Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On the Edge of the Wood

On a stormy day like today you can hear the wind roaring in the trees as soon as you step into the Ashdown woods. Although the eastern flank of the wood is protected from gales, if you cross the main avenue and head west towards the edge of the trees you enter a wilder place altogether. Here, as you follow the path around the edge of the 13th century park pale, you catch a view of the house lying to the south, looking deceptively peaceful in the sunshine.

Once you climb the stile, however, and head out
across the paddock towards Alfred's Castle Iron Age fort, the wind hits you with the strength to catch your breath and steal it away. Here the grass is grazed short by the Balleroy ponies. It's fortunate they are from Scottish Highland stock or they would be shivering out here on the exposed western flank of the hillside. Alfred's Castle might not be as huge or impressive as the forts at Uffington or Barbury or a dozen other places along the Ridgeway but this was a strategic point for the rulers that controlled this land, a vantage point giving the view south as well as northward to the old straight track. The sarsen stones of the ramparts - those that are left and are not buried beneath Ashdown House - peep through the rough grass. It's a place with an ancient feel to it that has never been worn away.

When I stand on the edge of Alfred's Castle I'm always reminded of the poem On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman, a different wood and a different county but a similar sensation of the past melding into the present. Alfred's Castle is a place where you can stand and dream - until the wind buffets you back towards the wood again and the trees close around you and offer shelter.

Do you have a favourite place where the past and present meet and where you go to stand and dream?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Who's Who of Ashdown House

One of the highlights of a visit to Ashdown House is the opportunity to view the portrait collection that adorns the walls of the hallway and stair. The portraits are a small part of the collection that Elizabeth the Winter Queen bequeathed to William Craven on her death. If every picture tells a story then these have a whole host of tales to tell. They are members of Elizabeth's family and her court, the people who formed an important part of her daily life, each with a story of their own.

The hallway itself is dominated by a large picture of William Craven, painted in
full armour, flanked by Frederick of Bohemia on the left and Elizabeth on the right. Also featured in the hall are Elizabeth's daughter Princess Louise Hollandine (pictured), the artist of two of the paintings in the collection, and her cousin Mary, Princess Royal, the daughter of Charles I. Mary married the Dutch ruler William of Orange and went to live in The Hague with her mother Henrietta Maria in the 1640s. To complete this family ensemble, there is also a portrait of Mary's mother-in-law Amelia, who was at one time Elizabeth of Bohemia's lady in waiting!

The first flight of steps introduces us to three of Elizabeth and Frederick's sons; Charles Louis, the heir to Frederick's princedom, the dashing Prince Rupert of the Rhine (pictured), whose life Craven saved in battle, and Edward, who made an advantageous marriage to one of the richest women in France. There is also an early portrait of their cousin Charles II, painted when he was only nineteen.

On the first landing are portraits of three of Elizabeth and Frederick's daughters; Elizabeth, the eldest, the "philosophical princess," a great scholar, Henrietta Maria, the tragic bride of Prince Sigismund of Transylvania, and Sophie,the mother of King George I, "the best queen we never had."

As you climb higher you pass soldiers and statesmen, Prince Christian of Anhalt, Elizabeth's cousin, who rode into battle with her glove as his talisman, and Frances Coke, the runaway bride.

The huge painting on the second landing of Prince Rupert, Colonel Murray and Colonel Russell is a story in itself, painted by William Dobson, court painter to Charles I, and richly decorated with symbols of loyalty. I've blogged about the Dobson painting before - like all the others in the collection it is well worth a view. Come and take a tour of Ashdown and step into the history of the house and the people connected to it!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mystery of the "lost King."

First it was King Richard III who was discovered under a car park in Leicester. Then part of King Alfred’s pelvis (or possibly that of his son Edward) was found in a box in a museum in Winchester. There is a sudden interest in “lost” kings.

Here at Ashdown we have a connection to two “lost kings,” Alfred himself, who fought at the Battle of Ashdown, and also the unfortunate Frederick, King of Bohemia.

There is something intriguing about the idea that the burial place of a historical figure is not known. In the case of Richard III the contested nature of his reputation gave the discovery of his burial site an extra dimension. Perhaps that is why it seems no one has gone looking for Frederick of Bohemia; his was a tragic and unsuccessful role in a bigger history. Perhaps it was felt he was best forgotten.

