Category Archives: landscape

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 1539

On this day in 1539, Mary Boleyn Carey Stafford becomes the last remaining member of her immediate family when her father, Thomas Boleyn, dies. It’s hard to believe she shed many tears for him, given his treatment of her throughout her life. However, there is some justice in that she inherited her family’s estates of Hever, Henden, Southtboram, and Rochford a year later and ended her life with some financial means and stability.

Hever Castle in April 2017. Photograph by the author.

What I find particularly heartbreaking is that after Mary’s first husband, William Carey, dies in 1528 of sweating sickness and she’s left without any income and two young children, her father is forced by Henry VIII to take Mary into the family’s home at Hever, following persuasion by Mary’s sister Anne. Given Henry’s previous relationship with Mary I hope he didn’t need too much prodding but helped due to his past affection for her. Regardless, it’s thought she lived at Hever for the next five years.

Window at Hever Castle. Photograph by the author.

After being a widow for nearly six years, she marries her second husband, William Stafford, in 1534 without getting permission from the king and queen, which infuriated them. It’s unclear where she and Stafford lived for the next five years. Some sources point to Calais and others to the Boleyn family estate of Rochford Hall. It’s known that Mary and William are in Calais in 1539 because in December they escort Anne of Cleves from there to Dover for her marriage to Henry VIII.

Now back in England, Mary and Stafford don’t officially inherit her family’s estates until April 1540 with sources pointing to them inheriting Hever, Henden, Southtboram and Rochford Hall. Many believe Mary and William chose to live at Rochford Hall until she dies a few years later.

Hever Castle in April 2017. Photograph by the author.

They owned Hever for only a few months before selling it, perhaps back to the crown, since it was given to Anne of Cleves in July of that year as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII. Given what was likely a sad time in her life, Mary may not have wanted to live at Hever again and remember a time when she was recently widowed, unwelcomed by her family, and restrained by her lack of financial means. One can only hope that she enjoyed the last few years of her life at Rochford Hall.

I’m looking forward to visiting Rochford, now a golf club, and Henden, which was a dairy farm until very recently, when I visit England again. And of course, I’ll have to revisit Hever now that I have this different perspective on that landscape and its place in Mary’s life.

Interpreted as the room where Mary, Anne and her mother embroidered and did needlework at Hever Castle, perhaps in happier times during their childhood. Photograph by the author.
Detail of a door and tapestry at Hever Castle. Photograph by the author.

On this day in 1522

It is generally believed that Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Boleyn Carey began on this day in 1522 following their performances in a play held at York Place, Cardinal Wolsey’s home in London, which later became the royal Whitehall Palace. The ‘Chateau Vert’ was staged on Shrove Tuesday during a diplomatic visit with representatives of Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, who was interested in marrying Henry’s daughter, Princess Mary. The play’s theme was unrequited love and followed a jousting tournament where Henry had embroidered on his caparison the words “elle mon coeur a navera,” aka “she has wounded my heart.” The theories go that up until this point Mary had thwarted Henry’s advances.

An illustration of what York Place may have looked like around the time of the ‘Chateau Vert’ pageant (Historic Royal Palaces)

At the time, Mary Boleyn Carey was married to William Carey, one of the King’s Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. In fact, the King had attended their wedding two years earlier. However, many feel the King learned from his affair with the unmarried Elizabeth Blount who bore him an illegitimate son, that having affairs with married women would be easier to hide.

While the exact timing and length of their affair may never be known, Henry VIII confirmed the liaison himself when he was in the process of breaking from the Roman Catholic church in 1533 so he could marry Mary’s sister, Anne Boleyn. During the course of that process, George Throckmorton accused the king of having sexual relations with Anne’s mother and sister and Henry replied, “never with the mother.”

An illustration of Whitehall Palace (formerly York Place) from about twenty years after the ‘Chateau Vert’ pageant (Wyngaerd)
The former site of York Place and Whitehall Palace across the Thames River from the London Eye.
Though this plan shows the area nearly 160 years later, it provides details that allow us to link illustrations of York Place in the 16th century with what still remains today, most notably the Whitehall Palace stairs that lead from the Thames River to the Palace Gates near Banqueting Hall, which aligns with today’s Horse Guards Avenue.

York Place, now gone, was located across the Thames River from the London Eye where the Banqueting House, Ministry of Defense and Victoria Embankment Gardens now exist. Based on an illustration of York Place’s buildings and gardens by the Historic Royal Palaces, and a comparison of that illustration with a 1680 plan of Whitehall Palace (what York Place later became) and contemporary aerial photo, a small part of the private gardens associated with York Place are contained within the larger expanse of the Victoria Embankment Gardens. I haven’t yet visited this part of Tudor London but look forward to visiting when I’m there next.

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.

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