Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Charles II and those Lydiard Park birds

Charles II celebrated his restoration to the throne by engaging in a bit of home improvements on the Tudor built St James's Palace, London and a makeover in the surrounding parkland with a new canal some 2,560 ft long and 125 ft wide.

In 1664 the Russian Ambassador to Charles gave the king a pair of pelicans to grace the new canal and 400 years later the tradition of pelicans in the park continues.

But not to be outdone Sir Walter St John also made a contribution to the monarch's new park from his country home at Lydiard with a gift of some Muscovy ducks.

Although Sir Walter had fought on the Parliamentary side in the Civil War and had been considered somewhat backward in kissing the hand of the recently restored king, you could say Sir Walter was almost 'family.'

When Charles returned to England from exile he was accompanied by his favourite (well she was then) mistress Barbara Palmer, later to be created Countess Castlemaine. Barbara was Walter's great-niece, the grand daughter of his sister Barbara Villiers, and gave birth to five of Charles' illegitimate children.

But that wasn't the only St John/Stuart connection. Charles' best friend was the naughty playwright and poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. John was Sir Walter's nephew, the son of his sister Anne and her second husband Henry, Earl of Rochester.

And it doesn't end there. In 1677 Charles and Barbara's daughter Charlotte Fitzroy married Edward Lee, the newly created Earl of Lichfield, and Sir Walter's great nephew, the grandson of the same sister Anne.

There's still a lot of birdlife on the lake at Lydiard Park today, including a magnificent family of eight swans. 

Lydiard House is now closed for the winter months, but look out for the return of the Behind Closed Doors series of talks and tours, which proved so popular in the 2016 close season.

Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, whose portrait hangs in Lydiard House.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester whose portrait hangs in Lydiard House.

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