Henrietta Howard was the daughter of Sir Henry Hobart of Blickling Hall in Norfolk. She was born in 1689 but by the age of twelve, she was an orphan; her father died in a duel and her mother from illness. She became the ward of Henry Howard, 5th Earl of Suffolk and in 1706, she married Henry’s 3rd son, Charles Howard. Charles was ‘ill-tempered, obstinate, drunken, extravagant [and] brutal’ and to escape their life in England, they travelled to the Court at Hanover. Here they successfully ingratiated themselves with the future King George I who, on their return to England in 1714, made Henrietta Woman of the Bedchamber to Caroline, Princess of Wales. Soon after this appointment, Henrietta became mistress to the Prince of Wales while still keeping her role as attendant to the Princess.

As wife of Charles, Henrietta feared for her own safety. She argued in her Diary of August, 1716 that as Charles had broken their marriage vows of protecting, supporting and guiding her, ‘Then am I not free? All other Engagements cease to bind, if either contracting party’s fail in their parts.’ She continued: ‘Self-preservation is the first law of Nature, are Married Women then, the only part of human Nature that must not follow it?…If they have Superior Sense, Superior fortitude and reason, then why a slave to what’s inferior to them?’ [She eventually became estranged from Charles although remained married to him until his death in 1733.]

Nature and the laws surrounding it was the focus of many discussions at the beginning of the eighteenth century and as Henrietta was friends with numerous luminaries of the day including Lord Burlington, Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, she would have been familiar with the arguments. Pope had shared his views on the ‘amiable Simplicity of unadorned Nature’ in the Guardian of 29th September 1713, arguing that ‘this was the Taste of the Ancients in their Gardens’. This was contrary to the Baroque taste in gardens which was for ‘Tonsure of Greens into the most regular and formal shapes’ with the Dutch preference for geometrical beds and canals.  

The fashion for all things Greek and Roman was not restricted to gardens. In 1715, Leoni translated the sixteenth century architect, Andrea Palladio’s work into English – Palladio was heavily influenced by the ‘Ancients’ – while the main objective of Lord Burlington’s second Grand Tour of 1719 was to study Palladio’s work first-hand. A present from the Prince of Wales had enabled Henrietta to buy land on the north-west bank of the Thames at Twickenham, an area that had become extremely fashionable – Pope had bought his Villa in 1717 while the Prince and Princess of Wales had moved to Richmond Lodge from Kensington after an argument with George I. Therefore when work began on building Henrietta’s house at Marble Hill, it was not surprising that it was designed in the Palladian style.

With Pope creating a grotto at his Villa and the Wales’s numerous Arcadian Fetes Galantes at Richmond Lodge, ‘Twitnam’s bowers’ were harking back to the golden age of Homer. Arcadia was a region in Ancient Greece and celebrated in the Renaissance as an unspoiled, harmonious landscape. In Greek mythology, Arcadia was the home of Pan, the god of the wild, of shepherds and flocks, of hunting and rustic music and companion of the nymphs – and nymphs haunted grottoes. Henrietta Howard wanted her own piece of Arcadia at Marble Hill and with the help of Charles Bridgeman, Pope and her architect/builder Roger Morris, it was achieved. In his letters, Pope refers regularly to Henrietta Howard as his ‘Pastoral lady’ and ‘Chloe of his Eclogues’ and asks Lord Bathurst to provide lambs to ‘crop’ the lawn ‘for the grass of Marble Hill springeth, yea it springeth exceedingly’.

In 1735, two years after her husband’s death, Henrietta Howard married the politician George Berkeley; Pope commented: ‘There is a greater court at Marble Hill than at Kensington, and God knows when it will end’. Howard died in 1767 and having been predeceased by her only son, Henrietta’s nephew John Hobart inherited the property. After Hobart’s death, Marble Hill was left to Henrietta Hotham who was the great-niece of Henrietta Howard and had been brought up on the estate. She however, found the house too big and lived in a smaller house, later demolished. Over the next few years, Marble Hill was let to various tenants – including Mrs Fitzherbert, mistress of George IV – and changed hands several times until 1898 when it was bought by the Cunard family. The Cunards wanted to develop the land but following a public outcry, the view from Richmond Hill was protected by an Act of Parliament of 1902 and Marble Hill was saved for the Nation. In 1986, Marble Hill was passed to English Heritage and their project ‘Marble Hill Revived’ plans to conserve the house, improve the sports pitches and changing facilities, refurbish the existing café and create a new play area for children but for me, the most exciting aim of the proposal is to recreate part of the garden.

Using a plan placed in the Norfolk Record Office in 1991 and which is thought to have been made in 1749 by James Dorret, land surveyor for the Duke of Argyll, English Heritage is going to restore much of what has been lost. [To see a photograph of the plan, please visit English Heritage at: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/history-and-stories/henrietta-howards-garden]. As you can see from the drawing and the ‘Explanation’, there were various features in the garden including meandering paths, a Greenhouse, Flower garden, Ninepin Alley, a Cow House, Poultry Yard (following the Horatian principle of pleasure and profit), Kitchen Garden, Grotto, Ice House and a horse-shoe shaped Meadow surrounded by trees leading down to the River.

The Ice House was also used as a wine cellar which Jonathan Swift mentions in his A Pastoral Dialogue between Richmond Lodge and Marble Hill, June 1727:

   Marble Hill

No more the Dean, [Swift], that grave Divine

Shall keep the Key of my (no) Wine;

My Ice-house rob as here to fore,

And Steal my Artichokes no more

The area around the Grotto was far more complex than what is visible today and it appears that it was approached via a mount. The interior was also highly decorated; Henrietta Howard informed Lord Pembroke in 1739 that she was ‘at this time over head and ears in shells’ while Henrietta Hobart complained to her parents in 1765, that she had ‘worked so hard in the Grotto and Rock that it is fear’d I shall damage my fingers’.

Here are photographs of what is visible at Marble Hill today – I cannot wait to revisit the site in a couple of years. Exciting times!

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