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Saturday, 31 December 2011

In other words a Happy New Year from the Brimstone Butterfly!

Gëzuar vitin e ri

 عام سعيد
urte berri on
новым годам
честита нова година
šťastný nový rok
Onnellista uutta vuotta
 שנה טובה
Шинэ жилийн баярын мэнд хvргэе
wênd na kô-d yuum-songo
سال نو مبارک
feliz año Nuevo
สวัสดีปีใหม่
blwyddyn newydd dda
Happy New Year!

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Hampton Court: The Kyngs beestes


One of the most iconic images at Hampton Court is that of the heraldic beasts adorning the bridge across the moat. 
 
 
 Before encountering them the modern visitor passes under the Western gates built in the 1730s by William Kent, who also designed the Queen’s Staircase within the palace. The lion and the unicorn represent England and Scotland respectively following the union of the two countries earlier in the 18th century. Although Henry coveted Scotland his plans to annex it came to naught. Alongside the heraldic beasts of Great Britain are the trophies of arms which have become such a familiar sight on my jaunts to various stately homes.
Henry’s stone bridge across the moat was hidden for several hundred years after the moat itself was filled in the 1690s when William III was embarking on his extensive programme to remodel the Tudor palace. To add insult to injury the Georgians rebuilt Henry’s gatehouse much to its detriment according to William Page, who edited A History of the County of Middlesex in 1911. He complained: The gateway to which it leads was largely rebuilt in 1773, losing greatly in dignity and interest thereby. The old gatehouse, of which several drawings exist, the most accurate being some measured drawings by Kent made about forty years before its rebuilding, was of five stories, and much taller than the present building. Instead of a single arch in the middle it had two arches, a large one for carriages and a small one for foot passengers, opening into the gate hall, and the large arch was in consequence not on the centre line of the gatehouse. This affected the oriel window over it, which, being set over the arch, was likewise not in the middle of the elevation.”
 

By the early 20th century efforts were begun to restore the bridge to some semblance of how it would have looked in Henry’s time. First, the moat was cleared out in 1909 and then work was begun on repairing the stone bridge and reinstating the heraldic beasts that had once lined it. The Edwardians were greatly helped in their endeavours by the survival of the meticulous Tudor accounts for the original building work.
The stone bridge had been built by Henry VIII in 1536. It was the same year and indeed very week that the incurable romantic beheaded one wife, Anne Boleyn, and became betrothed to her former lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, the next day.
Henry had marked the coronation of Anne as Queen by having lead cupolas and ornate weather vanes placed on the turrets of the White Tower at the Tower of London. For Jane he added her heraldic beasts to his own along the stone bridge at Hampton Court.
 
 Of the original heraldic beasts that lined the bridge only one is known to have survived and very battered it looks too. It turned up in an unnamed pub garden and was for a while on display earlier this year outside the buttery by the Great Hall.
 
The current royal beasts on the bridge look far too spic and span for stone ornaments that have braved a century of inclement English weather which suggests they have been restored in recent years.
The beasts are helpfully paired with brass name plates at the base identifying what they represent. Of all the beasts the only one I could not identify without its nameplate was the mythical yale, which is apparently an antelope like creature with a lion’s tail and horns that can swivel in any direction. I wonder if Henry’s horns could likewise swivel in any direction when Katherine Howard later made a cuckold of him. The Yale of Beaufort harks back to the King’s grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The latter was something of a mythical creature herself. The formidable Margaret had her first and only child at the age of 13, who, through force of arms, later became king of England as Henry VII. Margaret  went on to have another three marriages before dying in her late sixties having seen her only son crowned and confident that the Tudor dynasty was secure in the shape of her strapping young grandson, the future Henry VIII.
 
The crowned lion of England displays Henry’s arms impaled with those of Jane Seymour. In reality Jane was never crowned queen as she died shortly after giving birth to Henry’s son and heir, Edward. Of all Henry’s queens only his first two, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, were crowned.  All Henry’s brides knew there was the distinct possibility that, crowned or not, they might end up taking a central role at that other state ceremony unique to Henry’s queens, namely a public execution.
 
In the Middle Ages, greyhounds were the prized hunting dogs of royalty. Consequently they are often depicted in the tapestries of the period. In the heraldic tradition greyhounds represented courage, vigilance and loyalty. I have always had a fondness for greyhounds ever since I found myself looking after the late Ellie, a rescued greyhound, from time to time.
 

