At Boughton House
In the Great Hall at Boughton
To celebrate the plaster being cut off my arm, Charlie de Wet, Director of the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival, took me on an Easter trip away from the East End to visit her pal the Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry, and explore Boughton House, his palatial seventeenth century mansion known as ‘The English Versailles.’
The Duke’s ancestor Ralph Montagu was Ambassador to Paris at the end of the seventeenth century and a Huguenot sympathiser, subsequently employing hundreds of refugee Huguenot artists and craftsmen upon the embellishment of Boughton, creating a lavish country house in the French style in the English countryside. Astonishingly, the house and its contents have survived largely unaltered through the centuries, and it stands today as a showcase of the superlative creative talents of the Huguenot artisans.
There was a bitter wind blowing across the Northamptonshire park land as we arrived and we were relieved to enter the warmth of the kitchen, yet the Duke cautioned us not to remove our overcoats. The chill of the old house has contributed to the preservation of its furnishings all these years and as we stepped into the gloom of the vast shuttered rooms, there was a tangible drop in air temperature below the level of the exterior courtyards where pale sunlight was already encouraging spring flowers into bloom.
Sequestered in darkness since the death of Ralph Montagu in 1749, Boughton has been almost frozen in time and the eternal chill of the tomb prevails in the state rooms where I was able to wander alone – opening single shutters to admit a ray of daylight, illuminating ancient tapestries and refracting in clouded seventeenth century mirrors.
Among myriad treasures, I came upon Britain’s oldest woven carpet with a date of 1585 woven into it and the portrait of Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton with his cat. Entire galleries of family portraits by Lely gleamed in the half light and extravagant painted ceilings populated by gods and goddesses desporting themselves in cloudscapes glimmered overhead. From my brief stroll through this overwhelming labyrinth of riches, I offer these glimpses I was able to snatch with my camera.
In Fish Court
The Audit Room with paintings by Anthony Van Dyck, Godfrey Kneller and Peter Lely
The state bed was donated to the V&A in 1918 and returned ninety years later
In the unfinished wing – this door leads from one of the state bedrooms
Seventeenth century pagoda, once painted by Canaletto on the Thames-side terrace of Montagu House
The limed staircase
The Duke once kept his pet lion in this yard
The stable block
Britain’s oldest carpet, dated 1585 in the border
Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of Southampton and his cat, seen here confined in the Tower
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