A right royal visit…

A few days after the Jewel in the Claw, I was lucky enough to have a visit from the queen. Not, I hasten to add, the one who currently wears the crown, but from my friend who had played Elizabeth I at the workshop, along with the gentlemen who had embodied the characters of ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’ and ‘ Dr Dee’.

After a long, leisurely dinner, listening to tales of the original Renaissance Faire, of which all three had been a part, and catching up with stories shared by friends normally separated by the Atlantic, we met up next morning. We started with a brief hello to my son, then paid a visit to a favourite chapel to see the medieval wall paintings.

The peace and simplicity of the little chapel stood in stark contrast, though, to the opulence of the rest of the day, for next we visited Waddesdon Manor, the improbable  French chateau that graces my little village.

The Manor was built in the last half of the nineteenth century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, as a place to entertain his guests and to house his art collection. On his death in 1957, James de Rothschild bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust, but it remains managed by the charitable Rothschild Foundation.

The house is set in a beautiful garden that combines the natural with the sculpted, but within the fairytale walls, there is art beyond imagining, from the innumerable clocks of every style and material, from inlaid ebony to the fantastical elephant automaton, to the porcelain, sculpture and art. There is not one thing within the house that is not, in its own way, both exquisite in its artistry or workmanship, and redolent with history.

There are carpets from Versailles, pearl handled rifles, Meissen, and whole rooms devoted to Sèvres porcelain, each piece hand painted with different flowers and birds.

There are more paintings by Reynolds than you are ever likely to see in one place, as well as pieces so famous that your jaw drops to find they live in your village and are your neighbours… like Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour, hung, with either romance or humour, above a bust of her lover, Louis XV of France.

There are staterooms, dining rooms, billiard rooms and every other conceivable type of room, all open to the public and fairly oozing opulence. It is not a home, it is a gallery and yet, there is something about the place that speaks of love and care.

After the death of its builder, Baron Ferdinand, the Manor passed to his sister, Alice, who added to the art collection and cherished the house as a memorial to her brother. When Alice died in 1922, the Manor passed to her nephew, James, who further added to the collection and later bequeathed it to the National Trust.

It was never a place designed to hold a family and only ever housed children during the war years, when pre-school children from Croydon, south of London, were evacuated to the Manor to escape the Blitz. James and his wife, Dorothy, also offered the sanctuary of the Manor to a group of Jewish boys from Germany.

The Rothschild family continue to play a philanthropic part in the life of the village and the Manor is the largest local employer. The Home Farm is still worked, the land managed and a new facility to house, educate and showcase modern art was built on the estate a few years ago.

The house has seen many illustrious visitors over the years. Some, like Queen Victoria, were guests. She was fascinated by the newly installed electric lighting and commemorated her visit with the gift of a portrait bust of herself that still sits on a side table.

Others have included members of high society, politics and royalty and, more recently, stars of music, stage and screen. The Manor has been used as a filming location for everything from the  O’Connell’s home in The Mummy III to Downton Abbey, Howard’s Way and even one of the Carry On films, to mention but a few.

Today it is still a place where art and culture flourish, with regular exhibitions, theatrical productions and modern art installations in the grounds, where, as a villager, I get to wander for free to my heart’s content.

With all the splendour and fantastic, priceless art that make this such a rich resource on my doorstep, I would never have been able to choose one favourite thing…until this visit, and that was a very human moment.

Our ‘Dr Dee’ had once been known, at the Renaissance Faire, for his embodiment of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a lifelong love of Queen Elizabeth I. To our surprise and delight, the most iconic portrait of the sixteenth century knight hung on the wall beside that of his queen. To see my friend stand gazing face to face across the centuries, was a beautiful thing and a moment I shall not soon forget.

And that, I think, was the lesson I took from the day… that amid all the magnificence, it is only the human stories that matter. It is the smile of the Pompadour who captivated a king, the hand of the potter who shaped a curious bear jug, the attention of the porcelain painter whose birds are themselves flights of imagination, the love of a sister who preserved the house for her brother’s memory and the quiet, untold stories of the men, women and children who have walked these gracious halls throughout the years.

From the villagers who volunteer as guides, to the housekeepers and gardeners who maintain the Manor… from the visitors who have gasped in awe or decried the obscenity of ostentation, to the stage fright of actors and the satisfaction of artists creating art from light and flowers… every object, every painting, every breath and footstep tells a human story, if we look beyond its surface. And there, I believe, lies the true beauty of this place.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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35 Responses to A right royal visit…

  1. Pingback: A right royal visit… – The Militant Negro™

  2. jenanita01 says:

    How the other half live, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. willowdot21 says:

    This fabulous house is on my visit list and hopefully This year 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  4. KD says:

    Opulent indeed. But the stories that could be told…. from those who worked to keep it running to the better-known guests and residents.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Darlene says:

    I believe I saw a show of TV about this fabulous place. Would love to visit one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dgkaye says:

    Thank you once again for a most fabulous tour Sue. I can only imagine how it felt to be surrounded by history. And I did love this line most – “Amid all the magnificence, it is only the human stories that matter.” ❤ xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Widdershins says:

    Heavens to Murgatroid! How wonderful to have all that right in your own backyard! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Although our mansions are copies of YOUR mansions and are hundreds, sometimes almost a thousand years newer, all of the surviving ones were bequeathed to a city. New York and Boston have several amazing place. Most are art museums and one is a library for ancient and rare books. When I lived in New York, those places were my hangouts. When we didn’t feel like going to school, we used to take the subway and go to the Frick museum or one of the others. We might not be taking our classes, but we never stopped learning.

    That is the one thing I really DO miss, living here in the middle of nowhere. Museums and historic places. On the other hand, I’m so glad I grew up in a place where all of that was available to anyone who wanted to enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I spent a lot of time in city museums and galleries when I was younger… they were free and held so many treasures! The reference library was my favourite, with miles of books on mahogany shelves, in a building that mixed classical archiecture with North African styles. I could get lost there for days 🙂


  9. Jennie says:

    My goodness! I would have / could have just stood and stared for days.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, stunning. I do love these buildings and love wandering around them, taking in the history. Great post


  11. Anne Copeland says:

    What you said about the human element – the story behind each piece, each tiny detail – is the most meaningful thing that I remember when I go into a museum or historical place. Something that continues to fascinate me is the focus on the most minute detail in even the most mundane of items, a lack of which is so prevalent today. I am noticing that even in paintings, there is an increasing trend to work with things like pouring, stamping, and other methods that seem so lacking in any depth. It makes me want to reach way back into the past and hold tight, but I think that in the long run, the movement forward is something I cannot change, but must hold on instead to the nature of change.


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