Thursday, June 16, 2016

Discovering a 1645 English Garden in a Portrait Background

Mathew Babington 1612-1669 of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, painted in 1645 during the Civil War (1642–1651). Probably painted by Daniel Mytens (Anglo-Dutch artist 1590-1647) or one of his followers.

 Matthew Babington was a lawyer who was called to the bar in 1639. He must have done well during the war, as he is expensively dressed in a black silk doublet slashed in the sleeves & body. He presents himself as very upper-class & very up-to-date.

In the background of the portrait appears to be the up-to-date formal gardens of his Rothley Temple, where his family had lived for about 80 years. Gardens grew larger during the Stuart period as the influence of French & Dutch formal gardens brought features such as the long avenues & terraces seen above.  

The Medieval garden was fading from the English countryside, as influences from Renaissance Italy began to infiltrate English Tudor gardens. These included greater regularity of design & the relationship between the garden & the façade of the house, along with architectural features in the layout of the gardens appeared. 

Knot gardens, geometric beds edged with a low hedge of box or other shrubs appear in this painting. These garden beds of interlacing patterns were designed to be seen from the windows above the garden, & they were usually filled with herbs & popular flowers of the period such as gilly-flowers & carnations.

1729 Map 0f Rothley Temple Landscape & Gardens.  This shows evidence of a formal garden around the manor house. To the east of the Manor House is an area titled ‘Green Court’ with a barn & dovecote. To the south is a stable & a malt house & to the west are the formal gardens. Between these & the Rothley Brook are 2 stew ponds. There is a mill on the Brook & an orchard beyond, to the south east. 

Rothley Temple originally belonged to the Knights Templar from 1203, then to the Knights Hospitaller until their supression in the 1560s, when it was acquired by the Babingtons.

In 1312, the Knights Templars were suppressed by Pope Clement V, who pronounced that the lands which they had held should be handed over to the Knights Hospitaller, in order to continue the support of the cause in the Holy Land. The  Knights Hospitaller, like the Knights Templars, were warrior monks, & already held lands in Leicestershire. They administered their local soke jurisdiction or franchise from Rothley & probably leased out sections of the property to sub-tenants. Soke was the right in Anglo-Saxon & early English law to hold court & administer justice with a granted franchise & to receive certain fees or fines arising from it.  The jurisdiction could be over a territory or over people or some combination of both.

Some of the Knights Hospitallers were named within the Rothley court documents, including a number of members of the Babington family, shown as knights in the early 16C. On 24th June 1529, a lease for 29 years was granted to Humphrey Babington, by the Prior & Brethren of the Order of the of the Knights Hospitallers

At the time of the Dissolution of the Knights Hospitaller in 1540, Humphrey Babington retained the manor house & certain of its lands, but the bulk of the estate, which had been owned by the  Knights Hospitallers, reverted to the Crown. 

The Babington lease was subsequently extended but it was not until 1565, during the reign of Elizabeth I, that the entire estate passed to Humphrey Babington, grandson of the Humphrey above. The Babington family continued to hold the manor house & the estate through many generations, until 1845. The house still stands; now known as Rothley Court, it has been an hotel since 1960.

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