Oooh – there’s nothing like a little mystery to get me all all hot and bothered under the tricorn. While the weather was still glorious over the weekend I was wandering past the King Charles Building and noticed that in between the two pavillions there was a rather splendid arch.
But – hang on – look at the decoration:
Now – I totally get the roses. Maybe it’s not an obvious reference to England, but, given what I found out later, I’m willing to bet it’s just that. But that badge? That’s the Order of the Garter isn’t it? What’s that doing there?
I hurried back to Phantom Towers, flushed with A Mystery.
Now. First things first. It IS the order of the garter (just about the only badge most of us could actually recognise – it’s the er, garter in the middle that gives it away)
But after that I managed to sell myself a total dummy.
It’s the King Charles Building, right? Therefore it must be something to do with Charles reasserting himself as the latest in a long line of grand English Kings on his return to the throne in 1660.
Haha! There it was! The knights of the garter (poor knights, v. handy when you’re a returned monarch with no cash) were a grand medieval order who had been reduced by Elizabeth I. Charles increased their number to 18 after his coronation. Charles had the King’s House made, therefore it must be his. Gottit!
Just to check, I thought I’d take a peek at John Bold’s amazing book Greenwich (a must-have despite its ouch-inducing cost) and although he doesn’t mention the Star and Garter sign, he does very specifically talk about that arch – which wasn’t built until 1715 (based upon the Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola, btw) somewhat after Charles was knocking around. The entablature (in Roche Abbey stone) was carved by Robert Jones, who is better known for having carved those creepy heads that now languish in the undercroft.
Looking at the date though, this was at a time when Sir John Vanbrugh was in charge, a flamboyant, theatrical character – and just the sort that would love all that pomp and circumstance…
I did a quick google and discovered that he was, indeed, bonkers about heraldry and had even been (rather controversially, apparently) a herald at the College of Arms when, in May 1706, he led a delegation to Hanover to bestow the Order of the Garter on the then Prince George. George was crowned King George I of England in 1714 – exactly the year that the arch between the two blocks in the King Charles building was being planned.
So – my current theory is that the Star of the Garter was indeed included in this rather lovely arch to bolster up the claim to a throne by a king that felt slightly shaky about his being there. I just got the wrong king. Presumably the English roses are included to prove what a good English egg George was. I guess it was easier to have someone carve a nice stone rose than actually learn a smattering of the English language…
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