart of which is a 300-year-old linen bedsheet bearing a love note embroidered in human hair.

Museum of London Embroidered in human hair, the bedsheet’s inscription reads: ‘The sheet OFF MY dear Lord’s Bed in the wretched Tower of London February 1716 x Ann C of Darwent=Waters+’, a tribute from Anna Maria Radclyffe to her husband, the third Earl of Derwentwater. IMAGE: © Museum of London.

The artefact was fashioned by Anna Maria Radclyffe in memory of her husband, James Radclyffe, the third Earl of Derwentwater and grandson of Charles II by way of his illegitimate daughter with Moll Davis.

James Radclyffe supported the restoration of the Stuart dynasty, and led the Northumbrian faction in the Jacobite Rebellion. Following the Jacobite army’s defeat at the Battle of Preston in 1715, he was captured and later beheaded for High Treason on 24 February 1716.

The sheet’s inscription, framed within delicately embroidered floral motifs and a heart-shaped wreath, reads: ‘The sheet OFF MY dear Lord’s Bed in the wretched Tower of London February 1716 x Ann C of Darwent=Waters+.’

It has been suggested that the hair used may belong to Anna or her husband, or perhaps both of them.

Historical records reveal that Anna was allowed to take charge of her husband’s body and severed head after his execution. This possibility provided an opportunity to trim locks of his hair as a keepsake.

Museum of London A wider image of the embroidered bedsheet, which was acquired by the Museum of London in 1934. IMAGE: © Museum of London.

Beverley Cook, Curator of Social and Working History at the Museum of London, said: This embroidered bedsheet is an extraordinary item, which would have taken months or years to create. The care and devotion speaks to Anna’s personal devastation and remarkable character – determined to protect the memory of her husband long after his death.’

For centuries, the bedsheet passed through the hands of activists, rebel supporters, and then private collections, before eventually being acquired by the Museum of London in 1934.

Executions, which opens 14 October 2022, will feature a host of other fascinating objects capturing the impact of public execution on the lives of Londoners across 700 years, including a vest purportedly worn by Charles I at his execution, a recreation and immersive projection of the Tyburn gallows, last letters of the convicted, and portraits of ‘celebrity criminals’.

For further information on the exhibition, or to book a ticket, please visit: https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/executions