Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Queen Anne (1665 - 1714)

Did Queen Anne visit Avebury Manor?

There is a strong possibility that Queen Anne Stuart and her slow-moving entourage stayed at Avebury Manor during one of her many trips from London to Bath, where she would ‘take the waters’ in the hope of alleviating her ill health. She suffered terribly from gout, severe gynaecological problems and dropsy which caused her body to swell. At the time of her death on 1st August 1714, her body had become so swollen that a special square-shaped coffin had to be constructed before she could be laid to rest alongside her husband - George of Denmark, at Westminster Abbey. She was succeeded by George I of the House of Hanover.

Anne conceived 17 times (which would probably account for her gynaecological problems) between the age of 18 and 34. Only six of her 18 children (she had twins) survived childbirth and of the six only William - Duke of Gloucester survived till the age of 11. By all accounts William was a sickly child from birth and appears to have had developmental problems. He was unable to walk properly until he was five, and even towards the end of his life had occasionally to be fed by a nurse at meals. He suffered from hydrocephalus; fluid on the brain. William died on 30th July 1700 from smallpox.

In 1694 Master in Chancery - Sir Richard Holford had purchased Avebury Manor from the Stawell family. It was not unusual for wealthy land and property owners to go to great lengths and expense to ensure a state room was prepared in anticipation of a royal visit. This show of hospitality would occasionally be abused by Machiavellian monarchs’ who would deliberately overstay their welcome at the homes of those they did not hold in favour just so their hosts would incur huge costs, often bankrupting them.

There is no evidence to support the claim that Queen Anne stayed at Avebury Manor for any length of time but there is evidence of an entry in an manuscript dated 1712 by John Sanders, a servant of Lady Holford’s sister, entitled ‘The Account of my Travils With My Mistress‘, where he claims;

‘Thursday ye 13 (August 1712) about 10 we came to Sir Rich Holford’s house in Avebury, it is a noble larg ancient seat, built with whit larg stone, it belong to Lord Stowel, ye late Lord Stowel was born thare, and our Queen Anne did dine thare’

As this statement appears to refer to a time when Queen Anne was already on the thrown, it is probably safe to assume, given the Queen’s deteriorating health, that her visit, if indeed it took place, was at some point during the previous 10 years prior to 1712.

The trip from London to Bath would have taken several days, so stop-off points would have been meticulously planned along the route, a route which would have passed Avebury and its magnificent standing stones, surely an attraction for any passing monarch. It is therefore not inconceivable that Queen Anne did visit Avebury Manor.

A suite of three state rooms were conceived as part of the BBC project in anticipation of a royal visit. The bedroom would feature a lavish marble effect paint scheme, a domed four poster bed dressed with damask silks and bespoke walnut furnishings, adding a sumptuous feel to the room. An antechamber with Chinese stencilling and a withdrawing room, again dressed with silk and walnut furnishings, with a spacious daybed as its centre piece, fashioned to accommodate Queen Anne’s rather large girth, proportions which were carefully researched by project historian Dan Cruikshank.

It’s interesting to note that state beds were very rarely slept in, monarchs much preferring smaller anterooms or withdrawing rooms in which to sleep. Dr Anna Whitelock, an expert on monarchy, advised on what would be needed in each of the rooms.

Queen Anne Bedroom leading to antechamber

Withdrawing Room

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