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The Queen's Temple

Stowe: Hawkwell Field



The south facade of the Queen's Temple
A view of the Queen's Temple from the south

The Guide to the Gardens provides the following description and history of the Queen's Temple, which was built during 1742-48 and altered significantly in the 1770s:
The original work was called the Lady's Temple, and is often ascribed to Kent; but it closely resembled a Gibbs building at Down Hall in Essex. Lord Cobham and his political friends had their habitable Temple of Friendship from 1739 onwards, and we can imagine Lady Cobham demanding one for her own amusement, not too far from the house, and with a south aspect. It was built on a vaulted basement, open from front to back. The upper room had mural decorations by Sleter, the Venetian, depicting ladies engaged on the one side in needlework and shell-work, and on the other in painting and making music. A central Venetian window to the south enjoyed much the same view that we see to-day. Mid-way on the left is the Gothic Temple by Gibbs, romantically peeping above trees, and at the far end of the vista, effectively "answering" us here, his Temple of Friendship.

But, looked at from the far end, the original façade cannot have been much of a climax, and it may have been Pitt who supplied what was needed; the most handsome portico at Stowe, apart from the main south portico of the house. At the same time he refaced the temple very charmingly all round, with a fine flight of steps to the front. The flattened bow at the back, of 1778, may have been the design of Vincenzo Valdre, who appeared at Stowe in about 1776. The interior was redecorated by Valdre with pink scagliola columns and an elaborate plaster ceiling. Sleter's ladies vanished from the walls and their places were taken by plaster reliefs, signed and dated by the sculptor Charles Peart, 1790. The temple was now renamed the Queen's Temple in honour of Queen Charlotte, as a tribute to her Majesty's devoted nursing of her husband, George III, during his serious illness of 1789. On the west wall, inside, a medallion shows Britannia dejected and with spear reversed. On the east wall she is sacrificing to Æsculapius, the God of Health. Four other delightful medallions represent -- War; Navigation and Commerce; Agriculture and Manufacture; Religion, Justice, and Mercy.

The Seeley Guidebook of 1797 also mentions that "in the center of this apartment is a magnificent setting figure of Britannia supporting a medallion of the Queen.---The figure is as large as life, and is placed on a fluted pedestal, on which is the following inscription:"

Charlottæ Sophiæ Augustæ,
Pietate erga Regem, erga Rempublicam
Virtute & constantia,
In difficillimis temporibus spectatissimæ,
D. D. D.
Georgius M. de Buckingham.
MDCCLXXXIX.

To the Queen,
Most respectable in the most difficult moments,
For her duty to the King,
And for her attachment and zeal for the public service,
George, M. of Buckingham
Dedicates this monument.
1789.

Robinson points out that this tribute to Queen Charlotte was not simply a patriotic gesture by the Marquess of Buckingham but far more personal: "if the King had not recovered," he explains, "a Regency would have had to have been declared, thus opening the way for Fox to become prime minister in place of Buckingham's cousin William Pitt the Younger, who at that stage he staunchly supported. Queen Charlotte had not just nursed the King back to health; she had saved the Pitt-Grenville government!"

The north facade of the Queen's Temple
A view of the Queen's Temple from the northeast (Ladies Terrace)

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu