Some notes on Welbeck Abbey and Park.
WELBECK ABBEY, the seat of the Duke of Portland, lies about four miles south of Worksop, within a magnificent park, possessing all the varied charms of English scenery. One entrance to Welbeck is through magnificent hammered-iron, bronzed, oak-leaf gates, between the second and third of the five lakes. Shortly after entering the park we come into a green dell where stands the "Greendale Oak," a "Methuselah of trees" computed by different authorities to be from 800 to 1500 years old. In 1724 an aperture was cut through its bole large enough for a carriage and four to be driven through. An etching by George Vertue, in 1727, of this tree, shows a carriage and six horses being driven through. The Greendale Oak Cabinet, made for the Countess of Oxford, is one among the chief treasures of Welbeck furniture.
Before the coming of William the Conqueror, Welbeck, one of three manors in the parish of Cuckney, was in the hands of Sweyn the Saxon, and was subsequently held by Gamelbere as part of his manor of Cuckney. This with many other manors in Notts, was granted by the Conqueror to Roger de Busli. Gamelbere as a special privilege retained, says Thoroton, two carucates of land at Cuckney, on condition that he shod the King's horses, whenever the King came to his manor of Mansfield. Gamelbere died without issue, and Henry I. gave his portion to Joceus de Flamangh or Coste, who married a cousin of Earl Ferrers. Thomas de Cuckney, their son, a favourite of Henry I., nutritus in curia vir bellicosus in tota guerra, built a castle at Cuckney (traces of which remain) and took an active part in the wars between Stephen and Henry, afterwards Henry II. When peace came, Thomas founded the Abbey of Welbeck, dedicated it to God and St. James, and granted it to the Order of the Premonstratenses. They were habited in white cassock, cloak and cap, and hence known as "White Canons." In 1512 the church of St. James had become so great and famous that the custody of all the houses of this order (35 in number) was conferred on its Abbot.
Welbeck Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII., and most of its lands sold to George Perpoynt for £617 6s. 8d., "the site of the Abbey and all the houses and lands beneath the site of it," Henry granted to Richard Whalley, and his heirs. Eventually this estate was purchased by Elizabeth, the Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) and settled by her upon Sir Charles Cavendish, her third son, by her second husband, Sir Wm. Cavendish. William, the son and heir of Sir Charles, afterwards became the first Duke of Newcastle. There is a charming life of this great man by his second wife, Margaret Lucas. He was an unwavering follower of the fortunes of the Stuarts, and the mainstay of their cause. When defeat came, he spent sixteen years in exile, and was sometimes "so near being forced to starve, as not to know where his next meal was to come from." All his estates were confiscated, and Welbeck so thoroughly stripped by the spoilers, that nothing was left but "a few old feather beds fit for no use."
The Abbey, says Thoroton, "lay buried in the ruin of its roof, when he inherited it. Upon and out of these ruins he raised his fine house." What is now the servants' hall may very well have been the refectory of the monks. Besides this, there are six smaller apartments, one with Norman doorway. These are on the right of the main passage; on the left are two others, and remnants of a staircase which led to the story above.
In 1623, while yet Viscount Mansfield, he built the old riding house just off the north west corner of the Abbey. Besides being the greatest master of horsemanship and weapons of his time, he was something of a lyric and dramatic poet ("as good as any "his wife says); fond of architecture and music; an incomparable master of his servants, who lived and died in his service; and though abstemious himself, a generous, bountiful, and splendid dispenser of hospitality. In 1676, he ended a life of varied fortunes amid the most stirring events, at the good old age of 84.
The granddaughter of our hero duke was Lady Margaret Cavendish, the youngest of the three daughters of Henry, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle. She married John Holies, 4th Earl of Clare, and owner of Clumber; thus these estates were united; but at his death his vast estates were much divided, Welbeck and Bolsover going to his only daughter, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holies. This lady married, in 1713, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, a great scholar and antiquary, and the founder of the Harleian Library. William Bentinck, the 2nd Duke of Portland, wedded their only daughter and heiress, the Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley. William Bentinck, the 1st Earl of Portland was, in his youth, Page of Honour to William, Prince of Orange, whom he accompanied to England, and after William was declared King, served as Lieutenant-general at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and in the Netherlands.
William Henry Cavendish, the 3rd Duke, inherited the genius of his family for statesmanship. In 1782 he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and afterwards twice Prime Minister of England—1783 and 1807. His second son, Lord William Bentinck, was seven years Governor-general . of India.
