Looking for the exact name and location of the estate in Cookham, that ‘prettiest and gayest retirement’ George Grenville ever saw and where he wrote a small poem for (in 1749), I stumbled upon another poem: The Description of Cooke-ham. This poem was published as early as 1611 and written by the female poet Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645).1 It is nowadays regarded as possibly the first ‘country house poem’ in Britain.2
Although she mentions Dorset a few times (while Grenville’s Cookam was located in Berkshire) we’re probably in the same county and village with both poems. The Clifford family members who Lanyer dedicated her publication to, and to whom she refers in her poem, leased Cookham in Berkshire from the Crown up till 1605.3
But we may still be dealing with two separate estates. So still no answer for my original question.
But one line in her poem struck me, as it reminded me of something I recently read elsewhere. It reads:
And thirteen shires appeared all in your sight,
Thirteen shires, where had I seen that before? As it turns out, in the (Shire) publication Georgian Garden Buildings (2012), when dr. Sarah Rutherford elaborates on ‘Columns’ in Georgian gardens. On page 47 she writes:
“At Hawkstone, Shropshire, the 30-metre-high column, erected in 1795 on the highest point of the estate, was surmounted by a statue of the owner, Sir Rowland Hill; it was said that from there thirteen counties could be seen.”
Hawkstone, view from the column. Photo: Matt Weedon, 2009.
Of course the column at Hawkstone could boast a view of thirteen counties (it can now boast a view of 42 holes on its golf courses), but a count from the top of the column would probably fail the test. Cookham could never have enabled a view of thirteen shires as well.
It seems Lanyer had been ‘forgotten’ about for a long time, and I am not familiar at all with the reception of Jacobean poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries. But could it be that the claim at Hawkstone was derived from her poem? And if not directly from the poem, could it be that the thirteen-shire-view was (or had become) a ‘theme’ in British garden/landscape descriptions and -appreciation?
Reference to Wales?
Rutherford mentions elsewhere that from the tower outside Croome Park, twelve counties could reportedly be seen; and that more was better for these kinds of structures.4 So there is a lot of unhealthy competition going on, and there are variations. Which may mean I have accidentally spotted the only two thirteen-shire-views there are, in the course of a few weeks -but that seems unlikely.
There is a very remote possibility that both cases refer to the thirteen shires of Wales, as established under the reign of Henry VIII. Lanyer grew up in circles relatively close to the court, and Cooke-ham was a royal property at the time she wrote her poem. But the installation of these thirteen shires had been realized even before she was born, so this reference would only make sense if it still was a topic in the public debate, or important to the Cliffords. Both do not seem to be the case.
As for Hawkstone: it ís located not too far from the Welsh border, but to claim that the whole of Wales could be seen from this column would be grotesque.
Below is part of the poem by Lanyer, to provide some context to her sentence quoted above. The garden feature providing the view is not a garden building, but a majestic oak -and it seems it didn’t require climbing:
(…) Now let me come unto that stately tree,Wherein such goodly prospects you did see;That oak that did in height his fellows pass,As much as lofty trees, low growing grass,Much like a comely cedar straight and tall,Whose beauteous stature far exceeded all.How often did you visit this fair tree,Which seeming joyful in receiving thee,Would like a palm tree spread his arms abroad,Desirous that you there should make abode;Whose fair green leaves much like a comely veil,Defended Phoebus when he would assail;Whose pleasing boughs did yield a cool fresh air,Joying his happiness when you were there.Where being seated, you might plainly seeHills, vales, and woods, as if on bended kneeThey had appeared, your honor to salute,Or to prefer some strange unlooked-for suit;All interlaced with brooks and crystal springs,A prospect fit to please the eyes of kings.And thirteen shires appeared all in your sight,Europe could not afford much more delight. (…)
Related articles (not necessarily my own)
- Lanyer included her poem in the third and last part of her publication Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). As it revolves around the Cliffords having to say farewell to Cookham -they left in 1605- the poem itself can probably be dated 1605-1606? [back]
- That title was previously held by Ben Jonson’s To Penshurst (1616), which is still considered the model for this type of poetry in Britain. In Dutch literature the first ‘Hofdichten’ that describe -or at least refer to- actual gardens are from Jan Baptiste Houwaert: Pegasides pleyn (1582-83), describing his garden near Brussels; and H.L. Spieghel: Hertspieghel (1597), describing his garden along the Amstel river. [back]
- Jonathan Post, ‘Seventeenth-Century poetry I: poetry in the age of Donne and Jonson‘, in: Michael O’Neill [ed], The Cambridge History of English poetry, Cambridge University Press (2010), p203. And Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England, Harvard University Press (1993), p138. [back]
- Sarah Rutherford, Georgian Garden Buildings, Oxford (2012), p109. [back]