Holkham’s best dressed?

March 7, 2024 | Treasure tales and archive snippets | 6 minute read

It’s the time of year when all eyes turn to Hollywood, and what the world’s most beautiful people will be wearing to the biggest awards show of the year. It’s Oscars season!

Although you won’t find any Chanel or Dior in the Hall’s staterooms, we do have some dapper characters adorning the wall. Read on to celebrate Holkham’s best dressed, according to Collections Coordinator Katherine Hardwick, with just a hint of satire..!

Thomas William Coke

‘It is now carnival time. The gentleman and ladies parage in their carriages up and down, whimsically dressed in masques, the most beautiful of which was the young Mr Coke. You know he is very handsome and his dress, which was chiefly white, made him appear charming indeed!’

Painted here by Pompeo Batoni, T.W. is wearing a white Van Dyck suit with pink accessories. We particularly like the coordination between garters, shoes (bonus points for matching heel and bows), and hat feathers. The pink cape is almost too much, but relieved by the black ermine tail trim breaking the two-tone effect, and giving a knowing nod to more traditional peers robes.

This costume was worn by T.W. to a masquerade ball in Rome in 1774, and he may have proved something of a trendsetter – several other fashionable gentleman of the period (including the Prince of Wales) followed his lead, ordering similar suits.


Lady Gertrude Coke, Countess of Dunmore

Next up we have Gertrude painted by Richard Buckner. She is wearing a simple white dress with dramatic full skirt, accessorising with a pop of colour through her tartan shawl. Practical as well as stylish on your country walk!

The tartan is Murray of Tullibardine, traditionally worn by the Earls of Dunmore, and one of relatively few clan tartans with a design that can be dated with certainty to the period of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. We love her use of it as a nod to her future husband’s family.

The rest of her outfit, hair and makeup is restrained. Pulling her hair into a simple up do allows Gertrude to show off the beautiful pearl choker necklace. We’re not sure about the use of a blue satin ribbon; we feel it would work with the dress, but not with the shawl.


Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester

We’ve seen white and pink as a key trend at Holkham, and it’s something we see again here on builder of the house Thomas Coke. Painted by Jonathon Richardson, he’s gone more for the pink than the white with these robes, proof that real men do wear pink. One of our more formal looks, these robes signify Thomas Coke’s membership of the Order of the Bath.

The order was founded in 1725 and Thomas Coke was one of the original members, so he’s understandably proud to show off his robes. The pink cloak is a bit OTT, and hides some really lovely details elsewhere on the suit. There is beautiful embroidery on the jacket and breeches, and some subtle bling through the diamond shoe buckles. Not sure about the curtain tassels as belt, but the hat is a triumph. The proportions are pleasingly square, and the addition of ostrich feathers is always festive. Would like to have seen it worn though.


James Stewart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond

Coco Chanel famously said, ‘When I find a colour darker than black, I’ll wear it. But until then I’m wearing black’. Perennially chic, it was always going to feature on this list.

Representing those devoted to the colour is James, painted here by Van Dyck. Black – as today – was incredibly fashionable in the early 17th century, and would have been worn by many of his contemporaries. Here, he has elevated his outfit through the use of lace on his satin jacket and breeches. The slashed arms and body of the jacket reveal the fine white shirt below, which adds visual interest in a Beetlejuice way. A good look.

The pop of colour comes from James’ garter sash, and the garter star sits prominently on his black cape. He was appointed to the Order of the Garter in 1633, and chose to have himself painted like this to celebrate. The original painting is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and it seems this version was painted in 1638.  A sustainability win, re-wearing old clothes and still looking chic.

Mullet afficionados take note: here James is sporting the popular 17th century hairstyle, the lovelock. Whilst the mullet is business in front, party in the back, this look says hopeless romantic on one hand, serious political player on the other.


Margaret Tufton, Countess of Leicester

Our final entry into this list is Margaret, painted here by Andrea Casali. She is proudly modelling her peeresses robes, proving that more is very much more.

She is wearing a crimson velvet kirtle, edged with white fur, and worn over a white satin evening dress with elaborately embroidered skirt. Her bodice is decorated with pearls, gold and other precious stones, and she has matched a pair of huge pearl earrings to a string of daintier pearls woven through her hair; a wise decision, therefore, to leave her coronet on the table. I think we’d have liked to see some rings or bracelets though, to break up the expanse of bare wrist, as its quite a lonely place between lace cuff and finger tips.

Margaret’s husband was made Earl of Leicester in 1747, giving her the right to wear these robes as a Countess. We can just see the three ermine spots on the cape at her back denoting rank. However, Margaret was a baroness in her own right, and the confidence and familiarity she has wearing these robes shines through. Though she would have upped her ermine spots from two to three, she doesn’t need to shout about it. Quiet confidence is her best accessory.


Katherine recently joined UK comedian, The Honourable Tom Houghton, on The Bad Manors podcast, chatting about Thomas Coke – the builder of Holkham – and Lady Mary Coke, who made it into the episode’s title, ‘Diary of a Cranky Woman’. Find out more here.

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