William Henry, 4th Duke, married Henrietta, daughter of General Scott, of Balconie, Co. Fife, a descendant of Balliol and Bruce. General Scott had three daughters, co-heiresses of his immense wealth. For some odd reason or other he made a provision in his will that if any of his daughters were foolish enough to marry a nobleman she should forfeit her portion, which should be divided between her wiser and more obedient sisters. But Miss Scott accepted the 4th Duke of Portland. It is easier to question her filial obedience than her practical wisdom. Her sisters proved generous and took no advantage. In their turn they proved themselves equally disobedient.
The 5th Duke has gained a celebrity of an original order. He spent more than seven millions of money in solving a pretty hard problem—the eighth wonder of the world. Welbeck became a Babel of workmen of all nations and languages. He demolished the chapel, which was the chancel end of the old church of St. James, where the monks of old had chanted; he added a story to the Oxford wing, giving a finer elevation to the south front; but most of all, the talk and wonder of the country, are his underground rooms.
The interior is full of interest. In the entrance hall, a fine room, are two lovely pieces of Flemish tapestry, a splendid model of a ship in which the first Bentinck came over to England with the Prince of Orange, a most curious buhl cabinet and two huge brown bears shot by the Duke in Russia in 1886. Look ing round the walls, we see the portrait of Lady Jane Cheney, the keeper of Welbeck garrison in old days.
In the Gothic Hall, which is perhaps the grandest room in the house, and which is now used as a dining room, we have the richly panelled fan-tracery ceiling. The walls are crimson, and show up the portraits effectively. Among the most interesting are the 1st Duke of Newcastle and his second wife, Margaret Lucas; William, the 2nd Duke of Portland and his wife; Robert Harley, the 1st Earl of Oxford, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasurer in the reign of Queen Anne, with the Succession Bill in his hand, who was afterwards impeached and sent to the Tower for intriguing to set the Pretender on the throne; the Prime Minister Duke; the Governor General of India; the Baroness Bolsover.
A suite of four drawing rooms occupies the whole east side of the old wing. The State drawing room, with its lofty alcove ceiling and gold and white cornice work, is the most magnificent. The tapestry is of the lovliest rose-coloured silk Coblentz. Here is a most splendid collection of art treasures, relics, heirlooms, jewels, miniatures, cabinets. The walls are pale cream, and are hung entirely by Vandykes. In this room are four cases of the most noted of the miniatures. We may mention those of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. The gem table is full of curious and ancient jewellery. Notice the rosary of Queen Henrietta Maria, said to be the rosary which the Queen pawned for £3,000. It consists of six plum and fifty cherry stones carved with subjects from Roman history and mythology. Also notice the silver chalice with its inscription, and the pearl earring of Charles I.
On the same table are Henry VIII.'s dagger, and the emerald seal of Charles II. when Prince. The china in this room is of the finest Sevres. Also find in one of these drawing rooms a small teapot, the first piece of Dresden ever made.
In the Music Room, the furniture of which was formerly Lord Palmerston's at Cambridge House, the principal paintings are Christ bearing the Cross, A Holy Family, Madonna and Child, St. Cecilia, A Madonna, A Mary Magdalene, and St. John in the Wilderness.
In the Swan Drawing Room are portraits of Edward VI., Queen Elizabeth, and the wonderful portrait of Napoleon I. Here are more lovely miniatures—Marie Antoinette, Napoleon I., Empress Josephine; also a jewel case in lace like brass work which belonged to Queen Mary II.
The last of these rooms is known as the Blue Drawing Room. Here is a piece of scarce old English tapestry. The walls are covered with portraits by Vandyke and Gainsborough ; landscapes by Ruysdael and Poussin; a large painting of Antwerp and a river scene by Paul Brile.
Passing into the Ante-room, we pause to notice a small three-quarter face of Mary Queen of Scots when Dauphine; one of William III., and another of the 1st Earl of Portland.
We next come to a little room facing west, which, with the exception of the rooms of the monastic basement, is the oldest in the house, untouched since it was built by Bess of Hardwick or her grandson. Here the great soldier duke of Charles I.'s time wrote his book on Horsemanship, the MS. of which is still preserved.
Going through various corridors to the other side of the mansion— the Oxford wing, Lady Bolsover's boudoir is a charming room, decorated in Louis XVI. style. The adjacent corridor and staircase are in themselves quite a gallery of art, including many valuable pictures and some oriental china in a recess over the doorway. Directly under Lady Bolsover's boudoir is the Duke's private sitting room. It contains many reminiscences of travels. The "Greendale Oak" cabinet is here. Over the mantelpiece is the head of a monster elephant, shot in the Soudan by Colonel Vivian. There is also a specimen of the Apteryx, the all but extinct, wingless, featherless bird of New Zealand.
