Category Archives: architecture

little western flower

In July 1575, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, threw a three-week long party for Queen Elizabeth I at his home of Kenilworth. It wasn’t just any party, it was the Oprah of parties. He’d spent years preparing for her visit by building a new castle and designing a private parterre garden for her use, creating a lake to stage evening theatricals upon its surface, and planning daily events and festivities on a grand operatic scale. Hunting during the day was followed by feasting, plays, and perhaps a little romance at night.

Kenilworth’s ruins including the Tower (on the left) that the Earl of Leicester built expressly for Queen Elizabeth I in July 1575, and the Castle Keep (on the right) dating to the 12th century, which he modified for use by other guests during her visit. Photograph by author.
The view from inside the Queen’s rooms where she would have looked out large windows (an opulent architectural feature in the 16th century) at a lake to the south. Photograph by author.
The view back (and north) towards Kenilworth which would have had a lake in the foreground in 1575. Photograph by author.

Whether by design or accident, the whole event was recorded by Robert Langham and later published, further amplifying details of the event for years to come. And so the theory persists that twenty years later it served as an inspiration for William Shakespeare, who grew up just 15 miles south of Kenilworth, when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I heard that rumor when I visited Kenilworth in spring 2017, but have just recently come across another story linking the popular play with my ancestor, Lettice Knollys Devereux, and English landscapes.

My 14x great-grandmother was a guest and some theorize that after Robert’s final proposal of marriage during the festivities was thwarted by Queen Elizabeth, Robert and Lettice started acting on a flirtation they’d long been dancing around. Lettice shared a close resemblance with her cousin, the Queen, but was just 31 to Elizabeth’s 41. Robert and Lettice’s romance led to their marriage three years later, which may be why theories exist that the “little western flower” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a reference to Lettice as the woman who was pierced by Cupid’s arrow after it missed its initial target, the Virgin Queen.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1

Oberon: “That very time I saw (but thou couldst not) flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all armed. A certain aim he took at a fair vestal thronèd by the west, and loosed his love shaft smartly from his bow as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts. But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon, and the imperial votaress passèd on, in maiden meditation, fancy-free. Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell. It fell upon a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound. And maidens call it ‘love-in-idleness.’ Fetch me that flower. The herb I showed thee once. The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid will make man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees. Fetch me this herb, and be thou here again Ere the leviathan can swim a league.”

A portion of the private garden Robert designed for the Queen, which is located north of the Castle Keep. Though designed for the Queen’s private use I can imagine other guests, including Robert and Lettice, having trysts in the garden after dark. Photograph by author.

The “little western flower” is a wild pansy (Viola tricolor), known as banewyrt during Anglo-Saxon times. (Coincidentally banewyrt is also a name linked to daisies (Bellis perenis), another flower I identify with my ancestors from the 16th century.) The pansy has been and continues to be used as an herbal remedy for skin conditions, such as eczema, and respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis. In both it helps open up the body’s breath. The flower is also tied to royalty since the color purple was so expensive to produce only royals could afford it beginning with the color’s early use during the Roman empire. In fact, Queen Elizabeth forbade anyone who was not of royal blood from wearing purple during her reign. Finally it’s linked to the trinity, given the flower’s three main petals. Much overlooked today, the pansy has a storied history.

Viola tricolor (Carl Axel Magnus Lindman)

veil of time

I can’t remember the last time I made a daisy chain, but it had likely been 25 years before the idea crossed my mind again. I was sitting in St. James’s Park in London on an unseasonably warm spring day when I started picking daisies (Bellis perennis) and creating a chain. The technique I’d learned as a child came flooding back as did the joy I always felt doing this in the park near my grade school.

I finished the daisy chain and instead of pressing it in my sketchbook, which I do with most flowers I pick when I’m traveling, I hung it in the branches of a nearby cherry tree. Maybe someone else would see it or maybe it would just blow away in the breeze. My mind was already looking forward since I was leaving London that afternoon and promptly forgot the few moments I spent soaking in all the beauty of that day in one of my favorite parks.

Daisy chain hanging in a cherry tree in St. James’s Park in April 2017. Photograph by the author.
A year later I made another daisy chain in St. James’s Park and thanks to my friend Gretchen I have an action shot! Photograph by Gretchen Hilyard Boyce.

A week later I was in Wales at the Bishop’s Palace in Lamphey near Pembroke. It’s not a highly visited destination, and took me a full day of train rides with three transfers to get there. My favorite was the stop in Carmathen where they made train announcements in English and Welsh. The last train took me to a platform in Lamphey where they stop only if you request it. It’s a one-track train that goes out and back once a day, picking up and dropping people off in one direction before reversing and heading back and doing the same. You want to make sure you’re at your stop in plenty of time and well visible so the train knows to stop and pick you up.

