Monday, May 30, 2016

16C British Gardens - Letter describing the Gardens at Kenilworth Castle during Queen Elizabeth's 1575 visit

Kenilworth Castle from the south in 1649, adapted from the engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) 

Kenilworth Castle is located in Warwickshire, England. Constructed from Norman through Tudor times, Kenilworth was the subject of the 6-month-long Siege of Kenilworth in 1266. The 16C Earl of Leicester expanded the castle, constructing new Tudor buildings & exploiting the medieval heritage of Kenilworth to produce a fashionable Renaissance palace. Kenilworth was the scene of the Earl of Leicester's lavish reception of Elizabeth I in 1575.

Robert, Earl of Leicester hoped to ensure that Kenilworth would attract the interest of Elizabeth during her regular tours around the country. Leicester's work was apparent during the queen's last visit in 1575. Leicester was keen to impress Elizabeth in a final attempt to convince her to marry him, & no expense was spared. Elizabeth brought an entourage of 31 barons & 400 staff for the royal visit that lasted an exceptional 19 days; 20 horsemen a day arrived at the castle to communicate royal messages. Leicester entertained the Queen & much of the neighboring region with pageants, fireworks, bear baiting, mystery plays, hunting & lavish banquets. The event was considered a huge success & formed the longest stay at such a property during any of Elizabeth's tours, yet the queen did not decide to marry Leicester.

One of the participants in the festivities wrote a letter to a friend during the Queen's visit. "A letter wherein part of the entertainment unto the Queen's Majesty at Killingworth Castle in Warwickshire in this summer's progress, 1575, is signified;" the author (probably Robert Langham) provides a detailed description of the castle's gardens

"Unto my good friend, Master Humfrey Martin, Mercer...

"Unto this, his Honour's exquisite appointment of a beautiful garden, an acre or more of quantity, that lieth on the north there. Wherein hard all along the castle wall is reared a pleasant terrace of a ten foot high & a twelve broad, even underfoot & fresh of fine grass, as is also the side thereof toward the garden, in which, by sundry equal distances, with obelisks, spheres & white bears all of stone upon their curious bases by good show were set; to these, two fine arbours redolent by sweet trees & flowers, at each end one. The garden plot under that with fair alleys green by grass, even voided from the borders a both sides & some (for change) with sand, not light or too soft, or soily by dust, but smooth & firm, pleasant to walk on as a sea-shore when the water is avaled. Then, much gracified by due proportion of 4 even quarters, in the midst of each upon a base a 2 foot square & high, seemly bordered of itself, a square pilaster rising pyramidally of a 15 foot high, symmetrically pierced through from a foot beneath until a 2 foot from the top, whereupon, for a capital, an orb of a 10 inches thick; every of these (with his base) from the ground to the top of one whole piece, hewn out of hard porphyry & with great art & heed (thinks me) thither conveyed & there erected.

"Where further also by great cast & cost the sweetness of savour on all sides, made so respirant from the redolent plants & fragrant herbs & flowers, in form, colour & quantity so deliciously variant, & fruit-trees bedecked with their apples, pears & ripe cherries...

"In the centre (as it were) of this goodly garden was there placed a very fair fountain, cast into an 8-square, reared a 4 foot high, from the midst whereof a column up set in shape of 2 atlantes joined together a back-half, the tone looking east, tother west, with their hands upholding a fair-formed bowl of a 3 foot over, from whence sundry fine pipes did lively distil continual streams into the receipt of the fountain, maintained still 2 foot deep by the same fresh-falling water, wherein pleasantly playing to & fro & round about carp, tench, bream & -- for variety -- perch & eel, fish fair-liking all & large. In the top, the ragged staff which, with the bowl, the pillar, & 8 sides beneath were all hewn out of rich & hard white marble. A one side, Neptune with his tridental fuskin triumphing in his throne, trailed into the deep by his marine horses. On another, Thetis in her chariot drawn by her dolphins. Then Triton by his fishes. Here Proteus herding his sea-bulls. There Doris & her daughters solacing a sea & sands. The waves surging with froth & foam, intermingled in place with whales, whirlpools, sturgeons, tunnys, conches & whelks, all engraven by exquisite device & skill, so as I may think this not much inferior unto Phoebus' gates which (Ovid says) -- & peradventure a pattern to this -- that Vulcan himself did cut, whereof such was the excellency of art that the work in value surmounted the stuff, & yet were the gates all of clean massy silver. Here were things, ye see, might inflame any mind to long after looking, but whoso was found so hot in desire, with the wrest of a cock was sure of a cooler, water spurting upward with such vehemency as they should by & by be moistened from top to toe. The hes to some laughing, but the shes to more sport. This sometime was occupied to very good pastime.

"A garden then so appointed as wherein aloft upon sweet-shadowed walk of terrace in heat of summer to feel the pleasant whisking wind above or delectable coolness of the fountain spring beneath; to taste of delicious strawberries, cherries & other fruits even from their stalks; to smell such fragrancy of sweet odors breathing from the plants, herbs & flowers; to hear such natural melodious music & tunes of birds. To have in eye, for mirth sometime these underspringing streams; then, the woods, the waters (for both pool & chase were hard at hand in sight), the deer, the people (that out of the east arbour, in the base-court, also at hand in view), the fruit-trees, the plants, the herbs, the flowers, the change in colors, the birds flittering, the fountain streaming, the fish swimming, all in such delectable variety, order & dignity whereby at one moment, in one place, at hand without travel, to have so full fruition of so many God's blessings, by entire delight unto all senses -- if all can take -- at once; for etymon of the word worthy to be called paradise, & though not so goodly as Paradise for want of the fair rivers, yet better a great deal by the lack of so unhappy a tree. Argument most certain of a right noble mind, that in this sort could have thus all contrived."