Frederick was born in 1596, and from 1614 ruled over the County Palatinate of the Rhine, a historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire. Frederick married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I in 1613 and they made their home in Heidelberg where Frederick transformed the castle and its gardens into a palace worthy of the daughter of a king. In 1618 the kingdom of Bohemia rebelled against its catholic ruler and invited Frederick to take the throne. Perceiving it to be his holy duty, Frederick did so, putting himself in opposition to the Holy Roman Empire and losing his throne a scant year and four days later at the Battle of the White Mountain. He, Elizabeth and their young family forced to flee into exile in Holland.

In 1632 Frederick had his best chance of regaining his ancestral Palatine lands. The Swedish King Gustavus
Adolphus had entered the Thirty Years War with significant success. In January 1632 Frederick travelled to Mainz to join the Swedish king’s forces. William Craven of Ashdown went with him and shortly after his arrival fought alongside the Swedish forces at the taking of Kreuznach Castle. This was the famous occasion on which Gustavus praised Craven for his courage in battle. Sadly Gustavus had less of a good opinion of Frederick’s abilities and refused to give him a command.  Instead, Frederick went to visit his Palatinate lands, which had been devastated during the ongoing conflict, with towns burned and ruined.

It was still Frederick’s hope that the Swedes would take the rest of the German lands from the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and that after this he would be restored as ruler of the Palatine. In November Gustavus Adolphus won the decisive victory at Lutzen, but it was at the cost of his own life. Frederick wrote to Elizabeth telling her that he would be coming to fetch her now that his German lands would be restored to him. Alas it never happened. On November 19th 1632 Frederick died of plague in Mainz in Germany.

It was another sixteen years before Charles Louis, Frederick’s heir, finally succeeded to the Palatinate. In 1632 he was only 15 and his uncle, the Duke of Simmern, was appointed administrator of the Palatine lands on his behalf. Meanwhile Elizabeth corresponded with her brother Charles I about a suitable place for Frederick to be buried. His embalmed body lay in Mainz for many months before it was taken to the town of Frankenthal and interred.

Peace did not last long.  In 1635 Frankenthal was threatened by enemy troops and the Duke of Simmern felt it would be wise to move Frederick’s body for fear it might be dug up and desecrated. Simmern fled to Metz, in France, taking Frederick’s coffin with him. From there the intention was to take him to Sedan for reburial in the mausoleum of his uncle, the Duke de Bouillon.  With an increase in hostilities, however, it was deemed to dangerous to travel.

Reports vary as to what happened next. Some historians suggest that Simmern arranged for Frederick’s burial secretly in Metz. Others suggest that he finally took the body to Sedan in September 1637. However when the mausoleum at Sedan was opened in the early 20th century, Frederick’s body was not there. Where Frederick’s tomb is we do not know. Elizabeth made no reference to her husband's burial in any of her correspondence and thus preserved the mystery of the final resting place of this “lost king.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 season at Ashdown House

The Ashdown House blog will re-open next month in preparation for the new season, which starts on 2nd April.  We'll be featuring new photographs and new articles for 2014 including stories from our visitors and guest blogs. A very Happy Spring to everyone!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

By virtue of its connection to Elizabeth of Bohemia, Ashdown House has a link to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the 5th November Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. Coombe Abbey, the main family seat of the Cravens, has a far greater connection, being the house in which Elizabeth was living at the time of the Gunpowder Plot.

It was the intention of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 conspirators to kill King James I and his eldest son and heir, Prince Henry, plus all the nobility sitting in the House of Lords and all the members of parliament sitting in the House of Commons. They wanted to put a Catholic monarch on the throne. The plot was thwarted when Henry Parker, 4th Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend parliament:

“My lord out of the love i beare to some of youere frends i have a caer of youer preseruacion therfor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to devys some excuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme… for thowghe theare be no appearance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them…”

Monteagle was married to the sister of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Thomas Tresham. Monteagle took the letter to Robert Cecil, who informed the King. The king ordered a search of the cellars at the Palace of Westminster. The plot was discovered and Monteagle became the hero who saved Parliament. He was rewarded to the sum of £700 a year - £500 in cash and £200 in the value of land donated to him. He invested the money in business ventures in Virginia.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Gunpowder Plot is what the plotters intended to happen if they had
actually succeeded. Their aim was to put James I’s daughter Elizabeth on the throne as a catholic figurehead. In 1605 the nine-year-old Elizabeth was living at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire.  Lord and Lady Harington, staunch Protestants, had been charged with "the keeping and education" of the young Princess, as was the wont with royal children in those days. At Coombe, Elizabeth was taught amongst other things, French and Italian, music and dancing. King James did not approve of the education of women, stating that: "to make women learned and foxes tame had the same effect - to make them more cunning." However I think we may assume that by most people's standards Elizabeth was very well educated.

