Visiting Buckingham Palace Gardens

Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited (plus guest) to the Press Preview of the opening to the public of the Buckingham Palace Gardens so I asked my friend and fellow author, Sophie Weston, if she would like to come. Apart from the three Garden Parties which the Queen hosts every summer, the general public don’t usually get to see the gardens, but Covid has made the annual opening of the State Rooms and the accompanying exhibition impossible. Naturally, I said, ‘Yes, please’. Sophie and I were both looking forward to it. Normally, if you visit the State Apartments and the Summer exhibition, you come out of the palace onto the West Terrace Steps of the Palace where there is a café –

The cakes are always delicious, and I love the way that even the chocolate button on your vanilla slice has a small gold crown on it!

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Commemoration and Dissent

I visited the Museum of London this week – the first time for quite a while and, as I wandered round,  I found myself thinking that it might be interesting to look at how ordinary people chose to commemorate what was going on in their lives – for good or ill. So I shall begin in 1600 in London with a Delftware plate celebrating the long and prosperous reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabethan Delftware plate, 1600

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Freedom v Tyranny: The Afterlife of Thomas Becket

This week I’m following up on  the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in 1170. I looked at how the relationship between King Henry II and his former Lord Chancellor, which had once been so close, turned to bitterness and hatred, and ended in Becket’s violent death in front of the High Altar. The murdered Becket swiftly became a martyr and a saint – and, almost immediately, miracle cures, ascribed to Becket, were recorded.

Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’ on Pilgrimage to Canterbury c. 1387

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The Queen’s Gallery: Judith and Holofernes

The story of Judith and Holofernes from the Old Testament inspired a number of Renaissance artists, Cristofano Allori and Artemisia Gentileschi among them, to paint the beautiful Jewish heroine, Judith, chopping off the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian General  who had been sent by King Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Palestine. Sex and violence, as ever, proved to be a popular mix – and very sellable.

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Queen’s Gallery: Four Masterpieces and their Stories

Sixty-five of the masterpieces which usually hang in one of the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace are now being exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery’s new exhibition ‘Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace’ until January 2022. They are here because of a major services overhaul in the palace itself – a mammoth task involving the removal of lead pipes, dodgy electrical wiring and old boilers. The Queen’s Gallery visitors get the benefit because all the paintings hang at eye level which means that even the smallest paintings can be seen properly.

A Girl Chopping Onions by Gerrit Dou (1613-1675)

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Names: The Rise and Fall of ‘Thomas’

I’ve always been interested in names, what they mean, when they became popular and why they fell from favour and ‘Thomas’ is a particularly interesting example. Thomas was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, called ‘doubting Thomas’ because he refused to believe that Jesus had been resurrected until he saw Jesus for himself. The main New Testament male names, (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Simon and Paul) were largely ignored as names people were actually called. In England, they were seen as religious names and set apart.

The most common boys’ names in the 12th century were William, Robert, Ralph and Richard – all of which had arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066 and swiftly supplanted the Anglo-Saxon names, with the exception of Edward and Edmund, both names belonging to Anglo-Saxon kings who were also saints.

Canterbury Cathedral: the setting for a horrible murder

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Time-travelling in Royal Style – with Flowers

Usually, I find myself going regularly to various exhibitions or visiting interesting buildings in or around London but, at the moment, that isn’t possible; so this week I’m doing some Time Travelling instead.  Back in 2015, I was invited to the Press Preview of the Queen’s Gallery’s exhibition, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, which looked at four centuries of royal gardens through paintings and objects in the Royal Collection. It’s now spring again, so it seems appropriate to have another look at some of the wonderful objects there.

Queen Mary II tulip vase

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Princess Charlotte and Claremont

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and, later still, George IV) and his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, had a short but tempestuous life. She was the only child of her parents’ unhappy and short-lived marriage, and heir presumptive to the throne. Sadly, she was destined to become a pawn in the breakdown of her parents’ disastrous marriage.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796-1817) by George Dawe, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

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George IV: Art & Spectacle

The new exhibition, George IV, Art & Spectacle, at the Queen’s Gallery shows King George IV, our most ‘exuberant king’ as the tube posters have it, to be a mass of contradictions. The portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence depicts him in all his royal Majesty – and we must remember that he was the King-in-Waiting for many years. George, Prince of Wales, had finally become Prince Regent in 1811 when his father, George III, finally succumbed to madness, and stayed in that difficult position until the king’s death in 1820. George III had been King for over 6o years and the previous coronation had been forgotten. The new George IV was determined that his coronation would be of unparalleled magnificence. Perhaps he felt that, after all that waiting, he was owed something in compensation.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019.

George IV designed himself a magnificent Coronation costume. – he had good legs, why not show them off?

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Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ and Ramesses II

The short but tumultuous life of the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), one of the greatest of the Romantic poets of the early 19th century, shows him to have been a man of contradictions. He disapproved of matrimony – but married twice; he was a vegetarian (rare at the time), a republican and a Radical. He was thrown out of Eton for expressing atheistic views. But he was also intelligent and highly imaginative and has been described as ‘the poet of volcanic hope for a better world’. At his best, as in his sonnet Ozymandias, he is inimitable.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) by Amelia Curran, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

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