Tag Archives: stowe

16 February 1816. A sickly visit to Paris and a return to a sickly England

n July 1815, Napoleon surrendered at last and the aristocracy relished the opportunity to visit the continent. Richard Temple (later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos) had missed out on the Grand Tour that so many young men journeyed as a rite of passage due to the wars, and now at the age of 38, he could at last begin to explore the continent. He left England with his sister Lady Mary in November 1815. It was a stormy passage across the Channel and the trip did not get any better after that. Lady Mary, writing from Buckingham House in Pall Mall, tells Doctor Charles O’Conor of the difficulties Richard faced during the holiday.

My Brother arrived [in London] very ill with a bilious attack, fever & inclination to Gout. He was not well the whole time we were in Paris. I think that the damp muggy weather we had there disagreed with him as well as the light wines the only beverage to be found. He was so anxious to get here for the opening of Parliament that in spite of illness & our remonstrances he leaves Paris & was so ill upon the road that I thought he could not have continued his journey. After he had at last got here I was often afraid that he would have a serious illness, & his spirits were so low that he could not be left a moment. He is now however thank God quite well has been once to the House of Lords & is resuming his usual occupations & amusements.

Richard decided to return home to Stowe, which he had yet to make his own after the death of his father and mother. His wife Anna Elisa preferred her family home at Avington and he was often so busy with politics that he lived mostly at Buckingham House in Pall Mall. Stowe in consequence had become somewhat neglected.

It is my Brothers intention as soon as Politics will allow him, to set out for Stowe where (I know it will please you to hear it) he means to live quietly for several months. Heaven grant that this intention may last, as you & I my dear Dr will then again have the happiness of seeing our terrestrial paradise looked upon as the home of its owners… as it has hitherto only been used by my Brother & Sister as a sort of Inn for a few months of the year, where they receive the whole county & live in a constant mob… to her justice, I really think my Sister [Anna Eliza] is trying to like the place & interest herself in it, which a quiet life there would promote more than anything.

silk_stowe_south_front_1 silk_stowe_south_front_2The south front of Stowe House printed on silk (1917)
The original image is by Alexander Francis Lydon (c. 1865)

Lady Mary then wrote about the general state of the country. Less than a year after it had defeated its arch enemy after 16 years at war, England was most miserable scene:

The distress of the country is dreadful—here trades people in extensive business [?] for bills of a few shillings, & sell their goods at half price, & to add to the misery smuggling is so much practiced that French Goods are every where preferred & bought, & in the country Farmers cannot pay their rent or labourers so that there again the lower class is starving. I believe never was so much misery as there is now. The higher class too are all poor. Houses to let without end in every street. […] It really is most serious, & however Ministers may pass over other things they must in some way relieve the Agricultural interest—as a farmers wife I speak feelingly on this subject.

20 February 1824. Mary Anning, Conybeare, and the Plesiosaurus

The mineral and fossil collection built by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos at Stowe in the 1820s was almost unequalled. He purchased the mineral collection of Abbé Haüy, the celebrated founder of crystallography after his death. It cost £4,000, around £3 million today! The ten thousand specimen collection was housed in a Museum set in the flower garden at Stowe, along with many natural history, fossil and archaeological specimens.

The Duke’s prize specimen was not, however, within the Haüy collection. It was the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus which he purchased from fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist Mary Anning for 100 guineas (£105) in 1823. There was great excitement about this huge specimen, one of the largest discovered. It measured about 10 feet long (3 meters).

The Plesiosaurus created a great deal of scientific interest, and the Duke allowed it to be examined by his friend and correspondent Dr William Buckland. A plaster cast of the specimen was made by Sir Frances Chantrey, and a lithograph from this appeared in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London (below).



The Rev William Daniel Conybeare used this fossil to confirm and revise his analysis of plesiosaur anatomy at a meeting of the Geological Society in 1824. Many commentators have since noted that he failed to mention Mary Anning by name, and accuse the men of stealing credit due to her. Conybeare’s presentation was made at the same meeting as that at which Buckland described the dinosaur Megalosaurus. The whole matter was sensational and Mary Anning rightly earned the epithet “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew”.

The Plesiosaurus was sold to the British Museum in 1848 for the modest sum of 8 guineas (£8 8s). The Haüy collection went under the hammer for a scarcely better sum of 310 guineas (£325 10s) to M Dufrénoy, who purchased it for the Jardin des Plantes, at Paris.

26 February 1836. Accidental Death of a Catholic at Stowe

John Broadway (1771-1836) was clerk of the works to the Duke and the Duchess at Stowe of Buckingham and Chandos until his death there in 1836. He was a first-class steward and a family friend.

His untimely death was a great shock. Anna Eliza, the Duchess, wrote to her cousin Captain Percy Grace with the news:

We experienced a dreadful shock a Month ago from the awful death of poor Broadway who fell from a trap Door a height of twelve feet upon a Stone Pavement & was instantly killed close to the Room where we were at breakfast. It is impossible to describe the effect it had upon us all & I trust the awful lesson of the uncertainty of this life will be of lasting benefit!

Broadway was one of the last remaining Catholics at Stowe. The Duke’s mother was a Catholic and, even though his father was Protestant, he was a great supporter of the Catholic cause—as Richard (the Duke) was also. In Richard’s parents’ time, there were a good number of Catholics at Stowe including the librarian Charles O’Conor, an excommunicated Irish priest. After the death of Richard’s father, Catholic worship was outlawed at Stowe—though the family remained loyal to its friends and estate workers who practised the Catholic faith.

