Holding the pope’s nose to a grindstone: an anti-Catholic clock

After the Reformation, the telling of time itself became coloured by confessional and political controversy. The movement of this remarkable silver and enamel table alarm clock was made by the Scottish horologer David Ramsay, who was appointed official watchmaker to King James I in 1613. Although later extensively altered in France, it retains on its base a remarkable engraved plate showing the Stuart monarch and his sons Henry and Charles holding the pope’s nose to a grindstone being turned by a pair of English bishops. On the right a Cardinal and three friars gaze on the proceedings with considerable consternation. Inspired by an earlier German engraving referring to the treaty made between Catholic Spain and the Estates General of the Protestant Netherlands, it alludes to an event that was regarded as a decisive blow to papal power. Adapted to flatter and sometimes to admonish the reigning royal family, this anti-Catholic print about recent history circulated quite widely in England. The appearance of so belligerent an image on the inconspicuous underside of the clock is intriguing. Perhaps it was shown only to favoured visitors who would appreciate what seemed to some a tasteless Protestant joke. It can hardly have amused James I’s Catholic consort, Anne of Denmark, let alone Henrietta Maria, the devout French princess who married Charles I. AW

Table clock, movement made in Scotland by David Ramsay, c. 1610-15. Case altered in France by Louis David, probably in the late seventeenth century.

Victoria and Albert Museum: M.7-1931

Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum

No copy of any early seventeenth-century impression of the print appears to survive.

This may be because, together with Samuel Ward’s famous Double Deliverance 1588, 1605 print, it was suppressed as overly provocative in the context of the negotiations for a match between Prince Charles and the Spanish Infanta in the early 1620s. These items were described by an anti-Catholic propagandist as ‘facete and befitting pictures’. See Thomas Scott, Boarnerges (London, 1624), p. 25 and Thomas Scott, The Second Part of Vox Populi (London, 1624), p. 17.

The image was also adapted to castigate Archbishop William Laud in the 1640s and to comment on the future Charles II’s relationship with the Scots in Old sayings and predictions verified (1651).

A later version of this print entitled The Protestant Grindstone (1690) shows William III holding the Pope’s nose to a grindstone in celebration of the Glorious Revolution. British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Satires 1255.

Further Reading


Malcolm Jones, The Print in Early Modern England: An Historical Oversight (New Haven, 2010), pp. 140-1.

Adam Morton, ‘Glaring at Antichrist: Anti-Papal Images in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1680’, 2 vols (unpubl. DPhil thesis, University of York, 2010), vol. i. 193 and vol. ii, figs. 141-142.

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