Dr Stukeley & the Druids

 

'An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit', from "The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands" by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815)

‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’, from “The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands” by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Believe it or not this is my 100th post – and coincides nicely with the end of  my second year writing this blog. Suitably for the time of year  its the second one about mistletoe, following on from last week’s discussion about sacred groves, and this time exploring the Druid connection.

Despite images like this, or pagan festivals celebrating summer solstices at Stonehenge, or bards reciting at eisteddfods, the place of Druids in our national history is surprisingly recent.mistletoe

The link between mistletoe, sacred groves and the Druids actually begins in the 1stc AD with writings of Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus but it doesn’t really begin to affect our national consciousness until the 16thc.  After that the boundary between fact, conjecture and invention is blurred. Myth begins to pile upon myth and legend upon legend until eventually in the 18thc the story of the Druids develops a life of its own with the ‘discovery’ of archaeology.  From then on the story takes a romantic faux historical twist and becomes even more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. But read on and I’ll try….

Druids Cutting Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon (c.1890) Henri Paul Motte http://www.leicestergalleries.com/19th-20th-century-paintings/d/symbolism/henri-paul-motte/15049

Druids Cutting Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon (c.1890) Henri Paul Motte
http://www.leicestergalleries.com/19th-20th-century-paintings/d/symbolism/henri-paul-motte/15049

In his Natural History Pliny the Elder wrote: “We should not omit to mention the great admiration that the Gauls have for [mistletoe]  as well. The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the 6th day of the moon…mistletoe

Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion.

mistletoeA priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.” You can read Pliny’s full text at:

mistletoe

http://www.masseiana.org/pliny.htm

Pliny’s description inspired many of early Renaissance historians and antiquarians all over northern and western Europe  to include the Druids when they began to write their own national histories. It also helped inspire others – notably the famous fraud Annius of Viterbo – to invent more ‘imaginative’ stories to suit their geo-political circumstances.  In Britain this led to a trail of manuscripts and books as convoluted and confusing as in France and Germany so while I’m going to attempt to trace this through…do feel free to skip the next few paragraphs [in italics]  if this is becoming dull, or jump straight to the link at the end of the section!

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel Glasgow Museums Date painted: 1890 Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 152.4 cm Collection: Glasgow Museums

The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe
by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel
1890, Glasgow Museums

It started in Scotland in 1527, when  Hector Boece  was the first to associate Druids with standing stones with the prehistoric stone circles that survived in many regions, and to declare that they had been temples of the national pagan religion.  However Boece too was prone to flights of fancy and invention! 

The works of Annius and Boece [and others] were then adapted and reworked by Holinshed in his Chronicles, which is better known as being the source of Shakespeare’s history plays, and so the stories were perpetuated.   Its interesting that Shakespeare didn’t put Druids onto the stage, even in his History of Cymbeline which was set in ancient Britain, although they do appear in other plays notably Jasper Fisher’s True Trojans. Performed in 1633  it has  an entire  cast of them “in long robes, hats like Pyramids, [with] branches of  Mistletoe.” who cast spells and swear “By the dreadfull  Mistletoe,Which doth on holy Oake grow.”

The Druids Collecting Mistletoe by Jacob Thompson, 1832 © Penrith and Eden Museum

The Druids Collecting Mistletoe by Jacob Thompson, 1832
© Penrith and Eden Museum

The plot thickens in ways which we don’t have time to go into here but if you are interested in knowing more then follow the link at the end of this section.  What is clear is that this interest in the Druids and Druidism developed gradually during the 17thc. 

Michael Drayton in Polyolbion of 1612, for example, cites Pliny verbatim in his discussion about the importance of Druids in Britain’s early history, although he also wrote described them as evil magicians.  There are many other references during this period, until….

from Aylett Sammes, Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676)

The first printed image of a Druid from Aylett Sammes, Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676)

…finally in 1649, we have the great antiquarian and John Aubrey “discovering” Avebury. Aubrey was to become a founder member of the Royal Society  and argue in Monumenta Britannica  [c1665-93] that the Druids were the priests of Pre-Roman Britain, and probably organised the construction of Avebury and Stonehenge. His theories were then picked up and developed in a new version of William Camden’s Britannia[1695] .

The other important milestone in the creation of the Druid myth was the publication of the first printed image of a Druid in   Aylett Sammes Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1675). Of course it wasn’t a historically accurate depiction – how could it be? – and instead was  probably based on a mediaeval German statue of a pilgrim!  But no matter – the engraving makes the Druids appear both ‘wild’ and ‘holy’   and set the scene for the way they were represented until the 19thc.