A panther holds aloft a shield with the wings of the Seymour family emblazoned upon it. According to Patrick Baty in his work “The King’s beasts” the panther has flames emerging from its mouth to indicate its fragrant breath. It could also be seen as a metaphor for the fate of Jane’s two brothers and what happened to those who, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun. Thanks to their sister’s marriage and the birth of a Tudor son and heir, the Seymour brothers enjoyed an unprecedented rise at court with Thomas becoming Lord High Admiral and Edward Lord Protector. It was Edward who built the splendid Tudor mansion at Syon. But like Icarus before them, their hubris led to their early deaths, both on charges of high treason and both during the reign of their nephew. Jane Seymour’s son showed little hesitation in signing the death warrants of his mother’s brothers.

 
 

The dragon symbolises Wales and the Tudor’s claim to be descended from an ancient line of Welsh kings.
 

Jane Seymour’s unicorn bears her coat of arms. Like her family’s heraldic beast, Jane’s panther has flames emerging from its mouth indicating a fragrant breath.  Whether Jane had sweet breath herself something surely stank to the high heaven about a woman who would coolly step into the shoes of her dead predecessor, the day after the latter’s execution.
 
The other crowned lion displays Jane’s personal device featuring a castle and portcullis.
 

The Bull of Clarence holds the Tudor Rose the emblem symbolising the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster following the end of the War of the Roses.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Patrick Baty was commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces to envision the heraldic beasts on the stone bridge in colour. The heraldic beasts on display in the newly created Tudor privy gardens within the Chapel Court show what a riot of colour the Tudors indulged in. As part of the recent celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s coronation the painted and gilded oak heraldic creatures perched on chevron coloured posts and bound by golden chains were commissioned for Chapel courtyard overlooked by Henry’s former privy council chambers. The so-called ‘Kyngs beestes’ were inspired by the painting in the Haunted Gallery of the King’s Family. Alongside the Greyhound of Richmond, the Beaufort Yale, the Bull of Clarence, the Lion of England and the Tudor Dragon are other emblems of Henry’s family including a stag and falcon.
 

Above the doors in the Great Hall leading to the Great watching Chamber stand the Lion of England and the Tudor Red Dragon as well as greyhounds.
 
Another greyhound can be on the rooftop bearing aloft a weathervane.
A Lion of England features as a finial to an oak staircase close by the Great Hall. But for all these mythical creatures decorating Hampton Court, Tudor courtiers were all too aware of the real monster lurking within their midst, whose very look could signal sudden death and whose proclivity for cruelty was not tempered by filial or marital ties. That blood thristy monster in human form was of course Henry VIII.
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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Lady of shallots.


Winter brings out the recluse in me. I am like a bear who wants to return to her dark cave and simply go to sleep. Fortunately I usually have to venture out onto the big wide world at least once a week before I can slink back to the safety of my lair. I never was a summer person and have a preference for the night, meaning I try whenever possible to leave the house under the shadow of darkness. Sadly I no longer have gardening to keep me busy. I lost interest in the communal gardens after a property maintenance company waltzed off with a number of my mature plants and vegetables on the pretence they thought they belonged to another flat. Even though I challenged them, the company in question supported their member of staff’s blatant lies over my protests and refused to compensate me. Now the garden has been taken over by someone else and very smart it is beginning to look too. She has removed the hideous bunkers left by a former freeholder when they carried out building work on their own flat. In its place she, or rather a gardener she called in, has created new flower beds and shaped the lawn. She has had my permission to add my remaining mature plants to her own. With more space and a prominent position in the sun I am sure they will continue to flourish. She has also planted a row of bamboo to soften the fencing at the back.  The front garden is beginning to recapture something of its Victorian glory.
 
