These bottles are so named because they resemble the traditional leather water flasks which were once carried by medieval pilgrims; these would have been fitted with straps and attached to a belt so they would not be lost on the journey.

It is not clear why such an antique form was used to create plate, but from the Middle Ages they began to be kept by wealthy noble families as symbols of their wealth and taste. Similar bottles can be found in the collections of the Musée du Louvre, Paris and the Kremlin Museums, Moscow.

The coats of arms on the bottles are those of Richard Boyle (1694–1753), 3rd Earl of Burlington, whose daughter Lady Charlotte married the 4th Duke of Devonshire. The Pilgrim Bottles were likely to have been commissioned for the coming-of-age celebrations of the young earl in 1715.

The silversmith was Anthony Nelme who came from Much Marcle in Herefordshire. He was apprenticed in 1672 and made a freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1679–1680.

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