For more detail on all this read the  article by Prof. Ronald Hutton of Bristol University at:

http://www.druidry.org/events-projects/mount-haemus-award/first-mount-haemus-lecture

from Abury: A Temple of the British Druids, by William Stukeley, 1743

from Abury: A Temple of the British Druids, by William Stukeley, 1743

Stueley dozing during the Avebury investigations, 1722sketch by Gerard Vandergacht from Stuart Piggott William Stueley, 1985

Stukeley dozing during the Avebury investigations, 1722. sketch by Gerard Vandergacht from Stuart Piggott, William Stukeley, 1985

 

 

By the early 18thc the myth  boomed and turned a few isolated local customs into a national fashion. This movement was led notably by  William Stukeley,a doctor and later clergyman who in 1717 relaunched the Society of  Antiquaries. Having read a copy of Aubrey’s unpublished manuscript  Monumenta Britannica Stukeley was enthused to discover more, and together with  Thomas Wright, the architect (see post on Stumperies, 2nd May 2015) he surveyed prehistoric monuments such as Stonehenge, Avebury and many standing stones which  they thought had Druidic associations.

Stukeley in his Druidic persona Chyndonax from the frontsipiece of Stonehenge, 1740

Stukeley in his Druidic persona, Chyndonax, from the frontispiece of Stonehenge, 1740

Indeed Stukeley became the first modern person to identify himself completely with Druids and even called himself one in print, and adopting a Druidical name.  As Alison Kelly wittily put it, he and Wright “embodied a Georgian interest in the Druids and their religion in which ignorance was joined with enthusiasm.”  (Garden History, vol.16,(2), 1988, p.125)

The Hermitage Vineyard at Grantham, 1727. The chapel is in the centre distance and the Roman altat in front of it surmounted by a stone sphere. Bodleain Gough Maps 230 f.412

The Hermitage Vineyard at Grantham, 1727. The chapel is in the centre distance and the Roman altar in front of it surmounted by a stone sphere.
Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 230 f.412

So what’s all this got to with gardens?

Quite simply that, apart from being a pioneer archaeologist, Stukeley was a very keen gardener and mixed his two passions with interesting results.  I have abstracted the following few paragraphs from a fascinating recent article about his Lincolnshire gardens by John Smith FSA in The Antiquaries Journal, Vol.93, September 2013, pp 353-400. The illustrations of Stukeley’s gardens are also taken from there.

Stukeley’s  medical practice was at  Grantham in Lincolnshire and in his garden there he had a 100 ft diameter circular shaped orchard. There, he wrote to a friend, he was ‘making a temple of the druids’ with ‘pyramidal greens’ representing the stones and surrounding  “an ancient apple tree overgrown with sacred mistletoe.”  It had an irregular winding approach around the perimeter through the orchard.  Elsewhere he had  a Hermitage Vineyard which incorporated included ‘a chapel’ and a Roman altar.

A view of Stamford by Stukeley. The rectory is in the centre, the Hermitage aon the left and the motte of Stamford castle on the right. Spalding Gentleman's Society

A view of Stamford by Stukeley. The rectory is in the centre, the Hermitage on the left and the motte of Stamford castle on the right.
Spalding Gentleman’s Society

In 1730 Stukeley moved to nearby Stamford  after being ordained and appointed rector there.  The rectory garden was small and in 1734 he acquired The Hermitage, a nearby house and grounds, and in 1736 a further adjacent plot of land so that he could create a much bigger garden. These sloped and so offered views out into the surrounding landscape.

The Hermitage, by STukeley, c.1738. The arch of Merlin's Cave can just about be seen in the right foreground. Bodleian Library, Gough Mpas 16 f.53a

The Hermitage, by Stukeley, c.1738.  The arch of Merlin’s Cave can just about be seen in the right foreground. Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 16 f.53a

In the new spirit of the evolving English landscape garden it was to be a place for contemplation but also of surprise, with, as in so many landed seats a circuit superimposed upon it which would allow the visitor to discover its secrets, although it was still not really large enough to allow much to be hidden as a surprise.  Nevertheless in 1737 he created a rustic Merlin’s Cave, presumably inspired by the Gothic one built for Queen Caroline at Kew begun just a couple of years earlier, and with the same Whig overtones. [More on this in another post shortly!]

Long Barrow from Stukeley

Long Barrow from Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British druids. 1740

Stukeley was a prolific and competent sketcher – luckily for posterity – and his work has cropped up several times in other posts. He was also a prolific collector, especially of any antiquities or mediaeval bits and pieces that he could lay his hand on.  This included parts of the demolished Eleanor Cross in the town, and  fragments from the ruins of nearby Crowland Abbey – which were put into his garden. It also in turn to his creating a Rosamund’s Bower – named after Henry II’s mistress and which became a fairly common feature of 19th mediaeval garden recreations.

