Victoria here, peeking into another great country house, this one the home of the Cecil family, the Marquesses of Salisbury, Hatfield House.
Robert Cecil (1563-1612), a younger son of Lord Burghley, made his own way in the world and did a bang-up job of it, becoming a chief minister to Elizabeth I and Lord Treasurer to her successor, James I. As Professor Tyack has written, Robert Cecil "also inherited his father's taste for magnificent building."
Robert Cecil was made the 1st Earl of Salisbury and took over, by exchange with the King for another house called Theobalds, the estate at Hatfield. The Old Palace there, above and right, had been the childhood home of Elizabeth I. The building you see in the pictures was only part of the huge complex, most of which the Earl demolished. The Old Palace now serves as a tourist attraction and a venue for meetings, conferences, banquets and weddings.
Entering the Marble Hall, I could see that the 1st Earl had indeed achieved his goal of creating a gathering place of incomparable and extravagant richness. It could not fail to impress friends or enemies, retainers or royalty. The ceiling is original though enhanced in the Victorian era with more colorful paintings. Tapestries from Brussels cover the walls, illustrating stories from mythology. This room has always been used for entertaining whether banquets, balls or masques.
Left is the rainbow portrait of Elizabeth I, which contains the motto Non sine sole iris, translated as "no rainbow without the sun." The anonymous painter was heavily into flattery, one imagines. The portrait hangs in the Marble Hall, where no visitor could mistake its significance.
The Grand Staircase is a fine example of Jacobean wood-carving expertise. Finished in 1611, it includes gates at the bottom step to keep the dogs from lounging around in the state rooms upstairs. One of the figures carved into a newel post is John Tradescant (c.1570-1638), the great plant collector on behalf of Robert Cecil and his new garden. Tradescant brought back from his world travels many fruit trees, vines, seeds and bulbs, greatly expanding the scope of English gardening, all of which enhanced his employer’s prestige.
On the first floor (what we in the U.S. would call the second floor), the magnificent State rooms are divided into two apartments, one each for the king and queen. In King James’s Drawing Room a life size statue of the king stands above the fireplace. The walls are hung with old master paintings.
Long galleries were required in all Jacobean houses but few are as splendid as this one, with its fine cabinetry holding treasured gemstones and its gilded ceiling. Two gigantic fireplaces heated the gallery, where one could enjoy a morning stroll without combating the elements.
Many more rooms are open to the public, including a chapel with fine old stained glass, some of it more than 400 years old.
This black and white reproduction of Fanny's portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence does not do justice to her charm.
Like many country houses, Hatfield is also a business enterprise. Many events takes place here and no doubt you have caught a glimpse of the house or garden in one of the doszens of movies which shot scenes on the premises, such as Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), or The Golden Age (2006).
I took so many pictures in the Hatfield Garden that I could almost do a book myself. But have you ever come home and realized that your pictures completely failed to capture the essence of the subject matter? Below is a shot of a rose against the brick of the Old Palace followed by some lovely wisteria blossoms. Somehow it was all so much more beautiful on site!
Finally, an aerial view of Hatfield House.