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The Temple of British Worthies

Stowe: The Elysian Fields




Designed by William Kent in 1734, this monument is an exedra (literally "outdoor seat"). Scholars suggest that Kent may have had in mind an Italian model--a series of busts of Roman emperors in niches that form a small circle in the Garden of the Villa Brenzone.

British Worthies from across the River Styx

Kent's monument contains niches for sixteen busts, eight in either wing, and a central oval niche for the head of Mercury. On the left are figures of contemplation: poets, philosophers, and scientists; on the right are figures of action: monarchs, statesmen, and warriors. Above each bust is an appropriate inscription.

Please click on any of the busts or names below and follow a hyperlink to a biography of the British Worthy you are interested in learning more about. The Worthies are arranged from left to right in the order in which they appear in the Temple, beginning with the figures of contemplation on the north side and ending with the figures of action on the south.


Alexander Pope

Thomas Gresham

Inigo Jones

John Milton

William Shakespeare

John Locke

Isaac Newton

Francis Bacon

King Alfred

Prince Edward

Queen Elizabeth I

King William III

Walter Raleigh

Francis Drake

John Hampden

John Barnard


Both the Temple of British Worthies and the Temple of Ancient Virtue are perhaps seen best from the vantage point of the other, where each is reflected in the water of the river. Ancient Virtue receives the morning light, British Worthies the evening. At sunset during the summer, by a trick of the light and the landscape, shadows fall across the busts in British Worthies from right to left, first across the figures of action and later across the figures of contemplation. It is as if Nature mimics Pope's lines from the end of The Dunciad: "Art after Art goes out, and all is Night."
British Worthies seen from the earthen dam holding back the River Styx
A view northward on the River Styx,
with The Shell Bridge in the background
and the Temple of British Worthies on the right


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