Sutler's plan for his garden at Barn Hill, Stamford, 1741. Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 16, f.52b

Sutler’s plan for his garden at Barn Hill, Stamford, 1741. Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 16, f.52b

Like most gardeners Stukeley was always keen to expand his growing space, and the Hermitage at about half an acre became too small for his ambitions. In 1741 he bought another house on Barn Hill in Stamford [now No.9] which had two acres of grounds. He began work immediately extending and altering the house. The garden which he started work on in 1744 proved slightly more difficult  because much of the land close to the house was covered with buildings. There was “a very great barn adjoining the house, a double dovecote built like a church, and a very large malting office…All these I pull’d down & carried off the premisses, laying the whole yard open to the orchard.”   In the process of clearing he “dug away a yard deep into the rock, where I found” what he claimed to be ” a Roman urn.”

Stukeley's drawing of the garden front at Barn Hill, c.1741-2, Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 16, f.52v b

Stukeley’s drawing of the garden front at Barn Hill, c.1741-2, Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 16, f.52v b

The garden immediately behind the house became a bowling green, and “all the rest of the ground I threw into a wild forestiere form, full of walks,trees, fruit, flowers, shrubs of all kinds, annual & evergreen, the whole blended together & intermixed without regularity.”

The Hermitage, Barn Hill, 1744. Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 230, f.410

The Hermitage, Barn Hill, 1744. Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 230, f.410

He constructed a new hermitage and a new Rosamunds Bower, but also built a  summer-house, glazed with rescued mediaeval stained glass and a Temple of Flora. More intriguingly there was a ‘Babylonian garden’ although nothing much is known about it. The most obvious things about the garden are, however,  the concentric circles which surely must be another reference to his fascination with Druidical antiquity.

Stukeley's drawing of his house and garden at Barn Hill, 1743. Spalding Gentleman's Society

Stukeley’s drawing of his house and garden at Barn Hill, 1743.
Spalding Gentleman’s Society

He did not enjoy his new garden for very long because in 1747 he was offered the living of the fashionable church of St George the Martyr, Queen’s Square in Bloomsbury. He moved to London and died there in 1765.

Decorative titlepage for a book on Avebury, c.1723 from

Decorative titlepage for a book on Avebury, c.1723 from

At the same time he was creating the Stamford garden, the early 1740s,  he finally began to publish his research into ancient monuments. In his two books he argued, like Aubrey, that Stonehenge and Avebury and the other great standing stones were the work of the Ancient Britons, whose priests were the Druids. But as these proposed title pages show, he had not always held this view, but had once considered the ‘Antient Celts’ as the builders.

A later alternative title page for the proposed book, where the Druids have replaced the Celts, from

A later alternative title page for the proposed book, where the Druids have replaced the Celts, from

Stukeley made the Druids sound just the sort of people who, had they lived, would have been patriotic parsons and doctors like himself. In the process he made studying them respectable and created the language we still use to describe their various landscape and architectural features  such as cursus, avenue, and trilithon.  

Whether Stukeley was responsible in any way for the rehabilitation of mistletoe into ecclesiastical customs is hard to tell, but he reports it being taken to the high altar in York minster on Christmas Eve.  He also certainly experimented with growing it from seed and noted in his diary in 1747 that he “put some mistletoe on several kinds of trees in my garden.”

Stuekley'd theory of how Stonehnge was constructed

Stukeley’s theory of how Stonehenge was constructed from Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British druids, 1740

Some have argued that it was Stukeley who  ‘revived’ the Order of Druids in 1717, but there is no hard evidence of this. Instead that honour goes to Henry Hurle who set up the the Ancient Order of Druids  in 1781, and ran it on masonic lines.  By that time Stukely had been dead for 16 years, but he would no doubt have been amused that “having been the only Druid on the planet in 1722, and probably the first ‘serious’ one for fifteen centuries, he had ensured that they were reappearing all over London sixty years later” [Hutton]

from Stonehenge, a temple restor'd to the British druids.

from Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British druids, by William Stukeley , 1740

If you would like to know more about the history of this romantic revival of Druidism then, apart from the online article by Ronald Hutton mentioned above, two good places to start are his book Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (2009), and an article in History Today by Geoffrey Grigson which is available at:

http://www.historytoday.com/geoffrey-grigson/stonehenge-and-imagination#sthash.8kx2p6nK.dpuf

from Stonehenge a temple restor'd to the British druids / by William Stukeley , 1740

from Stonehenge a temple restor’d to the British druids  by William Stukeley , 1740

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

 

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