The following notes have been contributed by Mr. Wallis in relation to the building and some of the works of art.
Welbeck Abbey, which was founded, in the time of Henry II, by Thomas de Cuckeney, was of the Premonstratenstian order. At the Dissolution it was sold to the Whalleys, one of whom disposed of it to the Cavendishes, who built the present house in 1604, in which parts of the old structure are incorporated. The interior is Jacobean, the fan tracery and pendants of some of the chief rooms being formed of stucco in basket work.
Ben Johnson's interlude of "Love's Welcome" was performed here when Charles I was entertained by William Cavendish, afterwards 1st Duke of Newcastle.
Welbeck contains a very fine collection of pictures, including some of the masterpieces of Vandyck, Kneller, Lely, Rembrandt, etc. Amongst these paintings the following will be of interest:—
93. In the Red Drawing Room hangs the full-length portrait of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford.—1593-1641.
94. William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle.—1592-1676. By Vandyck.
- Charles II. as a boy, in armour.—1630-1685. Also by Vandyck.
- Sir Hugh Myddelton.—1555-1631. By M. Mierevelt.
122. In the Swan Drawing Room is a very interesting portrait of Queen Elizabeth.—1533-1603. By M. Gheeraedts. It is a small full length of the Queen in a white dress embroidered with flowers, her right hand, holding a branch of olive, rests upon the arm of a scarlet chair; the background is formed of a garden, and close to, a gentleman is conversing with two ladies.
The house and garden are said by Walpole to be Wanstead Place, where the Queen was entertained by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1578.
123. Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Albemarle, afterwards Duchess of Montague (1638-1734) by Sir Peter Lely. Eldest daughter of Henry, 2nd Duke of Newcastle.
133. Lord Richard Cavendish, 2nd son of William, the Duke of Devonshire.—1752-1781. By Sir Joshua Reynolds.
149. Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland, by Hyacinthe Rigaud; three-quarter length, shows the Duke in armour, full face, dark curly hair parted in the centre, grey architectural background, and fluted column to right.
156. William III. as Prince of Orange.—1650-1702. After Vollevens the Elder. The original picture is in the Amsterdam gallery.
216. Portrait of a Boy, by Rembrandt; three-quarter face, looking to left, long reddish hair, grey background. Fine example of this great painter.
237. Portrait of Matthew Prior.—1664-1721. By Rigaud. This portrait is engraved in the 1766 edition of Prior's "Poems on several occasions."
239. Portrait of Moliere.—1622-1673. (Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere). By Charles Lebrun. He holds a tablet, which is resting upon a table, with his left hand, and points to it with his right. From the tablet rest being inscribed with Moliere's masterpiece, "Tartuffe," it may be supposed that this picture was painted before 1667.
246. William, 1st Earl of Portland, and his wife, Anne Villiers, with two attendants.
247. John Fletcher, the Dramatist.—1576-1625. By Cornelius Jansen Van Keulen.
A semi-circular Passage connects the House with the Library and Chapel, and contains a very fine collection of engravings.
The "Riding House," built by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, in 1620, and converted by the present Duke into the Library and Chapel, from plans and designs by Messrs. Sedding and Wilson, Architects, London. The beautiful bas-relief over the Communion Table was designed and executed by Mr. Conrad Dressier.
Underground Galleries used as Ballrooms, contain a large number of Portraits, many of which are particularly interesting on account of the costumes; the authorship of many of these is unknown.
- Lady Arabella Stuart, at the age of 13.—1575-1615.
- Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.—1573-1624. Friend and patron of Shakespeare.
330. Frances Howard, Countess of Essex and Somerset, ascribed to Vansomer. Daughter of Thos. Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk; married first, Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex; and second, R. Carr, Earl of Somerset. Implicated in the poisoning of Sir Thos. Overbury. Died 1632.
331. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, as a youth.—1592-1628. By Vansomer.
334. Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford. Died 1627. Eldest daughter of John, 1st Lord Harrington of Exton. Married 1594, Edward 3rd Earl of Bradford. She was the Patroness of Ben Jonson, Drayton Daniel and Druce, all of whom wrote verses in praise of her accomplishments.
345. Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, and his wife Catherine O'Brien. By Sir Peter Lely.
347. William Henry, 3rd Duke of Portland, and his brother Lord Edward Bentinck. By Benjamin West, P.R.A.
364. Elizabeth Basset, first wife of William Duke of Newcastle. By D. Mytens. 1624.