Oliver Cromwell and English garden design
In the middle of the century the development of the garden was threatened by a sharp crisis. The revolution which robbed Charles of throne and life, ruined his family, and all the Royalist nobility, also threatened their possessions with utter destruction, and before all else their pleasure-gardens. Not that Cromwell was hostile to gardening as such, for kitchen- and fruit-gardens were actively encouraged in these years. A certain Hartlib, a Pole by birth, earned a pension of £100 from Cromwell in recognition of the work he had done for the furtherance of agriculture, and especially because he had encouraged gardeners in trade enterprise on a large scale, which was extremely rare, except quite near London, The earth was to be made productive, the labour was to be sober and intelligent, here as in every other department where the masters were earnest men who abhorred all joy and gaiety. Gardens for beauty or pleasure were quite unnecessary, and was it not better that they should vanish off the face of the earth, more especially those that had belonged to the hated race of kings ? Theobalds, Nonsuch, Hampton Court, and Wimbledon were at that time the finest of the royal seats. So a commission was sent down, to make an inventory and value the whole property; and it is to its business-like, official, summary report that we owe our clear picture, generally hard to get, of the royal gardens of the period.
Hampton Court escaped the fate of the others, for the Protector selected it for himself and his family to live in. Therefore the order to have it parcelled out and then sold—the fate of the other royal houses—was “left open for a time, till Parliament should deal with it again.” Nonsuch was confiscated and brought under the hammer, but escaped destruction by a sort of accident. Only the trees were, for the most part, cut down by 4’ those destructive and greedy rebels “ (as Evelyn calls them in 1665) who, he says, desecrated one of his Majesty’s loveliest country seats. But the estate that escaped the Commonwealth fell a victim to baser greed, for Charles II. presented it after the Restoration to his mistress, the Countess of Castlemaine, and she, having learned a lesson from Parliament, parcelled out the royal estate and sold it. Theobalds, however, which before the revolution was standing in all its glory, then vanished from the face of the earth.
The same fate befell Wimbledon, the darling home of Queen Henrietta.
It is really an instance of the irony of fate that the only description available of this garden (Fig. 355), which exhibited the finest stage of art in the middle of the century in England, is that set out with meticulous nicety in the official valuation that was made with a view to its complete destruction.
When we read the description, we cannot but feel that a real love and sympathy for the garden guided the pens of the parliamentary officials, and yet the object of the nine signatories was only a money valuation, and the end was the inevitable hammer. All that had been collected with endless love and pains was now divided among small owners, who were taught, when all the pride and beauty was in ruins, how they could utilise the ground by raising vegetables.