Train platform in Lamphey where I stood as close to the tracks as possible so the train wouldn’t pass without stopping for my return journey to England. Photograph by the author.

I got off at Lamphey and settled in an inn near the church before walking a short distance to the Bishop’s Palace. It sounds grander than it is nowadays. In its heyday it was like a spa retreat for the clergy. They would come here to eat, drink and relax. Perhaps getting away from a stricter schedule and more responsibilities at their home abbeys or maybe it was a conference retreat of sorts.

After the reformation when Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries, it was given to my ancestors, the Devereux, who used it much like a summer home. It’s likely my 14th great-grandfather Walter Devereux used it more frequently since he would pass through Wales on his way between England and Ireland in the service of Elizabeth I and likely stopped here on his way. His wife and children, including my 14th great-grandmother Lettice and my 13th great-grandmother Penelope, likely only visited in the summer.

Ruins of the Bishop’s Palace at Lamphey. Photograph by the author.

It’s in ruins today, but with a little imagination and the aid of some well-researched and illustrated interpretation tucked in around the grounds, you can start to get a sense of the former grandeur of the place. Its charm still emanates, but the details are lost to the ages.

Stone archway at the Bishop’s Palace in Lamphey, Wales. Photograph by the author.

I walked around the grounds in complete solitude and in and out of the stone ruins, including a stone archway that framed an apple tree. I was imagining what my ancestors, Penelope and Lettice may have done here and at that point turned to look closer at the archway’s wall. Hanging there was a daisy chain, similar to the one I’d created a week before, tacked into a crevice. I was taken aback. I hadn’t made a daisy chain in decades, and not seen one in as long, but here in the span of a week I’d created one and found another.

My perception was that a veil had been lifted between time and space, that there was a message or sign embedded in that experience. I don’t know more than that, but I know I felt a deeper connection to the place and people who came before me, and less solitary than I’d felt in the hour or so before wandering around the grounds. Whatever it was, it was a lovely way to end the day, which also happened to be my birthday.

The daisy chain at the Bishop’s Palace in Lamphey on my birthday. Photograph by the author.

On this day in 1598

On this day in 1598, Queen Elizabeth I finally receives her cousin, Lettice Knollys Devereux Dudley Blount, at court. Lettice, the Countess of Leicester and my 14th great-grandmother, had traveled to London two months prior when signs started appearing that the Queen would see her for the first time in nearly twenty years. As early as January excitement surrounding the encounter was brimming, “the greatest newes here at Court is an expectation that my Lady Lester shall come to kisse the Queen’s hands.”

Though they were family (Lettice’s grandmother and Elizabeth’s mother were sisters), and Lettice and her mother had also served as a ladies-in-waiting, all ties were severed when Lettice secretly married the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester, in 1578. He had wanted to marry Elizabeth after his first wife died, but she refused and he turned to Lettice, a recent widow who looked a great deal like Elizabeth only younger. So after two months of waiting in London at her son’s home of Essex House, which had once been her London home with Robert, she was preparing to head back north to her country home of Drayton Bassett when the summons to visit Elizabeth came on March 2.

There had been several false summons, but on March 2 Lettice had a brief audience with the Queen, most likely at Whitehall Palace. According to contemporaneous accounts the meeting was short. Lettice kissed the Queen’s hands and breast before they embraced and the Queen kissed her back. Lettice may have brought a piece of ‘faire’ jewelry as a gift worth around $70,000 in today’s currency. She had intended to give it to the Queen the night before at a dinner they were both invited to at the home of Baroness Chandos, Dorothy Bray Brydges Knollys, but Elizabeth backed out of attending. Within days the Queen was criticizing Lettice again with ‘some wonted unkind words’ and thwarted any additional efforts to be reunited. The Queen died five years later while Lettice lived for another 35 years, outliving all of her husbands and children.

Essex House (still labeled as Leicester House in this map) is in the bottom right corner along the Thames River. Whitehall Palace is just past the bend in the Thames River. Lettice could have traveled easily by boat along the Thames to court following her summons.
Though from about a century later, this shows the general layout of Essex House (right side of the map) and its gardens that reached down to the Thames River and were located between Milford Lane, which still exists, and Middle Temple Hall (Hall Court) which also still stands.
One of Elizabeth I’s favorite palaces, their meeting likely occurred here. This illustration comes several decades after her reign, but gives a sense of its layout and grandeur. Much of Whitehall Palace burned to the ground in 1698, but St. James’s Park (in the background) still exists and is one of my favorite places to spend time in London. The banqueting hall, which is in the middle of this illustration also still remains.
Essex House, where Lettice spent two months waiting for a summons from the Queen, is now part of the Middle Temple in London. The gardens, which are in roughly the same location they were during the 16th century, are open select days and hours in the summer months. Middle Temple Hall is in the background. Photograph by the author in May 2018.

