Thursday, 4 September 2008

State meetings on benches...

An extract from Trea Martyn's book, Elizabeth in the Garden:

In the late 1580's, Elizabeth commissioned Richard Dixon to carve four six-foot-long seats for the gardens at Greenwich. According to the Office of Works accounts, the seats were 'turned with rails and baluster with a lion and a dragon supporting the queen's badges, with two arches under the seats and two elbows to lean, one carved with pediments crested for the weather carved with teh rose and crown with the Queen's letters, with an ostrich, a tassel and an eagle crowned holding a sceptre crowned.' Numerous new seats were added to the gardens and orchard. There were long seats for the garden, one in a 'jasper colour', which gave the appearance of marble and symbolised chastity. In the orchard, three seats, seven benches and several arbours were repainted in jasper, and a canopy was added to the Queen's seat. Four seats in the orchard were painted the colour of brick, and a 'back board for her Majesty to sit against' was painted in diverse colours and gilded.

Towards the end of the century, Portington, the Master Carpenter, made a 'fair standing seat in the mulberry tree garden and new seat with four pillars under the same tree for her Majesty.' The seat was eight feet long and six feet wide, 'standing upon terms arched and carved.' It was painted 'with ash-colour and jasper like rance [a kind of marble, or a red colour varied with veins and spots of blue and white] in water colour'. The four pillars made a pavilion, built around the mulberry tree. Joiners added six five-foot-long and five-foot-high seats with balusters and 'a carved pediment on top' painted jasper and gilded. In 1600, nineteen seats in the orchard and garden were given a new coat of paint. The following year, one last seat was made for the garden: it had a brick base painted a stone colour and a blue lead-covered roof.

The impression is that Elizabeth built a suite of outdoor meeting rooms in her gardens at Greenwich. We might imagine her conducting state business there, recalling her meetings with Cecil in the garden at Theobalds concerning the war in the Netherlands, during the fateful summer of 1587.

Stirring stuff. I haven't managed to find a photograph of what these benches might have looked like, but here's the Shakespeare garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. However, this is very definitely not a queenly bench:

Better is this one at the Elizabethan gardens also in America.

I don't feel too bad at having to go out of the country to find Elizabethan garden references, because Trea Martyn says she had to also in researching her wonderful book. It makes me wonder if any bench has been listed yet?

ps here's some Jasper for you to see the colour ...

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