A portrait of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (reg. 1658-1707), acquired on the visit of the English ambassador, Sir William Norris of Speke, to Delhi in 1699. Mughal, late 17th Century

gouache and gold on paper, in a glazed surround with the inscription: AURENGZEB,/Taken from the life, by Order/of Sr. Wm. Norris, Ambafador/from KING WILLIAM 3rd, at Delhi, pasted to the backboard a letter in an 18th or 19th Century hand detailing the background to the embassy and the progress of the picture, framed. miniature 150 x 90 mm. Sold for £6,000

Provenance: Edward Norris, brother of Sir William Norris, ambassador of William III.
Hugh Warburton, his son.
Lady Penrhyn, Warburton's daughter.
Ralph Leycester.
Private UK collection thereafter.

Note: The text on the reverse reads as follows:

In 1699 Sir William Norris of Speke in Lancashire attended by his brother Mr Edward Norris went to Delhi as Ambassador from King William to the Emperor Aurengzeb [sic]. The embassy was fitted out at very great expense, nothing was wanted to render it as splendid as possible. The object of it was to obtain for the East India Company, newly established, the same privileges that former Emperors of Indostan had granted to the Old East India Company. Sir William Norris was met at Delhi by servants of the old Company, instructed to use every means to induce the Minister of Aurangzeb to oppose the object of the embassy and they succeeded so far that William Norris, tho' received with very great respect, obtained only general professions of friendship and regard from Aurangzeb to King William, as expressed in letters, the originals of which are now at Toft. Sir William Norris died in his voyage home and was buried at the Cape of Good Hope. It so happened that before the result of the embassy was known, the two companies finding the competition injurious to both, became united under the mediation of Lord Godolphin. Mr Edward Norris on his return from India found himself, by the death of two other brothers, in possession of the Speake Estate. By the only daughter and Heiress of Peter Gerard Esq. of Crewood in the county of Cheshire he had two daughters. The eldest married Hugh Warburton Esq. of Warrington, the second in 1727 married Ralph Leycester of Toft in the county of Chester. In 1816 this portrait of Aurengzebe by the kind bequest of Lady Penrhyn became the property of Ralph Leycester Esq. of Toft. Lady Penrhyn was the daughter of Hugh Warburton Esq. and grand daughter of Edward Norris Esq.

The embassy, as the note mentions, took place in the context of the establishment of a new East Indies trading company (in opposition to the original one, founded in 1600) as a result of the Whig ascendancy in England after the Glorious Revolution and accession of King William III in 1688-89. Hence for a couple of years there were two rival companies, which were forced by the goverment to begin the process of amalgamation in 1702, resulting in the formation of the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies in 1708-9.

The Speake estate is now surrounded by Speke (Liverpool) Airport. The original black and white timber house was built in the 16th Century by a member of the Norris family. It was sold in 1795. In 1922 a subsequent owner bequeathed it back to a member of the Norris family. Twenty years later, due to a secondary will clause, it was left to the National Trust.

For a comparable portrait of Aurangzeb, see T. Falk and M. Archer, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London 1981, no. 138 (ii).

Bonhams. Islamic & Indian Art, 2 Apr 2009. New Bond Street www.bonhams.com (Copyright © 2002-2009 Bonhams 1793 Ltd., Images and Text All Rights Reserved