The Politics of Landscapes
William Kent's buildings inspired much comment, with the Hermitage
being the most praised and Merlin's Cave proving the most contentious.
Alexander Pope, in the 1730s, mocked: "Every man, and every
boy, is writing verses on the Royal Hermitage". This comment
was made in response to competitions sponsored by the 'Gentleman's
Magazine' in both 1732 and 1733 for the best poem acclaiming
"Her Majesty's Grotto at Richmond".
Such was the political nature of gardening in the 18th century
that Caroline's gardening, Merlin's Cave in particular, became entwined
in controversy. "Fog's Weekly Journal" for 6th
December 1735, commented that Merlin's Cave was "Hieorglyphical
[sic], Emblematical, Typical and Symbolical, conveying messages
of Policy to Princes and Ministers of State". Many political
jokes were made about Kent's buildings and when Caroline complained
about this to George II , he famously replied "I am very
glad of it ... you deserve to be abused for such childish silly
Perhaps the adverse comments were only to be expected. Inspired
by the 'fête-gallant' pastoral paintings of Watteau, Caroline
had invited her court to "Watteau's world of picnics, minuets,
coquetries and masquerades in the Richmond Gardens". This
romanticism amused the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, who "delighted
in the absurdity of the idea of the court and people of rank and
fashion playing Watteau's game", and called it "a
kind of impossible pastoral, a rural life led by those opposites
of rural simplicity". What is more, it was led in full
view of the public walking the Thames tow path.
Caroline's attitude to the political insinuations drawn from her
pastoral activities is reflected in her comment to her husband.
But was this naiveté on her part, or turning a deliberate
blind eye to the political connotations of her garden and her 'fete
gallantes'? As she received secretive transfers of money from the
King's purse to her own, made by Walpole, she cannot have been in
total ignorance of the relationship between the State and her garden.
When Caroline died (1737) she left debts amounting to £20,000,
most of which were accrued through her activities at Richmond and
to: 1700-1772: Two Royal Gardens