Kirby Hall was built to impress. All Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, wanted, was for his Queen to come and visit. The grand entrance and courtyard was entirely for her benefit. He built a whole suite of rooms and had them reserved for her use alone.
The huge hall, the first reception room a visitor would come to, contained two huge fireplaces for warmth, and a minstrel gallery to keep the musicians discreetly out of sight, and he could just picture himself dancing there with the Queen. He was well known for his love of dancing, and his shapely legs were famous for looking very nice in tights and garters. It’s mentioned in all his biographies, so it must have been one of his better-known qualities. And Elizabeth was also known to be very fond of dancing. And the two of them, court gossip said, were very close. VERY close. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Called “the grandest Tudor House in England,” Hatton finished Kirby Hall in the modern new Italian style, which meant plenty of decoration, and everything had to be perfectly symmetrical and all matchy-matchy.
Sadly, Elizabeth never did visit. Even though Hatton said all he wanted was for the “holy saint to sit in (Kirby Hall), to whom it is dedicated.” Which I think is a bit overdone. Would the Queen have been flattered, or would she have said, “Oh, puh-LEEZE.”?
Elizabeth didn’t visit, even though Hatton spent a huge fortune on a formal garden, best viewed from the second story windows of the rooms set aside especially for Her Majesty; which he filled with the most exotic plants he could find, including 300 almond trees, pomegranates, narcissus of Japan and a “hyacinth of Peru”. In fact, he spent so much time gardening, that the House of Lords called him up on the carpet three times for non-attendance. (Does that remind anyone of recent stories from the Canadian Senate?)
But by the mid-1800s, there was only a shepherd and his flock living in the partially ruined house. Inheritance taxes and a lack of heirs meant that even the fancy wallpaper was sold off the walls. Now the estate is managed by English Heritage, which has restored the garden with the help of horticultural archaeologists. Who knew there even was such a thing?
As we walked the paths that Queen Elizabeth never did, the poem Patterns by Amy Lowell came to mind. I think in the end I would prefer a garden just a little less than perfect, as life in general is less than perfect.
Of course, I had to scour the grounds until I found some old graffiti carved into the stone:
I absolutely cannot resist one final story about Sir Christopher Hatton. His personal “logo” was the golden hind (deer), and he was so proud of it, that he had a very fine image of a deer carved over the doorway to Kirby Hall. He was also rich enough to help finance Sir Francis Drake on his voyage of exploration.
Now, because he had so much money involved in the expedition, Hatton decided to send along his personal secretary, a man named Doughty, on the voyage with Drake to make sure everything went well. It turns out Doughty didn’t like some of Drake’s decisions, and organized a mutiny.
Of course, Sir Francis Drake couldn’t put up with that, so he executed Doughty by beheading him and throwing both parts of the corpse into the sea. Afterwords, it apparently occurred to Drake that maybe it had been a bad move to execute his sponsor’s representative. So in order to appease Sir Christopher Hatton, he changed the name of his ship in Hatton’s honour – to the Golden Hind.