Sat in pride of place in the landscape garden of Stowe, resplendent in its Portland stone glory, is the extended seat and monument of the Temple of British Worthies. Perched in the sixteen mini Palladian alcoves are busts of those that the owners, the Temple-Grenvilles, believed to be the epitome of British thought, art and achievement, worthy indeed of celebration and enshrinement. It was designed on commission by William Kent as an outdoor seat. Kent’s vision is thought to be in keeping with similar designs in the classical Greco-Roman world, emphasised by the inclusion of the God Mercury in the middle. The busts are also stone, which is a shame because Bronze is much more durable as the Wildlife Sculpture at https://www.gillparker.com/ show. The Temple is managed by the National Trust and can be visited for free if you are a member or for a charge if you are not.
The semicircular monument looks out of an artificial lake and the Portland stone catches the sunset perfectly changing is light yellow to burnished dark orange and the lengthening shadows cast across to the lake. As the sun sets each bust from right to the left are slowly encased in darkness. This is said to imitate Alexander Pope’s (one of the Worthies included) poem The Duncaid “Art after art goes out, and all is Night.” Each bust has a description above it as to why they should be there.
The Worthies are
- Alexander Pope – a satirical Poet of the time. He is oft quoted second only to;
- William Shakespeare – the greatest and most prolific playwright of all time.
- John Milton – Council of State for Oliver Cromwell (who is not there) the writer of Paradise lost.
- John Locke – A philosopher and physician he is the Father of Liberalism whose ideas shaped a generation.
- Isaac Newton – The Father of modern science.
- Sir Francis Bacon – Another Father of modern scientific thought and philosopher.
- Elizabeth I – The only woman on the list. There for her stout leadership and resilience.
- William III – The Protestant savior of England that ended the Stuarts tumultuous reign.
- Inigo Jones – The prominent English/Welsh Architect designing Whitehall and Covent Garden.
- Thomas Gresham – the creator of the Royal exchange.
- King Alfred the Great – Warrior, Historian cake burner and defender of the Anglo Saxons against the Danes.
- Edward the Black Prince – Eldest son of Edward III, a potent warrior of renown famed for his jet black armor.
- Sir Walter Raleigh – Buccaneer and explorer plus consort to the Queen Elizabeth I
- Sir Francis Drake – the savior of Britain with his defeat of the Armada and a patriot.
- John Hampden – A Parliamentarian set against Charles I. Arrested, unconstitutionally, signaling the start of the Civil war. The reason we have Black Rod at state parliament openings.
- Sir John Barnard – A Whig MP. Included to annoy Horace Walpole the then Prime Minister it seems.