In late October 1605 strange rumours of a plot to overthrow the monarchy were circulating in Warwickshire, which was a stronghold of Catholicism. Lord Harington was warned of a threat to the princess and Elizabeth was taken for her own safety to the city of Coventry, for it was suspected that she might be seized should a rebellion take place. She was lodged in the city with an armed guard. Later, after the gunpowder plotters had been arrested and tortured, it emerged that it had been their intention to kidnap "the person of the Lady Elizabeth, the king's daughter, in Warwickshire, and presently proclaim her queen." The plan had been to seize her from Coombe Abbey and carry her off to Ashby St Legers, a Catholic safe house and the home of Lady Catesby, mother of one of the conspirators.

It is said that when Elizabeth heard of the plot she said: “What a Queen I should have been by this means! I had rather been with my royal father in the Parliament House than wear his crown on such condition.”

For the blog post about other houses connected to the Gunpowder Plot, click here:

Happy November 5th!

Friday, November 1, 2013

St Hubert's Day

It's a busy week for anniversaries at Ashdown House. On Sunday it is St Hubert's Day. Hubert was born in about 656AD and was the first Bishop of Liege. He is the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers. Interesting mix! He features in full bishop's regalia in the picture to the left which was taken in the Craven Chapel at Ashbury Church.

During the Victorian and Edwardian period, Ashdown House had its own chapel and private choir (which is another, fascinating story). The chapel was located in Ashdown village and was dedicated to St Hubert as the most appropriate saint for a hunting lodge. Choosing St Hubert as Ashdown's patron saint also underlined the importance that the 3rd Earl of Craven and his Countess placed on hunting, which was one of their great passions. They lived permanently at Ashdown and kept a pack of hounds in the kennels there.

The chapel was demolished in the early 20th century and rather curiously was divided into two parts which became the church halls in two local villages. Half of the chapel is pictured to the right!

The Craven Chapel in Ashbury Parish Church  is also dedicated to St Hubert. It contains a beautiful stained glass window of a hunting scene, pictured left, as well as various memorials associated with the Craven family.

Next week here on the blog we are also celebrating Guy Fawkes Night via The Winter Queen and her links to the gunpowder plot. Check back on the 5th for the whole story!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ashdown Parterre

The letter P, in the A - Z of Ashdown, stands for the parterre. The current Ashdown House parterre of box and gravel, laid out in S scrolls in the 17th century style, was created in the 1950s when the house came into the care of the NT. The previous elaborate Victorian parterre had been destroyed during the war and the rationale for choosing a 17th century parterre design was that since the 19th century additions to the house had been demolished and it had been taken back to its original 17th century style, it made sense to match this with a 17th century garden.

When the house was built it had gardens on the north and south side rather than to the west, as can be seen in the engraving by Kip from the early 18th century. Whilst it's not possible to see the detail of these they were very plain. The hunting lodge was considered in the 17th century to be a masculine style of building and a plain box and gravel parterre was a masculine style of garden to match. So the parterre we have today, whilst not identical to the original, is in keeping with the 17th century style of the house and contemporary garden design.

In the mid-Victorian period the Cravens did much work to their
houses at Ashdown and Coombe Abbey, including a major garden restyling at both properties. At Coombe this work was carried out in 1860 by the architect and garden designer William Eden Nesfield. It's likely that he also worked on the Ashdown alterations. His father William Andrews Nesfield was an eminent garden designer who specialised in parterres so it is tempting to speculate that he had an input into the new garden at Ashdown. The Italianate style parterre was very fashionable in this era with intricate flowerbeds, colourful herbaceous borders featuring exotic species, fountains and paths of coloured glass. We have detailed photographs of this parterre garden so know exactly what it looked like.