 
 

I have kept my outdoor herb garden growing sage, rosemary, lemon thyme, mint, bay, French tarragon, parsley, chives, oregano amongst other herbs as well as Swiss chard, wild garlic and sorrel. I managed to grow loganberries, gooseberries and strawberries but not in any great quantities. My efforts at growing tomatoes indoors were not as successful as in previous years where I had sufficient to make several bottles of green and red tomato chutney using a Nigel Slater recipe. My indoor cucumber suddenly died on me having looked so promising. I grew my chilli peppers for as long as possible indoors and then chopped them up and placed the pieces in an ice cube tray before freezing. I add ice cubes to my cooking as required. These peppers have a real kick to them.
Last year I grew fennel and chamomile to make herbal teas. I have found that I only need a very small amount of my dried fennel to flavour the water. When I first tried using as much as I would for commercially grown herbs it proved a disaster: the flavour was far too pungent. I rather like the idea of drinking tea from my plantation even if said plantation was in fact a terracotta planter. My dog rose produced a large quantity of rosehips but I never got around to using them. Ditto the lavender. I was always loath to harvest the lavender when it was in flower as it seems to be a particular favourite with the bees in the vicinity.

My tea rose bush produced a single fragrant red rose. I had to constantly rescue the bush from being strangled by the neighbouring buddleja. I had taken a fancy to the latter because of its heady scent and its noted ability to attract butterflies. I discovered too late that it is an invasive plant and as common and as tenacious as weeds in the vicinity. I even found it growing down inside one of our drainpipes.

Dining out is no longer an option for me. However I do allow my friends to treat me from time to time such as on my recent birthday. In August I was able to acquire a free discount card which enabled the holder to a 50% reduction on food at specified restaurants. I therefore went with Mandip to Livebait in Covent Garden, an upmarket fish restaurant, reasoning that with a 50% reduction Mandip would effectively only be paying for her own meal. The Eagle took me back there for my birthday last month. Afterwards we had coffee and cakes at Maison Bertaux, a patisserie that has been operating from the same premises in Soho since the 19th century. Unlike other patisseries, Maison Bertaux is not part of a chain and bakes its delicious cakes and pastries on the premises. It is expensive but worth every penny for a connoisseur of gateaux like me.

The Partridge and I went on to Maison Bertaux after we had been to a Chinese restaurant in Soho, again to celebrate my birthday. Our favourite restaurant, which we were wont to frequent over the years, has gone so we were obliged to settle on another one at random. We both felt that Chinatown itself seems to have lost some indefinable quality. There are still excellent restaurants there but I would only go on the personal recommendation of my Chinese friends or else in their company. I feel sure they tell the waiters in Mandarin: This is the only Chinese I know. Please pretend for my friend’s benefit that I am fluent in the language and just give us the standard meal as she won’t be any the wiser.
 
On our way to Livebait in Covent Garden the Eagle and I passed Rules, Londons’s oldest restaurant. Dating back to the late 18th century Rules has been a firm favourite with the literary and artistic world for centuries. It is, or perhaps I should use the past tense, was one of my favourite restaurants. What I loved about it, apart from the wonderful atmosphere, delicious food sourced from their country estate and polite and attentive service, was that I could dine in there on my own or with friends and always be treated with equal consideration. Too often the single dinner is regarded as something of a pariah. If my fortunes ever changed for the better I would take my friends along to Rules for a celebratory meal.   
I cannot afford fine dining in restaurants but I can still hand bake speciality breads and cakes for friends in lieu of wine or chocolates when I visit them for supper or if they dine at Brimstone Butterfly Towers.  Baking and cooking remain one of my constant pleasures in life, although for the first time ever I have deliberately run down my larder and emptied my freezer and fridge after I discovered it was so cold that a carton of cream remained unaffected by being in my handbag in the hall for several days. The Eagle is always urging me to think of ways to turn my hobby into a means of earning money. In the past she offered to set me up in a tea shop or send me over to Tuscany to train in a friend’s restaurant. So long as I have a mortgage such things must remain mere day dreams.

Both the Eagle and Mandip have bought new houses recently and are actively engaged in the horrendous task of renovating them. As well as her London town house the Eagle has a villa in Tuscany. She offered to pay my airfares if I would cook for her and her partner over Christmas whilst they carry out some additional renovations there too. I have had to turn down her invitation, having a prior engagement in Highgate at the Partridge’s ancestral home. The Partridge very delicately told me that I must not think of buying her family presents but if I wanted to make some comestibles they would be greatly appreciated. I should be able to rustle up both having some presents I did not get around to handing out last year. I may be poor in monetary terms but I have always been rich in friends. I hope they realise how much I have always appreciated them.