Silvan & Spring retreat next spring in England

Cotswolds_walkingpathsJoin us next spring as we explore and share two magical places in England for a beautiful and nourishing seven-day/six-night retreat in the Cotswolds and Bath. We will explore the forests and landscapes of the Cotswolds and enjoy the sacred waters in Bath as we create art, write, and explore our surroundings between April 26 – May 2, 2018. We’ll celebrate the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane together as we mark the transition between spring and summer, and learn about the history and traditions of this important annual celebration. You will have plenty of time for relaxation and conversation as you explore these inspiring places with our small and intimate group. Both Gretchen and Laurie have traveled to England many times and will serve as your tour guides as they show you the best parts of this enchanted country.

Bath_RomanBathsWe’ll start and end in London, taking the train through the English countryside west towards the Cotswolds where we will spend four nights and three days in one of its charming villages. We will enjoy the cobblestone streets, thatched roof houses, and access to walking paths that weave through woodlands, along ancient hedgerows, and cross sheep-filled fields. Then we will take the train south to Bath and stay for two days and two nights near the heart of the town’s ancient Roman spring-fed baths, within steps of Pulteney Bridge and its artisan-owned shops. This is the same town filled with the Georgian architecture that inspired Jane Austen. We will return to London by train. We have a lot of fun things planned including: natural plant dyeing, watercolour studies, tarot and oracle card explorations, journaling practice, guided plant walks, sketching, DIY herbal facials, and more.

PaintingInCotswoldsFor more information please visit:

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memories of place

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This past fall I took advantage of a trip to the south to explore the home of distant ancestors who lived in South Carolina and North Carolina during and immediately following the American Revolution. What I discovered there was both enthralling and disturbing.

About a year previous I had turned the focus of my research skills, which I use for my work as a landscape historian, from learning about other people’s histories to my own. Though I spent a great deal of time with my great-grandmother Pearl before she died in 1995, I realized I knew very little about her parents and their parents before them. I thought I’d find a few interesting morsels of information and that the process would take a weekend or two at most. I figured I’d find more dead ends than real information, such is the way of historic research. Countless hours, weeks and now more than a year since I started I have traced my lineage to some incredibly interesting places and periods of time. As I stood next to the graves of my 5th great-grandparents in a small family cemetery in northwestern South Carolina on a crisp sunny October day I couldn’t believe the twists that had led me there.

Henry and Christina Jane Hauser’s stone house still stands on National Park Service property within the bounds of Kings Mountain National Military Park that commemorates one of the battles between the patriots and the British army in the waning days of the war. Henry bought the property after the American Revolution and married Christina Jane Heafner, whose family lived just across the border in North Carolina. Because the house is stone it has persisted since the late 18th century and because it was located within a national park it has been preserved since it was abandoned in the early 20th century. The landscape, once a sprawling farm with many outbuildings, fields, orchards and woodlots, is but a shadow of itself.

There are many holes in the research about the Hausers and their property, but ironically enough the National Park Service is working on a cultural landscape report (one of the primary projects I work on as a landscape historian) for the property, building on previous surveys of the house and landscape.

What I do know is that Henry was a man of means and property and in reading his will and reviewing census information I discovered that he was also a slave owner. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising to me (given the era and the place), but it was and it still hurts when I think about it. It was likely their handful of slaves that built the stone house which still stands, farmed the fields that have since disappeared, and were then bought by other members of the family once he died. I walked through their house and stood next to their graves and tried to envision their lives in this place. Trying to understand who they were and why they owned slaves, but was also retracing the research journey that had led me there and realizing there were circumstances that had conspired to make this happen. Small bits of fate that pushed me to have this experience.

A few days later I was at a historic preservation conference in Savannah, the reason I was in the area in the first place, and had the honor of speaking to two women. They were descendants of slaves from a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina some 200 miles away from my ancestor’s property. The experience couldn’t have been more welcome. The feelings I’d been trying to grapple with since learning about my ancestors were coming full circle. Descendants from both sides of this haunting history talking about place and memory and how to move forward. It was an experience I will never forget. And it has pushed me to keep researching and keep looking for opportunities to travel to places with deep connections.