Broadway was buried a few miles from Stowe in the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church, Hethe, Oxfordshire.

john_broadway_grave-scaled500Of your Charity
Pray for the Souls of
John Broadway
Who Died at Stowe, 26, Feb. 1836
Aged 65 Years
Alexander Broadway
Son of the above Who Died at York
23, June 1851, Aged 46 Years
and Martha, his wife
Who Died at Edinburgh 24 June 1880
Aged 74 Years

The Myth of the Grenville Diptych

In the centre of the ceiling of the Gothic Library at Stowe is an amazing work of heraldry: The Stowe Armorial.


The Library was commissioned by George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (often called Nugent Buckingham). It was built to a design by Sir John Soane between 1805 and 1807. The armorial is a 1.4m diameter heraldic painting of the 719 quarterings of the Temple, Nugent, Brydges, Chandos and Grenville families, including ten variations of the English Royal arms, the arms of Spencer, De Clare, Valence, Mowbray, Mortimer and De Grey. The painting is signed and dated P. Sonard 1806 (see Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002).

Somewhere, sometime in a book and certainly on the Internet, this fascinating work has been renamed the Grenville Diptych. That, to put it colloquially, it ain’t. The OED tells us that a diptych is “an altar-piece or other painting composed of two leaves which close like a book.” (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/53277). The Stowe Armorial does not have two leaves, neither can an immovable object in a ceiling be folded.

This myth is widespread and on eBay and on Amazon you can buy prints of the “Grenville Diptych”. They are lovely images but  they are not  images a diptych.

Richard Temple’s eyes: the Chubby Cherub at Stowe identified

The State Music Room at Stowe is one of the great jewels in the crown of this magnificent house. Its ornamentation is pleasing, gracious and intriguing.

Accounts of the décor, furniture and artists are given elsewhere (for example, Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002 and The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, Henry Rumsey Forster 1848). This note focuses on a single panel, featuring Apollo, and a woman and child.

The Music Room and the panel we are examining was painted by Vincenzo Valdre (1742–1814). Bevington suggests that the room was finished after 1781 and I know of no more precise date for its completion.

mary_nugentAll the elements of the panel are superbly executed but only two have a significant interest to a historian of Stowe and the Grenvilles. These are the lady and the child.

Bevington almost says it, as others have before and since. “Perhaps it is not too-far fetched to see in the attractive lady before [Apollo] a reminder of Lady Buckingham, herself a keen musician,” he writes. This is too coy. The sitter for the Grecian lady playing her lyre in an offering to the god of music is without a doubt Mary Nugent—Lady Buckingham, who from 1784 was the Marchioness of Buckingham. The following portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Unknown c. 1770; Reynolds 1780-82).

mary_nugent_headsThis is not the only likeness in Vincenzo Valdre’s panel. The chubby cherub is a stocky child just a little too large for the assemblage and has familiar features. There is no doubt in my mind that this child is Richard Temple, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He was born in 1776 and would have been a few years old when the panel was painted. The hair and eyes are Richard Temple through and through. Again the portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Reynolds 1780-82; Romney before 1802).


We need entertain no discomfort in recognising the lady of the house as the sitter for a portrait that borders on the raunchy. Mary Nugent, politically minded, devoutly catholic and the mother of a duke to be, was a lady who loved art, music and fun in equal measure. Betsy Wynne’s diaries, and a host of letters give witness to the merriness and gaiety at Stowe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

And of course, her son was the model for the cherub. You only need to look at the eyes. They are Richard Temple’s eyes.

6 January 1806. Too Much Kissing on Twelfth Night

harriet_and_justina_wynneThe Grenvilles’ Christmas gatherings at Stowe were want to last for the full 12 days of Christmas. Betsy Wynne made a note of the festivities:

Twelfth day kept in the most charming manner for the amusement of the children et toutes les jeunes personnes—Ld Temple being King & Justine Queen two thrones were erected—they were crowned & danced in their costume with the children as Pages bearing their trains, which had a very good effect. General Poulett as Chamberlain acted his part delightfully—Ld George Prince of Wales, &c. &c. Too much kissing was allowed. My brats danced & enjoyed themselves, Je me contentaide les admirer.

Justine (also Justina) is Betsy’s beautiful dreamy sister. That’s her on the right with her sister Harriet to the left. Lord Temple was to become the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Lord George was his amorous brother. General Poulett of Addington was a family friend, but not for long.

1 January 1810: No end to the hipping and hurrahing at Stowe

At Christmas and New Year, the Grenvilles, their extended family and friends gathered at Stowe.

betsey_wynne_cutThe Wynne sisters were among them and on 1 January 1810, Betsey Wynne (above) writes in her diary:

The weather was favourable to the Day, and proved quite Spring. We all went immediately after breakfast on the Lawn at the North side of the House, where several Groups of Morris Dancers and the Bands of the Buckinghamshire Militia and of the 14th played in turns and enlivened the Scene. I was made most happy by the arrival of Tom, Emma, and Charles, and shall contrive to keep them here till after the Ball.

At one o’clock the poor people from twelve neighbouring parishes arrived for the dinner, with the Clergyman of each Parish at their head and to say Grace at the different Tables, the Colonnades and Sheds under them were filled with Tables, which held twelve each, and their dinner consisted of Soup, Meat pies, and pudding. Every thing was so well arranged that there was not the smallest difficulty, and about one thousand persons were fed.

After dinner, some racing and restling for prizes filled up the time till dusk, when the fire works began and an immense Bond fire was lighted. We remained on the Steps of the House and did not find it at all cold. Ld. Downshire and his Brother Ld.

Arthur Hill arrived just at the conclusion of the fete, and at seven we sat down to dinner, with the addition of the numerous Newman Family, and all the Clergymen, who had attended their parishioners which encreased the party to about 74, all in the Music room, the noise was great and no end to the hipping and hurrahing.