Thursday, 1 July 2010

Queen Elizabeth's Visit to Kenilworth Castle

The Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle is one of the only surviving examples of 16th Century gardens in England.

At the time that it was originally built, this garden was the finest garden in England, and one of the finest gardens in Europe.

The garden was constructed at enormous expense, by Robert Dudley, for the sole purpose of entertaining Queen Elizabeth. He was her lover [unmarried] for more than a decade.

In Summer 2009, the garden was re-opened to the public, after a major refurbishment by English Heritage. I first visited the refurbished garden last September. My photos from that visit, which actually show more of the garden and its features than this post, are here: Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle.

A lot of the planting was fresh then, and the garden needed time to mature. I thought that the end of June would be a good time to revisit, to see how the garden had progressed.

I chose a day early in the week, this Tuesday, and decided to arrive early, with the intention that I could have the garden to myself. In normal circumstances, I would have had the garden completely to myself.

The plants hadn't really changed that much.

The garden consists of four parterres. Each parterre itself contains little beds of flowers and small shrubs, enclosed within little hedges. Gravel paths wind through them.

In later gardens box hedging was used, but here the edging consisted of strawberry plants and thrift.

The entire scheme is supplemented by symbolic objects, statues, and a fountain with erotic reliefs around the base. (More details in my original post).

In the event, I was not the only visitor, first thing on Tuesday morning...

Quite by chance, I'd chosen the same day and time that Queen Elizabeth had also chosen for a quiet visit.

She was making an unadvertised private visit.

An outdoor banqueting table had been set up, running along the centre aisle of the garden.

At the centre of the banquetting table was a huge cake, covered with pink icing sugar.

The cake was an exact edible model of a marble statue which is at the centre of the garden.

The original marble statue depicts Robert Dudley (and his brother).

This photo shows models of the garden aviary, and garden obelisks, all exact replicas, made of icing sugar.

And were even little bears, made of icing sugar.

The White Bear, holding a ragged staff, is Robert Dudley's emblem.

I subsequently discovered that the cake, and all the other contectionaries, had been made by a company specialising in architectural culinary Bompas and Parr (Wiki entry). These are real foods, and their authenticity as 16th Century dishes, had been accurately researched, for the purposes of the reconstruction.

The cake was produced with the help of a mould that had been generated from images of the original statue by means of a computer (a technique that would have not been available in the 16th Century). It's possibe to take photos of just about anything, and have a computer generate a mould, from which a jelly or cake can be made.

Here, the chef, Sam Bompas of Bompas and Parr, was discussing the design of the cake with Robert Dudley.

The visit had actually been arranged by English Heritage, to commemorate the anniversary of the garden's reopening.

And I wasn't the only snapper present; a film crew were also there to record the event.

This photo shows the entire entourage.